Living in a third world country was never easy, especially some 15 years ago when access to buying game consoles was limited to a few wealthy people. The remainder of us who had no possibility of obtaining one had to content ourselves with playing in the 'arcades' (which for us were modified game consoles that operated for a set period of time after inserting coins into a slot). Each 20-cent of Lempira coin (for reference 18.95 Lps. = 1 dollar) allowed you some 5 minutes of gameplay. Once the time was up, your character would freeze and you would have to deposit an extra coin to regain control of the game. In those days, every morning before high school I would hit the arcades with the single Lempira I received as daily allowance and searched for a partner to battle alongside for the next 25 minutes (probably the most epic few minutes of the day) as we commanded 'Sylvester Stallone' and ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger’, which is what we called the characters actually named Bill Rizer and Lance Bean.
This photo proves that the first thing that Bill Rizer puts on in the morning is his red bandana.
The Contra saga (Probotector in Europe) had his moment of glory during the 8 and 16-bit era; their best offerings were in 2D and it was then when they embedded themselves into the minds and hearts of gamers; the series has made several attempts of dubious quality into the 3D world, and its most recent iteration was a more classical one for DS, very well received by fans. Now, Konami brings the series to WiiWare in the latest in their "Rebirth"--Contra Rebirth. This title is full to the brim with everything that reminds us of videogames long ago, and without a doubt it’s aimed towards veteran gamers that enjoyed the shooting, the action, the difficulty and the scenario variety that made this series legendary.
In Contra Rebirth, the nostalgia factor is present as early as in the title screen, a remastered version of the one from the original Contra, and it sends a chill down the spine of us veteran gamers. This Rebirth version has the basic concepts of the series: precision, different weapons, alien enemies, shots coming from all sides, and a respectable difficulty. We’re in command again of Bill Razer, but here he won’t be joined by Lance Bean, as he has disappeared. His place is taken by Genbei Yagyu, an unknown and not very charismatic samurai that has sheathed his sword for good to pick up the real weapons. At the start of the game, you can pick between the two characters, which is a purely aesthetic choice as there’s no difference between them, gameplaywise.
In the world of Contra, the revolution does take the Che Guevara to the top.
The story is very generic and irrelevant. In the year 2633, the Neo Salamander force commanded by Chief Salamander travels to the past, to 1973, to invade Earth, landing in Central America (near my home!). What these evil forces seek is the destruction of the first armies of Contra; the Galactic president (who looks a lot like Che Guevara) sends the Contra commandos to stop them once again. As you can see, the story in the end is only an excuse to shoot everything that moves. Though it’s worth mentioning that it’s presented via manga style cut scenes that helps it to be more digestible, it’s more than likely that once you see them once you’ll push the button to skip them, as they’re nothing out of this world, so you can jump straight to the fun.
The game keeps a frantic and intense pace. The first phase is the most accessible, but even then it shows some more-difficult-than-normal bits; nothing the series connoisseur wouldn’t be accustomed to. Before you know it, everything will be covered by enemies and shots crossing the screen, and you’ve got to be careful. Your goal is to advance, kill everything that moves, and avoid being hit, as with the minimum contact you’ll lose a life and the weapon you’re carrying (unless you’re playing in the minimum difficulty level, where you get to keep your weapon even after your character dies)
Enemy scenes like these really make you go back in time, now get that finger off your nose!
In that sense, it’s important to always carry the appropriate weapon. You can have one in reserve, and you can pick up dropped ones. Something worth noting is that the number of available weapons is lower than in previous Contra versions, as you only have three at your disposal: the shotgun, the homing missiles and the laser gun. Each weapon has its pros and cons, therefore having two weapons you can interchange at will improves your chances in the game. The laser gun has the advantage of piercing through enemies, so if they come in a single line you can blast several of them with a single shoot. The shotgun, conversely, has spread damage, and it’s easier to hit more enemies (though, it causes less damage). The homing missiles will seek your enemies wherever they are on the screen, something very useful against bosses but difficult to control when the screen’s cluttered with enemies. There’ll be inevitably different preferences from each player for each weapon, depending on his style of playing, but something that’s clear is that when you’re playing co-op, it pays off having both characters use different weapons.
Even though the graphical engine is very similar to that of Contra 3 for SNES, several of the additions that game offered to the saga haven’t been translated into Rebirth. For one, it is impossible to use two weapons at the same time, and the superdestructive bomb that wipes away everything that’s on screen has been removed; elements that fans of the SNES version will surely miss. Essentially, the game retains the gameplay of the NES version while looking like its more advanced brother.
Who ordered the roasted space monster in his takeout?
The phases of Contra Rebirth are very varied and will take you through different scenarios: spaceships, ruined cities, alien-infested caves, and so on. Each of them features hundreds of enemies attacking you from every possible angle. They each also have a sub-boss and a final boss, which are varied, outlandish and intense, making it very fun to face them and look for the best strategy to beat them. As for the difficulty, Rebirth is on a par with the NES versions; it’s demanding, but not as crazy and impossible as Contra III. Still, it requires a certain amount of time to get to know how to manage yourself in every centimeter of the scenario.
As for the technical level, it’s a simple game, with obsolete 2D graphics based on the SNES version of Contra III, that don’t push forward the graphical capabilities of the console at all, but try to give the game the needed retro look. Of course there are improvements, as there are no slowdowns and the animations are smooth and well done with the inclusion of more animation frames for character movements. Environments are colorful, yet not very detailed; they take distance from the green-clad marines and the opaque colors of current-day games to offer a blast of vibrant colors that the 16-bit generation used to offer. The music tries to make you remember the classic songs and combines them with some new tunes that accompany the action between every explosion, injecting more rhythm and tension to the game. A high point of this version are the remixes of the previous Contra songs, such as the last battle song which is a remastering of the one in a similar scenario in the NES version, something that will surely make a veteran gamer shed one or two tears.
Oh, yes, I also had the nightmares with those missiles in Contra 3. Now they are back for more.
One of the biggest problems of this game is the short duration. There are only five phases, and the game can be completed without much difficulty in some 20 minutes if you have a bit of experience--you will surely be left wanting more. To promote replayability, some unlockables have been included, like extra characters after beating the first two difficulty levels (a she-robot and a lizardman), and an extra difficulty level for those who can beat Hard mode: Nightmare. True to its name, it’s an almost-impossible mode where when enemies are beaten they leave a deadly blue ring that chases the player, so not even killing them gives you a breather. But that’s only reserved for the most diehard fans of the series. Of course, the battles are better enjoyed with company, and as such there’s the incentive of co-op mode (sadly local only), which adds more fun to the game. But I feel Konami should have pushed for more and added an online version to the mode.
Contra Rebirth is a game of classical ilk. Its direct action contains all the elements that a Contra game should have: big enemies, fun and frenetic situations at every step, and a challenging difficulty. Sadly, the game is very short, and I would have liked to see more levels, as well as an online co-op mode. For 1000 Wii Points, Contra Rebirth is a must-download for the millions of fans of the series all around the world, as well as for those who love 2D action games. If you have a friend with whom you can experience the adventure, all the better. Now go and save the universe from the terrible claws of the Chief Salamander!