Eight-Bit Junkyard: Bionic Commando


Rediscovering video games of the past

“Bionic Commando” (Capcom, 1988)

“I am Error.” “A Winner is You!” “All your base are belong to us.” Throughout the history of video games, translations — for good or ill — have played a key role in how titles are received, played, and remembered. Grammatical changes between two languages are expected. Thematic changes, between audiences with different standards for violent, sexual, and religious content, have proven more difficult.

In the 1980s, Nintendo of America was known for its hard line on anything they found objectionable for a family audience. Excessive blood became sweat and scantily-clad characters became clad. Title translations were also difficult. Going from “Rockman” to “Mega Man” was easy, but “Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic” to “Super Mario Bros. 2” was a stretch.

Enter Capcom. Now a video game powerhouse, Capcom was still in its first decade when it developed an extremely loose sequel to its minor 1986 hit, “Commando,” a repetitive, overhead, don’t-stop-moving-or-shooting game that most people don’t remember.

Capcom reinvented the game with its sequel. Players could decide which order to play stages and replay completed sections. And for a console that limited players to either jumping or shooting, the “Commando” sequel made the bold choice of stripping the ability to jump from the game. In its place, a game-changing power-up in the form of an extendable bionic grappling-hook arm enabled players to reach ledges or swing over obstacles. The game had potential to be one of the biggest hits of the year. But first, Nintendo had to make a few translation changes. Maybe more than a few — Capcom titled the game: “Hitler’s Revival: Top Secret.”

If digital blood was verboten, then Hitler was definitely off-limits, especially when the game’s plot involved a plan to resurrect the Nazi leader. While scrubbing the game of swastikas and changing the bad guys from the Nazis to the “Badds,” Nintendo managed to keep the incredible game play and new narrative possibilities in tact. In an attempt to destroy all traces of the Third Reich, Nintendo did miss a few things near the end of the game. A “damn” slips into the dialogue, but that paled in comparison to the final boss fight. After using your bionic abilities to swing off a cliff, you must expertly time your bazooka shot into the cockpit of Master-D’s escape helicopter. Master-D, incidentally, looks exactly like a certain German dictator. And when that bazooka shot hits? Master-D’s flesh slowly melts away, his eyes bulge, and then, in full eight-bit graphic gory glory, his head explodes.

So: blood, bikinis, and Nazis? Off-limits. But minor swears and exploding heads? A family-friendly good time.

Hidden Jewel or Total Junk:
Hidden PG-13 Jewel