Bionic Commando: Elite Forces (Game Boy Color) Review – This is the best Bionic Commando game ever!

In this review expanded from a review I wrote in ’05, I review the great GBC classic Bionic Commando: Elite Forces.  I got this game in 2000, because I’d remembered really liking the NES Bionic Commando game at my older cousins’ house, and I was not disappointed!  It’s a fantastic, fantastic classic, and is easily one of the best games on the Game Boy or Game Boy Color.  At this point I was still giving separate scores for each category of the game; I wouldn’t do that anymore, but I won’t remove the section scores from these reviews that have them.  This is a pretty solid review; I did add three paragraphs: the two after the first paragraph and the last one before the plusses and minuses section, but otherwise this is largely unchanged.

  • Title: Bionic Commando: Elite Forces
  • Platform: Game Boy Color (GBC Only)
  • Developer: Nintendo Software Technology (NST)
  • Publisher: Nintendo (with license from Capcom)
  • Released in 2000 worldwide
  • Review originally written 12/8/2005 and expanded for posting on this site on 9/19/2014.

Bionic Commando: Elite Forces is a fantastic remake of one of the great classic platform-action games.  The original Bionic Commando, for the arcade and now available on PS2 and Xbox in the Capcom arcade collection, is supposedly not as good but I have not played it.  Bionic Commando on the NES, though, was a great game and is one of the great NES classics.  Bionic Commando for the original Game Boy was similarly fantastic, and improved on the NES title in many ways.  Note that those three games are each completely different games despite all sharing the same title.  This game brought back that series, which had gone without a release since the GB game eight years before, with a game developed by Nintendo’s then-new American division NST, which was made up to a large extent of graduates of Digipen, a game development school partially funded by Nintendo.  It is faithful to the series, and anyone who likes Bionic Commando games should love this one.

Before I begin, though, I need to explain The Bug and how to fix it.  This is an outstanding game, but it has a major bug: when played on any Game Boy Advance model (GBA, GBA SP, or GB Player), BCEF will crash when you load a file and then try to enter a level.  With some copies of the game, it even crashes on Game Boy Color systems as well, though my copy is fine on GBCs, at least.  This will vary from copy to copy.  Fortunately, there is a fix to this bug.  Annoyingly you must do this EVERY time you turn the game on when playing it on an affected system, but it will work flawlessly when done.  When you turn the system on, start a new game.  Then get game over as quickly as you can, running into enemies in the first level and such.  Now, back at the main menu, go load your game.  The game will now work properly.  This is a minor annoyance, but it’s not too bad, particularly if your copy, like mine, works on GBCs; this games’ colors look best on a GBC anyway, on any GBA they are darker due to how the GBA emulates the GBC’s color palette.

The game has two playable characters, a male or female commando, and each has a unique weapon and two unique levels to play through.  The story is a fairly typical plot about rescuing Super Joe and defeating the evil Avars, but it works.  The game has several play modes, and a world map as always in the series which shows all the levels.  Most of the time, it is a standard side-scrolling platform-action game, with that bionic arm making it unique.  These stages have occasional sniper sections, where the game zooms in to a ‘first person’ view, and you have to find a few enemies scattered around a building in the background and shoot them.  It’s basically a minigame.  It’s not great, but there aren’t that many of these segments, so it’s not really a problem.  If you run into a truck in the overworld map, you go into one of several top-down action scenes.  If you kill the bosses in these mini-lefels, you get an extra life.  This aspect of the game is, again, okay, but not the best; they are decent fun, but not anything special.  Unfortunately your bionic arm has no use here except to stun some enemies, too.  Fortunately, the vast majority of the game is a platformer.  As in the original Bionic Commando, you get weapons, items, and keycards for beating levels.  I like the different weapons.  Regular enemies are rarely a big threat, but still, the variety of weapons is nice.  There is a regular cannon, a triple-shot gun,  and several more.  The gunplay is okay, but the most unique feature in the Bionic Commando series is the bionic arm.  Other games have tried to emulate this, but none have quite matched the brilliant simplicity of the arm as seen in these games.

In Bionic Commando, you cannot jump.  Yet, it is a platforming game with a heavy focus on the platforming, as opposed to the enemies, who often feel somewhat incidental to the point of the game.  It works like an extending swing, so you can attach to any ceiling or box or platform-bottom and swing. As you get better, you can swing endlessly on the ceilings, on by simply swinging across the ceiling, letting yourself go, and then at the right moment in the ‘jump’ hitting the button again to reattach in front of you, swinging forward.  It works very smoothly, more smoothly than it does in the original NES game.  While simple at first, the game throws trickier and trickier jumping puzzles at you too as you progress.  In the beginning you’re traveling through a simple jungle, but by the end of the game you have to work your way between tiny swing platforms suspended over nothing or swing along the underside of a plane, just a fall away from certain doom.  The difficulty curve is managed just about perfectly.  Getting used to the bionic arm may be hard at first, but as you get better at the game all but the hardest jumps will become mostly routine — though that is not to say that they become less fun. The bionic arm swinging is the best part of the game, and the kind of stuff you can do with it is great — where else have you swung between lampposts or dealt with a bottomless pit that suddenly stretches into the horizon.

