Ever since Capcom’s surprise downloadable hit, every publishing giant has been scouring its back catalogs for the next Bionic Commando Rearmed. Previously, if a franchise had been dormant for twenty years and not all that huge to begin with, it was thought better to leave it alone, but now seemingly any forgotten classic could be a potential goldmine. Konami has chosen wisely in selecting its candidate, the sorely underrated Rush’n Attack, best remembered for it’s fast arcade action and unique choice to make a combat knife the primary weapon. In many ways it was like Contra without the guns, just as Bionic Commando was a platform game without the jumping.
So Konami has enlisted Czech developer Vatra Games and asked them to give Rush’n Attack the Rearmed treatment. It’s clear that this was Konami’s pitch because, it seems, Rush’n Attack: Ex-Patriot has more in common with Rearmed than it does Konami’s original classic. So deep is this disconnect that it almost seems as if the developers never even played the original, instead just reading about some of its elements and hammering them into another me-too Shadow Complex clone with an almost creepy fixation on Bionic Commando: Rearmed’s style and presentation.
There is simply very little of the series’ arcade heritage left here.
There is at least some lip service paid to Rush’n Attack’s trademark elements. You’ll still be relying mostly on your trusty knife, with the occasional limited-use gun or flamethrower dropped by an enemy. It’s the implementation that makes it so alien. Both players and enemies can block hits and use combos, making the combat some kind of methodical, timing-oriented sword fight rather than the rapid-fire reflex test it once was, and the whole game has been laden with stealth elements. Sneaking up on enemies from behind or attacking from one of the many hiding spots littered through the levels yields a one-hit kill, with a bloody fatality animation. There are even Metal Gear-style cameras and alarms to avoid.
All of these elements feel just as out of place here as they would in a Contra title. Even the series’ once authentic Cold War vibe is played for camp and novelty with an outlandish plot and sci-fi elements that feel much closer to Bionic Commando than Konami’s classic. The visuals borrow a heaping helping of influence from Capcom’s effort as well, with foggy backgrounds and filtered lighting mixed in with a lot of brown sludginess that someone thought might pass for grit. There is simply very little of the series’ arcade heritage left here.
Vatra has undoubtedly failed to make the kind of sequel that will please returning fans, but this doesn’t automatically make it a bad game, and none of these elements are ill-conceived in their own right. What we’re left with is a gritty, methodical, slow-paced platform adventure with some detailed, if dark and muddy, sets that have a great sense of depth and realism for a 2.5D game. It’s something of a “Metroidvania,” but with a pace and feel that almost echoes classic cinematic platformers like Flashback.
But on its own merits, Rush’n Attack: Ex-Patriot is adequate, not exceptional. Control issues undermine solid gameplay ideas at every turn. Not only are you forced to control your character with the analog stick (never a good thing in this kind of game), but jumping in particular can be a clumsy affair. Jumping at the right moment allows your character to grab onto higher platforms and pull himself up, but if the timing is just a little late, or there isn’t enough room to back up, he’ll simply ignore it and jump past it. The limited wall-climbing ability is similarly fussy, leading to unnecessary falls and repeated attempts. To some extent a platform game can only be as good as its jumping mechanics, and Rush’n Attack: Ex-Patriot’s leave a lot to be desired.
Perhaps the Rush’n Attack brand is something of a Trojan horse here. It’s been twenty-six years since the original, and the small fanbase of old farts like me who still love the arcade classic might not really be the target audience. Konami aimed a bit broader here but has only created a very average game that probably could have benefited from the nostalgia factor it so lacks.