Nathan "Rad" Spencer
|Nathan "Rad" Spencer|
|Bionic Commando character|
Nathan Spencer's most recent redesign, taken from promotional art for Marvel vs. Capcom 3
|First game||Bionic Commando (arcade) (1987)|
|Created by||Tokuro Fujiwara|
|Voiced by (English)||Mike Patton (2009 game), Dameon Clarke (Marvel vs. Capcom 3)|
|Voiced by (Japanese)||Takaya Kuroda|
|Weapon||Bionic arm, various projectile weaponry|
|Occupation||Bionic operative for Federation forces (formerly)|
Nathan "Rad" Spencer is a fictional character created by Capcom and the main protagonist of the Bionic Commando series. Nathan Spencer is a prototype bionics-enhanced soldier who is mainly noted by video game reviewers due to his "Bionic Arm" (one of the earliest grappling hooks in video games) and (for most of his early video games) his inability to jump. Outside the Bionic Commando series, the character appeared in Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds. Nathan's design changed since his introduction, receiving both praise and criticism.
Design and characteristics
Nathan Spencer's visual design has evolved several times over the course of the Bionic Commando but has always kept his trademark Bionic Arm, which he uses both as a weapon and a grappling hook. In his first iteration, Bionic Commando, the main character had wild blue hair, a green vest, and silver pants with blue boots. While he was an anonymous protagonist in the Japanese version, some localized Arcade flyers called him Super Joe, although he would later be a supporting character in the Bionic Commando series.  The player character received a name in the Nintendo Entertainment System Bionic Commando, which described him as a "green-clad, spiky-haired soldier named Ladd Spencer." Although this iteration portrayed Spencer as having red spiky hair, sunglasses and green military fatigues, the localized North American box art would show a different portrayal in which his dark red hair is much lighter and combed to the side, and a futuristic red and blue suit replaces his military uniform. The European version had an even further sci-fi inspired outfit, with a plain green suit with massive yellow boots and gloves, and short blonde hair. Though the artwork depicted a much different character, the sprites used for Spencer in-game remained the same. His appearance in the Game Boy title would use futuristic queues and combine them with the existing canon appearance. The result was that of an armored Rad Spencer with a red undersuit and dark red hair. Each of these iterations depicted Spencer as a playful, cynical character.
Bionic Commando Rearmed, a remake of the Nintendo Entertainment System game, was the first title to give him the full name Nathan "Rad" Spencer. It reused his military-esque appearance with minor visual upgrades by concept artist Shinkiro. In redesigning Spencer for Rearmed, GRIN cited the characters Iceman from the movie Top Gun and Marty McFly from the Back to the Future series as visual influences for his new appearance. Notable changes include his characteristic spiky hair being reduced to a crew cut in this version, as well as his Bionic Arm now firmly established to be on his left side and having been redesigned to look more mechanical and menacing. The next chronological title in the series Bionic Commando Rearmed 2, would again alter Spencer's appearance slightly. The character was given a different uniform, his hair was streaked back, and he was given a mustache to resemble an older form of the original NES design. His once clean, silver Bionic Arm is now a darker, bulker, and grittier version of the original as seen in Rearmed. The events of this game would lead to multiple changes in both his appearance and personality later in the series.
His most drastic change is arguably his current appearance, which was set forth in the 2009 3D action game. Nathan is missing his trademark sunglasses and his usual red hair is now a dirty brown tied in dreadlocks, although the player can unlock the Rearmed incarnation as a replacement for this game's facelift. In the official webcomic Bionic Commando: Chain of Command, Spencer is shown being given this drastic appearance after having spent five solitary years in prison. The character is voiced by Faith No More singer Mike Patton, and is depicted as an ex-convict, framed for crimes involving his bionic abilities. The resulting character is much more bitter than his previous iterations, often angry and prone to using profanity. This appearance was also used in Capcom's fighting game Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds, except now he is voiced by Dameon Clarke in English and Takaya Kuroda in Japanese.
The character has received mixed reactions from critics over the years. In 2012, Game Informer staff named Spencer as one of their "Ten Video Game Characters We Hate Playing As". The staff cited his frailty to environmental hazards in comparison to the perception given to the player of making him superhero-esque. Games Radar's Brett Elston had similar views in regards to the 2009 re-imaging of Spencer. While he conceded that some changes were welcome he criticized the character's long hair and "gruff M-rated voicover". He later praised his new arm, saying: "Sure is cooler than the other, less sucky version". However, the GamesRadar's staff included the fact that his arm is his wife in the category "Stupid plot twist, possibly ever" at "The Anti-Awards 2009".
Jesse Schedeen of IGN named Spencer second in their top 15 video game commandos. Schedeen jokingly stated that Spencer's inability to jump in earlier games was simply that "he just doesn't see the need when his bionic arm can do all the commando-ing for him." In 2013, Complex ranked Nathan Spencer at number 25 on the list of the greatest soldiers in video games. Joystick Division ranked Fire Emblem's Marth third on it article about what Brawl characters should be replaced, citing Rad as his substitute. Game Informer chose him as one of the 20 Capcom characters they would like to see in a rumored crossover fighting game Namco Vs Capcom, his Namco side equivalent being Monkey from Enslaved: Odyssey to the West since both of them are "solitary, brooding protagonists [and] use their impressive agility to scamper around environments."
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