How much you like Bionic Commando: Elite Forces, like the Bionic Commando games before it, is entirely decided by how much you like the bionic arm.  I loved it, and have replayed the game again and again over the years mainly because of how fun the bionic arm is.  I’m sure I’ve beaten this game over a half dozen times, while usually I don’t finish a game again after the first time I beat it, if I even get that far.  But this game is an exception.  The bionic arm swing is a unique gameplay concept and one that does not appear with such purity of purpose in other titles, and it’s fantastic!  One common complaint about Bionic Commando is “Why can’t you jump over little boxes or tiny pits?” My response is, “Because that would ruin the entire point of Bionic Commando!”  The game exists because of the bionic arm.  Bionic Commando with jumping would not be Bionic Commando, for it would not make you use the one thing that makes this game noticably different from the others. Jumping has no place in this game.  And yes, that they added jumping to the ’00s Bionic Commando titles was one of the worst things about those otherwise-good games.  It should not be needed.  Gameplay gets a 10 out of 10.

Bionic Commando: Elite Forces has sixteen levels along the main path in each game. Two of those levels are exclusive to each of the two characters (a male and a female commando, who are otherwise essentially identical except for looks). There are two additional bonus levels that are a bit harder to find (and change the colors of your costume when you beat them, a nice bonus), and top-down stages accessed by running into trucks on the overworld map. The topdown stages are short and easy (though you can die) and mainly exist as your main way of getting extra lives, but for that purpose they are very useful. Each time you beat a normal level you will usually get some kind of item, like another weapon, or a special item, or armor to protect you from hits, or a keycard that lets you access further levels. Generally though, you will want to take with you your best weapon, the health pills (they refill your health when used — absolutely invaluable), the correctly colored card, and the best armor you’ve got so far. There is one level that forces you to take an item other than the health pills, making that one a bit harder, but it’s not too bad. The game goes by quickly — the first time I played the game, during vacation in 2000, I beat it in two days (and then played it again and beat it again within the week) — but perhaps that is as much because of how much fun it is as because of its length, as Game Boy games are often short. In addition, I’ve found that the game is highly replayable, as I’ve played through it at least five times. The single player game gets a 9/10 (because not everyone likes the bionic arm mechanic, and because of the not-as-great topdown and sniper segments).

There is no multiplayer in this game.  Too bad, it could have been fun.

Bionic Commando: Elite Forces has good graphics for a Game Boy Color game.  The game has great cartoony art, and is well-drawn.  Because of the small screen there are a few times when you have to throw yourself forward into the unknown, but they are rare, and you can look up and down for the cases when it is that way that you think you must go.  Bottomless pits are often marked with skull images, making it clearer ‘do not fall here’.  The character art is great.  The game has very colorful still cinema scenes that use a trick of the GBC in order to show many colors on screen.  The ingame graphics are also quite impressive, though,  and the animation especially is fantastic.  The swinging animation is very smooth and it is clear that a lot of time went into the animation.  With great high-color cinema screens and colorful, well-drawn ingame graphics, graphically BC:EF looks great, and is one of the better-looking GBC games for sure.  Graphics get a 9/10.

The music and sound just improve the presentation of the game.  The sound is simple, but has voices — when you select items before entering a level a voice says the name of the item, enemy bosses scream out when you defeat them, etc.  It’s low quality, but you can only expect so much from a Game Boy Color… The music, though, I loved.  It is true that there are a limited number of music tracks in the game, but even so, I thought that all of them were great.  I’ve often found myself watching the introduction almost every time I launch the game in a large part because of how much I like the music.  Sound and music gets 9/10, one point off for the average sound effects (though if they were seperated I’d give music a 10 and sound an 8).

Overall, Bionic Commando: Elite Forces is an exceptional game!  Swinging around through the air is incredibly fun once mastered, and mastering it will come with practice.  The bionic arm in BCEF works fantastically well, and is more maneuverable than the bionic arm from the original NES Bionic Commando title.  I really like the choice of playable characters, too; this is, oddly enough, the one and only Bionic Commando game with a playable female character.  Somehow, despite making three games in the ’00s, one 3d title and two 2.5d, all other Bionic Commando games have only male playable characters.  Sure, the female character in this game is an attractive cartoon-style character, but she’s far better than the nothing the rest of the franchise has for gender diversity, and her design is kind of cool looking, too.  With great characters, weapons, levels, controls, graphics, and music, really the only flaw in the game is that it’s short; there aren’t all that many levels, and the game gets a bit easy once you master the bionic arm.  This game will not take long to finish.  But with how much fun I’ve always had replaying this game, I’m willing to forgive that.  BCEF is an amazing game all around, and is one of my favorite action-platformer games ever.

Plusses
+Amazingly fun
+Endlessly replayable
+Two exclusive levels for each character
+The bionic arm is awesome, and improved over the NES original!

Minusses
-Somewhat short
-Once you get good the game’s difficulty drops
-The Bug
-Some people dislike the bionic arm game mechanic

Gameplay: 10/10
Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 9/10
Singleplayer: 9/10
Multiplayer: N/A

97%, a high A (not an average).  Bionic Commando: Elite Forces is an outstanding game with great gameplay, graphics, design, and music, and is the second best game on the Game Boy Color after The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages.

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
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