Capcom's action remake puts a swing in our step.
Hammer-punching the ground by hitting triangle on descent would stun the mech, giving me a second or so to grapple one of the boulders broken loose during the impact, whirl it overhead (again with triangle) and whipcrack it at my recovering adversary with circle, before swinging out of reach. The more I tried, the better I got, and the better I got the more enjoyable the encounter became, till by the time I finished the sucker off by zip-kicking the heatsink on its back, my initial aggravation had given way to a grin as wide as that of the original Commando sprite.
Bionic Commando improves when you do, and you've got little choice but to improve. It's one of a startlingly few games out there which drives a real wedge between newcomers and seasoned players - not because the latter have levelled up a thousand times, or bought a cannon that fires electrified African Elephants, but because their skills have actually developed through practice, allowing them to soar and tumble through Ascension City's architectural thorn bush with an ease that is entirely self-made. There is a levelling system, I'll admit, but rather than totting up experience points you unlock accuracy buffs and the like by repeating combinations of moves, which of course requires that you master those moves in the first place.
And that soaring and tumbling, together with the tactical possibilities it enables, is quite, quite glorious once it clicks. A few points shy of the 60 percent mark, I found myself squaring off against four of those Berserker mechs, this time on a high forested islet in the middle of a broad river. As I tried to draw a bead with my grenade launcher, one of the four butt-slammed me right out over the water. Hurtling through the scarlet haze of near death, I swivelled in the nick of time (the D-pad serves as a "quick turn") and grappled a rock spur, converting the force of the blow into a knuckle-whitening swoop back over the waves lapping the islet's fringe. Releasing L2 at the apex of the swing, I flew straight upward on the other side of the spur, swivelled again, took fleeting aim at my erstwhile assailant on the grass below and spanked the cheeky git with two grenades in succession.
Of course, I went on to launch myself joyfully into a radiation cloud, but it didn't matter. I'd done something superhuman - entirely by instinct, and a hard-won feel for range and momentum. A high five was most definitely in order.
As with the campaign, the 8 player online modes have more going for them than a half-hour's flailing at the smooth brickwork of the difficulty curve may suggest. The core ingredients are well past their sell-by-date - deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag, trashy neon weapon pick-ups and absolutely sod all in the way of ranks and ability slots - but the Arm stirs things up no end, providing contestants are skilled in its use. All the maps are large enough to support some epic aerial pursuits, and some are brilliant, with Vegetation Nation - a pillar rising out of a deadly water basin, bristling with bridges - being a daredevil's favourite.
Having skipped the original games and avoided all mention of the remake till a review copy hit doormat, I wasn't expecting Bionic Commando to get its hooks into me - let alone reel me in, whip me over its head and bounce me off the furniture till I put it on my short-list for Game of the Year. A quick swing by Google reveals that the majority of PS3 and Xbox 360 owners aren't expecting this either. Don't be fooled. Capcom's been on a roll in the remake department lately, and the Japanese juggernaut hasn't run out of momentum yet.