One of the most anticpated Xbox Live Arcade port games was Konami’s Contra, a sidescrolling co-op game that fathered other series like Metal Slug and XBLA’s future titles Alien Hominid and Heavy Weapon. Fans of the original will probably like it just fine, but how does it play to us newbs?
Even if Contra didn’t throw the word “Konami” in your face on startup you’d know who made it from the first menu. Like Frogger, Time Pilot and Scramble preceding it the game is coated in the same signature shiny, futuristic feel. This is done too much, in fact, as there is an Enhanced Graphics option that does almost nothing. (Not a big deal, though - Contra’s graphics are good for its time as is.) The sound effects are what you’d expect for this type of game, and there’s actual music this time!
Bill and Lance, the rugged, manly men heroes of Contra go into the initial island setting packing all kinds of heat to fight the Red Falcon, a terrorist group that threatens the Earth hearkening back to most 80’s movies involving Schwarzenegger-esque men with guns. Six of the eight levels are sidescrollers in different areas and climates but the other two go into a behind-character view so you can storm the enemy base.
The characters begin with a simple press-A-to-shoot-a-bullet gun but by destroying alien capsules can acquire a machine gun, a spread shot weapon, a spiral weapon, a laser, and the like (all activated by beating on your A button until it cries out in agony). B jumps, making for a simple game until you realize thay there are a lot of enemies and they’re all shooting you at once. It’s difficult, which is where the Konami Code comes in: Left right, left right, up up, down down, B, and A will start you off with 30 lives as it did in the original.
I was pretty close to giving Konami pretty high marks on the multiplayer after a match because instead of the usual two-screen approach, which cuts down on the massive slowdown we had in Frogger and Scramble. However, pretty close means I decided not to, and here’s why: in some games of online co-op (out of a few of mine it was only one, but many others have complained) the game will break completely. One character will stay at the bottom of the screen and play erratically, and completely ruin a fine experience. Same-screen co-op, however, has no problems.
As far as achievements go, the list is fairly well balanced and is everything from beating Level 1 with no extra weapons to beating the whole game (which is where that code comes in).
Contra is fun. Admittedly, with all the other games out there (and Small Arms this very week), I’ve not played more than needed for the review, which should speak for exactly how entertaining it is - good, but not as good as some other games. So if you’ve never played it before you should play the trial, and base it on that - the online play or lack therof won’t sway your purchase much. If you’re a fan of Contra who really wants to play it over the Internet, you may want to rethink your purchase.
Final Score: 6 out of 10 - Average (how do we rate games?)