Review by Rottenwood
Bring The Pain
Shattered Soldier was a grand-slam action game that revived the long-dead Contra series, and perfectly blended nostalgic gameplay with modern technology. The game's relatively short length and high difficulty level turned a lot of people off, but gamers who crave a challenge kept coming back again and again, trying to perfect each level and earn the coveted complete S-Rank. Shattered Soldier was perfectly designed and a lot of fun, and Konami has finally sent us a sequel. Unfortunately, the game makes some changes to the perspective and control scheme that keep it from reaching the same heights as its predecessor. Still, it's a solid action title that should keep you entertained for a while.
As always, the game stars Bill Rizer, the gun-blazing commando who has saved the world about ten times or so. With him is Jaguar, his samurai sidekick. Why is there a samurai in Contra? I don't know. I didn't read the manual or pay much attention to the cinema scenes, so maybe I just missed something. In any event, Contra fans won't be surprised with what they see: you run from one end of a level to another, blowing up everything in sight. Highly therapeutic.
However, unlike Shattered Soldier, Neo Contra doesn't take place primarily in a 2-D perspective. The game plays mostly in a tilted overhead view, like you're following Bill and Jaguar in a helicopter. This has never been the past way to enjoy Contra, and that holds true here, too. This kind of game design makes it really easy to pick off targets from long range, and reduces the challenge level considerably. There are occasional deviations in perspective, including an inexplicable ride on a lizard thingie, which are quite fun. I especially enjoyed the scene where you're running on top of a rotating helicopter blade, which is classic Contra insanity.
There are plenty of ways to create destruction in Neo Contra. You choose from 3 different weapon sets (with more to unlock), which feature a fairly wide variety of guns. Two of them are conventional weapons - rifles, spread fire, etc. - and the other is a lock-on weapon which you'll use to pick off aerial targets and other specific baddies. The most challenging parts of Neo Contra are when you're attacked by both regular and lock-on enemies, and you need to switch between weapon types while dodging fire. You can also use the X button when you move to dash, or you can press it while standing still to do a dodge maneuver that makes enemy fire pass right through you. I didn't like the dodge concept at first, but mastering the timing of it was rather fun once I got used to it.
Once you've got a handle on the new material, it'll feel like good ol' Contra again. Hordes of little scrubs coming at you as cannon fodder... automatic guns firing down on you... aliens popping out of the ground and spewing acid... occasional mini-bosses who are as gross as possible... the usual. The game packs a lot of action, but not a lot of content - the entire game is literally about an hour long if you move it along. Like Shattered Soldier, earning a 100% Hit Rate (destroying all main targets in the level) can motivate you to keep coming back, but earning 100% is pretty easy and the targets are obvious. Also, getting a perfect S-Rank is easier this time, as you don't need a perfect 100% (all targets hit and zero deaths) to get it. 98% will cut the mustard this time around, which makes it feel like much less of an achievement. Ah well.
As I mentioned earlier, I didn't follow the game's plot very closely, but I can assure you that it is sublimely awful. The plot is nonsensical and the voice-acting is bottom-of-the-barrel stuff. *The rest of this paragraph contains spoilers. They're silly spoilers for a meaningless story, but none the less, they are spoilers. So skip the rest of this paragraph if you genuinely care.* Shattered Soldier gave Bill a sidekick named Lucia to roll with. I was wondering what had happened to her, and sure enough, she turns up in this game as a boss. No real explanation is given as to why she 'turns evil,' and the ineptly written-and-acted cinema scene of Bill mourning her death is completely ridiculous. I like cheesy performances in video games, but simply throwing Evil Lucia into the mix and expecting us to care is so amateurish that I was embarrassed for the designers. And don't get me started on Mysterious G., this grizzled old gun-slinger who also suffers an 'epic death' that has zero emotional impact. Konami: stop trying to put drama in Contra games, and stick to quick-and-hilarious dialogue like "the aliens are here. Let's attack aggressively." We're here to blow stuff up. Leave the juvenile soap opera stuff to experts like Square.
Neo Contra is a solid-looking game, if nothing spectacular. The enemy designs are typical gooey Contra aliens and robots, which is fine. There's a little slowdown here and there, but it never impacted my gameplay experience. The music is generic rock-and-metal junk, which fits Contra like a glove. The gunfire sounds nice, but as I mentioned earlier, the voice-acting is beyond atrocious. A mixed bag as far as production goes.
Neo Contra's main problem is that it delivers a lot less than its predecessor, and thus it feels a little bare-bones. Shattered Soldier wasn't really any longer than this game, but the higher quality and much higher challenge made it a lot more replayable, so it FELT a lot meatier. I'll put it into simple terms: it took me five months to finally get a perfect complete S-Rank in Shattered Soldier. Most gamers should be able to get one in Neo Contra in a weekend. There's just no comparison. Neo Contra is not a bad game by any means, but it's not terrific either, and I wouldn't pay more than $20 for it. If there's another Contra in the future, let's hope the designers crank the challenge back up - hurt us, Konami!
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