Ah, the inaugural "Summer of Arcade." Steam sales may come and go, but this annual event arrived at a time when bite-size, downloadable console games weren't nearly so ubiquitous.
It's been seven years since that fateful season, and while our love for these smaller games hasn't faded, the world of consoles isn't nearly as welcoming as it once seemed. These days, indie developers without exclusivity deals typically turn to Steam, which offers far fewer financial hoops to jump through, along with the opportunity to sell your game before it's even finished. Back in 2008, though, consoles seemed like the most fruitful place for these experiences to thrive. And while Microsoft's marketplace had been chugging along for years by then, this particular summer proved Xbox Live Arcade aspired to do more than provide an outlet for simple games with tiny file sizes.
Of course, Jonathan Blow's Braid did much to change people's minds—and without a doubt gave many their first "indie" experience—but Grin's Bionic Commando Rearmed carries its own, equally important legacy. It might not have been the initial entry in the "neo-retro" craze, but, as we've seen before, doing it first isn't nearly as important as doing it best. Arriving a bit after Nintendo's New Super Mario Bros., Rearmed took the same approach—souping up an 8-bit experience—but had the benefit of working with source material that had room for improvement. While Nintendo's additions to the Mushroom Kingdom felt like needless distractions grafted onto an already perfect experience, Bionic Commando: Rearmed amounted to a remake that outdoes the original in every way—and all for the low, low price of 800 Microsoft Points. (That's 10 of our American dollars, if I remember correctly.)
Rearmed succeeds by feeling like the game circa-1988 Capcom would have made if they had the budget, time, and technology. Granted, the original NES classic still stands as one of the best on the platform, but the team at Grin did a phenomenal job of taking the essential mechanics out of the realm of flickering sprites, and into the relatively powerful architecture of the Xbox 360, where they could be polished to a fine sheen. The result? An experience that remains shockingly faithful to the original, but brings the timeless, 2D action to a much higher standard of quality. If Grin had simply given us Bionic Commando with a late-aughts makeover, Rearmed would still be worth playing, but all those extra touches—from the stylish character portraits by Shinkiro to the amazing remixes from Simon Viklund—prove this production is a true labor of love. (One that even managed to overshadow the somewhat unfortunate series reboot which launched in 2009.)
Again, Rearmed wasn't first to the neo-retro craze, but Grin's little experiment helped pave the way for wholly new creations that retain the 8-bit design philosophy with the help of 25 years of hindsight. Without it, who knows if the world would be ready for things like Shovel Knight, Odallus, Super Meat Boy, and countless other games that don't forget lessons learned from the past. And now that you've reminisced about Bionic Commando Rearmed on its seventh birthday, why not revisit the game and take a trip back to those more innocent days of 2008, when the Summer of Arcade promised to be an endless one?
Well, what are you waiting for?