Though gaming has continued to change throughout the decades, with many tweaks geared toward opening up the medium to mainstream audiences, there are still many gamers who like it rough. Titles such as Battle Toads and Ninja Gaiden will be long remembered for offering up incredible challenge, but Contra is certainly one of the most prolific and well-loved series in the pantheon of player-crushing games. Along with developers M2, Konami now brings Wii owners a “ReBirth” of the franchise. Are you man enough to take on the challenge?
If you’re not already familiar with the Contra series, it’s a run-and-gun shooter with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. The games are famous for being incredibly difficult, and ReBirth lives up to that legacy on WiiWare.
The game starts off with a short exposition, wherein your character is awoken from a sort of cryogenic sleep. You’re a Contra (special-ops type of guy), and Earth is in need of your help against the alien invasion of Chief Salamander and the Neo-Salamander army. The story is told by way of still images and text, and though the presentation offers little pizzazz, it gets the job done, maybe even eliciting a chuckle here and there.
Contra ReBirth harkens back to arcade games of the past, and it’s meant to be played in a single sitting. There are five “Areas” to play through, each with its own distinct feel, but unfortunately, there aren’t any areas that offer the type of behind-the-back combat seen in past games. Still, the levels are fast, furious, and a ton of fun. The controls are incredibly tight and easy to get into, and the mix of platforming and shooting is pretty much spot-on.
The Contra and Metal Slug series have always had a lot in common, and one of the highlights of both is the selection of weapons you pick up throughout levels. The variety in ReBirth is a tad sparse, but the weapons that are included definitely differ significantly, making each one particularly valuable in certain situations.
ReBirth actually doesn’t deviate much at all from past games in the franchise. You can still only aim in eight directions – no true analog control – and enemies act in set patterns and behaviors. It’s hard to knock it, though, since the formula still holds up quite well. Running and gunning through Contra ReBirth is as fun as any game should be in this day and age, but it doesn’t bring anything new to the table, either.
One particular issue we do have to point out is that your character can’t move while shooting. This is both a good thing and a not-so-good thing. On the one hand, some parts of a level might present you with very narrow outcroppings you’ll need to navigate whilst blasting your way through hordes of enemies and automated turrets. Locking your position into place while shooting in these areas really helps in terms of keeping you from constantly falling to your demise. However, considering the difficulty of bosses and certain other enemies, having to stop in order to fire can mean instant death. For those who enjoyed Contra 4 on the Nintendo DS, this might be a bit of a sore spot.
Oh yeah, one hit, one kill – not for the enemies but for you. Old-time fans are well familiar with how Contra works, but newcomers will likely be in for a rude awakening when they find themselves looking at the “Game Over” screen before making it halfway through the first level. If you get hit once, you’re dead. ReBirth, however, is undoubtedly more forgiving than Contra 4, allowing you to set up to seven lives for your character and offering endless continues. The checkpoints are also a lot easier to swallow, and even if your game ends, you won’t have to start completely from scratch. By choosing “Continue” at the menu screen, you’ll simply start from the beginning of the last checkpoint.
Controlling your character is really straightforward, and you can play with just the Wii Remote turned sideways or with either the Gamecube or Classic Controller. The Wii Remote option seems the most fitting, and it works great. The D-pad moves your character and aims your weapon, the 1 button fires your weapon, and the 2 button lets you jump. You can carry two weapons at a time, and you simply give the remote a shake to switch out weapons on the fly.
There are only a handful of bosses in the game, but they are awesome! Bosses have recognizable behaviors, yet they don’t follow set patterns. The A.I. will constantly work against you, so you’ll need to keep a sharp eye out for subtle cues amidst whatever other craziness might happen to be going on around you.
Overall, the gameplay in Contra ReBirth is completely satisfying if you’re up for the challenge, but the multiplayer is definitely the butter on the bread here. You can’t play co-op online, which makes little sense in 2009, but if you can find a friend or relative with the moxie to lock and load with you, the Contra experience only gets better.
The presentation of ReBirth is probably pretty much what most fans want, but it doesn’t quite mesh with the game’s title. It looks good for what the developers are going for, though it isn’t as detailed as Contra 4 on DS. On the flipside, the less-is-more approach makes it easier to see enemy fire, and frustration associated with graphical chaos is pretty much eliminated here. Still, it’s hard not to wonder what the game would have looked like had Konami opted to go a similar route as Capcom did with Bionic Commando Rearmed (or perhaps even Shattered Solider).
The music and sound effects, too, are all classic fare, and we especially love the crunch heard from the Wii Remote when swapping out weapons. Everything has a very nostalgic quality, with weapons fire and explosions that offer just the right amount of “crazy” without causing audio overload. Each character has unique phrases they’ll spout, but it’s an element that’s as abbreviated as it ever was.
Contra ReBirth is less of a rebirth than it is simply a reviving of the franchise. Obviously, that’s going to be exactly what the doctor ordered for most long-time fans. The run-and-gun shooting holds up extremely well to this day, and the level design is almost pitch perfect. However, it’s an incredibly short romp, offering only a smidge of the variety that’s locked up in the annals of the series. The lack of online co-op is a real bummer, too. Price per pound, you’re not getting much for your money here. But when you order the lobster, you know what you’re getting. The game is a class act, and if you’re okay shelling out the $10 for about an hour or so of gameplay, it will likely give you the fix you’re looking for.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
It looks like a really nice Neo-Geo title, and the framerate is smooth. Visually, though, it’s no rebirth of the series. 4.2 Control
You can run and you can gun; you just can’t do both at the same time. Still, the mechanics are totally tight and satisfying. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great, retro-style music and sound effects. 3.5
There are three difficulty settings, unlockable characters, and two-player cooperative play. However, it’s a very short game with a relatively high price tag.
4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.