Contra: Shattered Soldier Review
It's been far too long since we've had a decent Contra title released on a console, not since Contra III for the Super Nintendo have Contra fans been treated to anything remotely appealing. After 2 disastrous attempts by two different teams over at Konami, the original team has returned and has resurrected Contra to the incredible status of where the franchise once was in the 8 and 16-bit era. Thanks to KCET, Contra fans can rejoice; this game is hands-down one of the best side-scrolling shooters out there.
Visually, the game may be simplistic, but when it comes down to those mini-boss/boss fights, it sure as hell ain't no slouch, kids. The bosses are huge, and are made up tons of polygons, and the only thing better then seeing them up close, is see them explode. Contra's backgrounds are mostly three-dimensional, though the actual gameplay is on a two-dimensional plane, so only the field is 3D, but the actual action is restricted to moving your character left and right. The character detail is reasonably good. While not overwhelmingly detailed with textures and overflowing with polygons, Bill and his sidekick Lucia look perfectly fine, and shouldn't catch heat of graphic whores out there. There's, of course, tons of eye-candy in the game, the most notable of all being the huge explosions, which feed the eye with tons of sweet, sweet sugar. The explosions range from gigantic to small, but bright. Contra's most notable visual accomplishment is its urge to please the gamer with tons of eye-candy, with the majority of it contributed by the lavish explosions. The frame rate remains flawless at all times, and with a game that features behemoth boss battles such as those found in Contra, one should feel quite fortunate that the frame rate is so consistent.
The gameplay elements of Contra are simplistic and not very deep, though that is actually a good thing, considering the type of game that Contra: SS is. Options wise, you can either play through the story mode with either one player, or you can play the story mode through with two-players in Co-op mode. One player will assume the role of Bill, the other a female cyborg named Lucia. You'll automatically have three guns, three lives, and three continues at your disposal -- that's it. Playing Contra: SS is requires some trial and error (to a certain and never drastic extent), plus memorization combined, to form and give "re-birth" to one of the coolest Playstation 2 games around. The stages can be quiet lengthy many times, so use extreme caution, and have a good feel of where enemies will come from -- this is where memorization comes into play. Once you play and re-play a certain stage in Contra long enough you will eventually master it and plow through it. So don't get frustrated when you have your ass handed to you first time around, this ain't your standard 3D side-scroller affair, this game is actually challenging, how's that for mind-boggling?! Contra: SS' challenge rivals that of Contra III's, but regardless of how difficult this game is, it still freaking rocks! Tons of explosions, tons of eye-candy, tons of scrap metal and debris scattered all over the place, after you blow a 40 foot mech to hell with your guns. Once you get done with Contra's story mode, very good chances are that you will want to come back to this game, provided... you are man enough.
If you do step up to the challenge, you will be greatly rewarded. Depending on how well you complete each stage (the hit rate % is a direct effect of this) you will be given either extra continues or lives. The hit rate measures not how well you aim, but how many targets you take out in each stage. It's a bit hard to explain, but once you play the game for yourself it becomes quite understandable. Think of it this way, you can blow through the stage only doing the minimum requirements, or you can take your time and do everything there is to be done for a better hit rate score. Something I'd like to bring up again is the 2-player co-op mode. I had a friend come over, and we played Contra: SS for a good 2 hours together. The sheer fun and enjoyment one receives with the game is astounding as it is exhilarating. Co-op modes are something generally lacking in titles that have potential use for them, but Contra does NOT disappoint. It's arguably the best aspect in the game and definitely revives the feeling of the good ol' 16-bit days.
I can't say the sound is anywhere near as good as it should be. The explosions sound decent, and the soundtrack is pretty generic, featuring cheesy metal rock -- pretty much what you'd expect. Though I can't say I hate, while at the same time I can't say I like it; it's just sort of "there", and doesn't really get in the way. The sound effects in general are fine, the gunfire sounds pretty good to say the least, but that's about it. If you're expecting sound earth shattering in terms of audio, look elsewhere. Contra: SS doesn't quite feature that insanely loud and realistic sound that makes a game like Medal of Honor: Frontline stand out. What it does feature is typical arcade sound effects, so take that for what it's worth.
Controlling Contra: SS is pretty simple. You can use either the analog or digital pad for maneuverability, and aiming as to where you want to shoot. You have 8 different directions you can shoot at, so if you have an opponent over your head, or below your feet, you won't have the slightest problem taking him out, just hold down the R2 button to halt your character and put him into an aim only stance. Meanwhile, holding L2 will make your character continuously shoot in the direction he is facing. I highly recommend using both of those techniques to your advantage, because you're damned if you don't. As Bill Riser and/or Lucia, you can also scale walls when required to, and you can still use your gun to shoot whatever opponents that may appear around. Lastly, you'll be able to duck and jump out of the way of a projectile(s), which of course always comes in handy.
In the end, after its debut at E3 this past May, a worthy new Contra title has finally arrived in the form of Contra: Shattered Soldier. KCET successfully risen this franchise from the pit in which it fell into, during the 32-bit era on the Playstation. Contra: SS looks great, plays like a dream, and controls superbly well. It's challenging for even the most self-proclaimed "l33t" (translation: elite) gamer out there, but at the same time it's also one of the best side-scrolling shooters you'll play in a long, long time. The co-op mode and the rewards will keep you coming back, though regardless of that, you would comeback anyways. Contra: Shattered Soldier is a sure fire hit. Contra fans run to your retailer now and put down the fifty bones with tax for this rare gem. Thank you, KCET!
10/22/2002 Arnold Katayev