Fun Fact: The word “damn” sneaks into the dialogue towards the end of the game. Whoops!
In Bionic Commando the player takes the role of Ladd Spencer, who is dropped behind enemy lines to rescue Super Joe, the hero of another Capcom game, Commando. Super Joe had been dispatched on a mission to infiltrate the Empire and discover the secret of their new weapon system, the “Albatros project.” Now it was up to Spencer to stop whatever the Empire was up to.
Players could choose where they wanted to go on the campaign map. There were neutral areas patrolling by peacekeeping troops where Ladd could gather intelligence, and enemy-occupied areas which had to be cleared out in order to progress. The Empire ran trucks along the transit routes in an attempt to catch Ladd's helicopter, but fighting was so much fun in Bionic Commando that players would sometimes just steer right into their paths.
The bionic claw mechanics for quickly swinging between platforms and ascending buildings were very smooth. It was really easy to pretend you were a kick-ass commando, so fast and deadly that the enemy couldn't keep a bead on you, especially with the fantastic, martial music score behind all the action. Battle areas had headquarters spaces where you could either eavesdrop on enemy communications or call in to base, and that's primarily how the story was told.
The Japanese version of Bionic Commando made it clear from the outset that players were fighting a resurrected Nazi Empire. The North American version stripped the swastikas and other Nazi iconography from the game, so for North American audiences it was a shock to discover at the end of the game that the final boss was clearly a resurrected Hitler.
Nintendo of America did not censor out the final scene where Hitler's head explodes, which for a little kid playing Bionic Commando was one of the coolest things ever. The shock of the ending surely had something to do with why Bionic Commando was raised to such iconic status in the NES era.