The Anatomy of Bionic Commando | 13 | Top secret


Area 11 is as colorful and bright as Area 10 was dim; rather than the Empire’s sewers, this appears to be its furnace. You’ll meet a few human enemies here, but the real challenge comes from the need to perform non-stop advanced grappling in order to proceed. For instance, the level begins with a moving platform, which you might think you need to ride to get to the next area. This is incorrect, however. The real route forward is to grapple up to the ceiling and perform multiple consecutive swings. The added wrinkle of complexity here comes from the fact that the ceiling rises higher and higher in small increments, meaning you need to time your swings perfectly to keep from missing a grab and falling into the flames below.


And even if you don’t fall into the flames, you need to deal with the Empire’s boxers. I feel like this guy was probably inspired by the boxing Nazi in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

Screwing up in this portion doesn’t necessarily have to prove fatal; if you hit the flames, Captain Spencer will lose a portion of life and rebound in a short arc, losing more health and bouncing each time he strikes the fire. That small moving platform is placed in a way that you might actually bounce onto it. A weird little touch of saving grace.

Once you move beyond the ascending opening section, the platform layout opens considerably with a scattered array of small footholds dotted with those springs that send you flying into the air. While it may seem you can reach the second half of the area however you like, in truth every possible route leads you upward and funnels you through a set of unique grappling points that only appear in this one area: A quartet of small orange spheres that work like the spotlights you’ve had to deal with in previous stages. They’re all close-set and require you to grapple up to their top side and grab onto the ceiling to resume swinging before you slip off their rounded, unstable edges. Of course, you’ve dealt with this mechanic before, possibly as recently as Area 7, but the new look of the environmental objects gives it a slightly different flavor.


If you manage to make the ascent to the upper portion of Area 11, beyond the small slippery spheres, you’ll find yourself dealing with… more of the same, it turns out. Like the opening sequence, the back half of the stage consists of a lengthy stretch of open flame, and your only means of traversing it is to snag onto the ceiling at the start and steadily grapple your way forward as the ceiling itself rises.

As an extra little mean-spirited tweak, there are a few open spots in the floor so that if you miss a grab you may end up falling back down to the where those orange spheres were, forcing you to start over again.

The furnace in this section isn’t totally exposed here; there’s a fair amount of flooring built slightly above the flames. However! All the platforms have tiny gaps in them, which Captain Spencer can’t jump. In any other platformer, the challenge here would be practically non-existent, because you could just hop over the openings. Here at the end, the game likes to give you little reminders that its platforming mechanics work a little differently than other games of the format.

The final stretch of the stage requires you to launch yourself over the flames and grab onto a low-hanging structure at the peak of your flight. If you’re very clumsy, but very lucky, you might end up being bounced back onto the platform by damage recoil. But maybe not. It’s your final test before moving along to the endgame.

With this final stage completed, you’re free at last to move along to Area 12 (which is to say, the rather arbitrary warning about not having enough power no longer pops up when you attempt to move across the map). Before we do, though, it’s worth discussing the Japanese Famicom version of Bionic Commando for a moment.

In Japan, Bionic Commando wasn’t called Bionic Commando; in the arcade, it was called Top Secret. The American localization drew the line between this game and Super Joe’s previous adventure, Commando, a connection that didn’t overtly exist in Japan. Over there, Commando is Senjou no Ookami, or “Wolf of the Battlefield.” It’s possible the game’s designers intended it as a connected title, given that Super Joe was the hero of both games, but in that case the weird top-down racer The Speed Rumbler is part of this series as well. I don’t even know.

Anyway, the home version of Bionic Commando is really properly meant as a sequel to the arcade title; despite some similarities in mechanics and level design, it’s really an entirely different game. And of course, Super Joe is a captive rather than the hero. As such, the Japanese version of the game has a subtitle to set it apart from the coin-op original:


Top Secret: Hittoraa no Fukkatsu. That is, “The Revival of Hitler.” In other words, the game’s big plot twist isn’t even a secret… nor is the fact that you’re fighting the return of the Nazi army, their hopes pinned on bringing their suicidal Führer back to life.

In America, of course, squeamish Nintendo decided it wouldn’t do to have the biggest real-world villain of the 20th century as the villain of a video game, so they renamed him Master-D. I genuinely have no idea why they settled on that name, or if there’s some underlying meaning to it. The Nazis also enjoyed a name change to the “Badds,” because I suppose there’s no such thing as being too on-the-nose in this world of ours. Interestingly, the instruction manual for the NES game appears to have been drafted before the final localization changes took place, as it refers to the “Nazz” army.


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In-game, the Japanese visuals aren’t terribly shy about the nature of the bad guys, either: Swastikas appear in many places throughout the game, growing more and more prevalent the further you venture into the heart of the Empire. In the U.S. version, these are simply eagles.

This doesn’t present a meaningful change to the game itself; Bionic Commando still plays almost exactly like Top  Secret, minus a few tweaks to the design of stages and hazards here and there. However, the Japanese version is far more straightforward about the nature of its story, which means you’re aware of the stakes from the outset. In the American version, you kind of have to piece it together at the end. I mean, when Hitler himself starts ranting at you, you get the point. But the whitewashing (or whatever you’d call it when you remove white supremacists from the picture) of the American release lends the experience a different feel altogether.

Anyway, it’s moot now, because all that’s left in this series is to blow up Hitler.

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