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Contra Review: A Classic Returns

Developer: KCET | Publisher: Konami
Players: 1 to 2 Player Game | Release Date: 10/22/02 | Genre: Action

Resurrecting classic franchises seems to be one of the newest trends in gaming. Not one to be left out, Konami decided to release a new game in the popular Contra series. Anyone playing games during the NES era has no doubt at least heard of Contra. The original’s success demanded a sequel, and Super C did not disappoint. Later the series got a face lift on the SNES with Contra III: The Alien Wars. A few more games were released in the series in the years to come, but none of them lived up to what the originals had been. Now, after several years of retirement, the series is back… and in fine form.

If you were a fan of Contra back in the day, you should be very pleased with Shattered Soldier; the game is pure Contra through and through. The opening CG cinema really gets the adrenaline pumpin’ and you know you’re in for a treat. The gameplay has remained largely the same, but with a few tweaks here in there. One of the most noticeable things is the lack of weapon upgrades. Gone are the days of shooting open metallic flying footballs for a Spreadshot, in Shattered Soldier you only have three weapons to choose from and all of them are available right from the get go. You have a machine gun, a flame thrower, and a grenade launcher. This may seem like a limiting factor, but each gun has a special charge up function that can be used in addition to the primary firing mode. Also, knowing when and where to use each gun plays an important role in the game.

Another small change is that you now have the ability to lock your gun in a certain position by holding R2, or you can lock your movement with L2. For example, if you and a buddy are playing the game, one character can run and fire forward continuously. The other can cover your six by facing the left and holding down L2. As long as L2 is held down that character will run backwards and can kill any enemies that may come from the left side of the screen. Other than that, it’s old school run n’ gun gameplay all the way!

The graphics in the game may strike players differently depending on what you’re looking for. The characters’ movements are very reminiscent of the early games in the series, including the identical running animations and the infamous flipping cannonball jump. If you loved the older games, you’ll definitely get a bit nostalgic, but if you’re new to the series and love killer graphics, then you may be somewhat disappointed. The backgrounds themselves are much grittier in this game than in previous installments. The level of detail is fairly impressive and the lighting effects do help to spruce things up a bit.

The sound in the game is compromised mostly of cheese metal tunes. Luckily they get the job done, and change fairly quickly so you don’t really have time to get annoyed with them. Other than that, the explosions sound nice, and the gunfire is great as well. Some sound effects may have you scratching your head; for instance, why do we hear squealing tires when you’re riding a hover bike that doesn’t even have tires? Despite the oddity here and there, the sound still comes through in the end with several new renditions of classic Contra music and the familiar “end of the levelâ€? theme.

If there’s one thing people are going to complain about, it is definitely the difficulty level of the game. Make no mistake, Shattered Soldier is hard. It’s pretty much a sure bet that more than a few gamers will throw down their controller in disgust after dying for what seems like the twelve billionth time. The screen is full of constant carnage, and it can be difficult to keep track of all the bullets flying around. On the “easyâ€? setting you’ll get ninety-nine continues and nine lives during each attempt. Beating the game with that many continues isn’t too hard, a Contra veteran will probably get by with using twenty or so continues their first time through. However, if you up the difficulty, you’ll get less lives and less continues, making your chances for survival slim at best. The good news is that there really aren’t any more enemies to take care of, you just have a lot less to get by on, so dying every ten seconds is no longer an appealing option. Again, if you’re old enough to remember playing the NES installments, the difficulty will likely have you rolling on the floor with laughter as you bite the dust on a new over-the-top boss. Personally, I loved it. Sure you’ll die a lot, but that’s what makes it so much fun: you never really know just what the game will throw at you next!

One other potential complaint is the length of the game. It takes a while to beat at first because you die so much, but if you master the game you’ll be able to cruise through it in an hour, possibly less. Depending on your performance, you may unlock an extra level or so, but don’t expect the game to last all that long. Yet, I must say, that if you miss the days of old, then this is not really a big deal; sometimes it’s nice to take a break from your forty hour RPG and just blow through a game before you have to go to work.

As it stands, Shattered Soldier is almost a sure-fire hit with fans of the series. You’ll run into familiar enemy types, a revamped jungle level, and even the fortress boss from the end of the first level in Contra makes a glorious return. If you’re not a fan, the game is still a fine shooter in its own right. If you like your games on the easy side, then I wouldn’t advise picking this one up, but if you thrive on a good challenge, then this high-energy, nonstop action shooter is definitely a worthwhile investment; Contra fans, don’t even think twice about this one, get it!

By Ryan Schaefer - 10/31/02
ESRB Details: Animated Blood, Violence

Screenshots for Contra Review: A Classic Returns

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