Review: All fighting men are "Contra," whether they be human or robot!
After the "dark times" of the PSone and N64 era, Konami has done a fantastic job reinventing and resurrecting the Contra
series. The premier run 'n gun shooter of the 80s/early 90s received an amazing side-scrolling sequel on the PS2 (Contra: Shattered Soldier
), an above-average overhead shooter a few years later (Neo Contra
) and one of the greatest DS games of all-time (Contra 4
) two years ago. Now, they've gone further back to the franchise's roots with Contra ReBirth
, a new entry in the series available only as a WiiWare download, and the second "ReBirth" reimagining of a classic Konami series (Gradius ReBirth
was the first).
Ever since the Super NES/Genesis days, titles in the Contra series have relied on two slightly different aesthetic styles typified by the type of enemies your Contra soldier will face. There's the alien horror style popularized by Contra III: The Alien Wars
and then there's the robotic menace style first seen in Contra: Hard Corps
. ReBirth falls in with the robots as nearly every boss is a robot of some kind. The slightly less detailed art style of Hard Corps is also used in ReBirth as is the general feel of how the characters move. While I preferred Contra III to Hard Corps, the only game in the series to appear on the Genesis is a solid inspiration for the 16-bit look of ReBirth.
Like other games in the Contra series, Contra ReBirth is hard and you will die, a lot. But ReBirth is very accessible to new players by including the ability to customize the number of lives at the start of the game and the difficulty level. The game's Easy Mode also ensures that you're always equipped with adequate firepower as dying does not take away any special weapons (Spread Gun, Homing Missiles or Laser) that you've acquired. Although Hard Mode is still just as much of a bloodbath as any previous game in the series. And you don't even want to know how hard on the thumbs Nightmare Mode is. ReBirth also includes (gasp!) unlimited continues, a first for the franchise. This changes the fabric of the game from a struggle for survival to a struggle to survive... until the next checkpoint.
After that introduction, reviewing Contra ReBirth seems almost redundant. If you've played a Contra game before, you know what to expect. You run, you jump, you gun down alien invaders, you gun larger
alien invaders and you die (again, a lot). But any game that asks players to destroy an alien space station and then surf the flaming shards on re-entry while battling a giant worm from beyond the stars definitely has something going for it.
Similar to Gradius ReBirth, the game uses a 16-bit style popularized by previous games in the series. In this case, Contra III and Contra: Hard Corps. Every pixel will evoke a similar setting from a previous game in the series while still feeling completely brand new. In some cases, they will be completely brand new, such as ReBirth's excellent take on the alien heart. But no matter how many times you run through a burned out city and blast some alien scum, it feels great.
The music is also built on the past as the soundtrack is loaded with remixed themes and tunes from classic Contra adventures. Like the Dude's rug, it really ties the game together.
One final note, the game's ridiculous story has to be seen to be believed. There's time travel, robots, lizard men, undercover crossdressing and the gratuitous abuse of the word "Contra." The story also makes absolutely no sense (the time travel isn't mentioned again after the first panel) and the artwork really brings to mind the hideous storytelling prevalent in games made in the 80s (which the Contra series distinctly lacked when it actually was the 80s).