Most people who’ve ever talked about video games with me know that I tend to resist titles that attempt to turn back the clock. Still, I’m only one man, and the demand for such games is through the roof. Countless series in recent years have done this, and the Contra series is no exception.
Here we have the newest iteration; a deliberately old-school experience for Nintendo’s WiiWare. Although I’d love to say that this is a shining exception to my usual feelings on retro gaming, I can’t. It’s a mundane addition to a series that really deserves better.
Contra ReBirth is a watered down derivative of its source. As part of Konami’s new “ReBirth” series, Contra ReBirth is an attempt to bring back the old-school style of the series, which is a bit perplexing because Contra 4 already took care of that. In any case, what it really winds up being is a 2D “Contra Lite”.
You play as Bill Rizer, a “Contra” (the game itself always puts “Contra” in quotation marks), awoken from a slumber – why he was in this slumber in the first place remains a mystery – to go back in time to fight off a bunch of aliens, who themselves went back in time to take over the world. Naturally, since the army is too busy doing… something, good ol’ Billy has to go in alone and take down the entire alien invasion by himself – or, if you choose, with a second player.
Now, I know that there’s probably no one that plays Contra games for their plot lines, but let me talk about Contra ReBirth‘s story for just one moment. It’s weird. The story is as insubstantial as any other title’s in the series, but the game tries to draw your attention to it.
Before the start of each level, there’s a brief bit of narrative that doesn’t really have much to do with the rest of the game; still, it’s pretty hilarious. I just have to wonder why the game tells me things like “No one knows what Colonel Salamander’s real face looks like. One thing is for sure, though: this dictator needs to be taken down,” before level 3. Good to know, I guess.
Anyway, onto the gameplay. Contra ReBirth is quite the anomaly. At a superficial level, it’s the same as the Contra games have been since the SNES: run left and right, shoot aliens who may or may not shoot back, get cool guns to kill aliens quicker while shooting down outrageous bosses. The basic formula remains the same.
However, Contra ReBirth is missing a lot, too. While it may not suffer from the frustrating design choices made in Contra 4, it instead made a lot of design choices that ultimately ended up making the game very boring. The first thing you’ll probably notice are the guns and powerups; there are only three guns (the least amount of guns in any Contra game), and there are absolutely no power-ups. The fact that one of the guns is virtually the default weapon, with a slower firing rate, you only have two special guns worth using.
To top it off, the scope of what you can do with your character is minimal. You can hold two guns, but you can’t do the super cool “fire them at the same time” move. You can jump, but you don’t have control over how high you can jump. Yes, this was true of other Contras. No, we are not still in 1988.
Despite all this, there’s nothing really frustrating about the gameplay; the only thing that bothers me is that enemy bullets no longer flash like they did in the earlier Contras. This is one small thing that always made the Contra series superior to the Metal Slug series, in my eyes – you would never be killed by bullets you couldn’t even see. On the other hand, Contra ReBirth allows for an infinite number of continues, so there’s not even an artificial challenge to be had in the game to begin with.
Basically, Contra ReBirth feels like a super-toned down version of other Contras. It not only brings nothing new to the table, it brings less than it previously did. There’s less to do than other Contra releases (no special levels, either!), and it’s also shorter than other Contra games. What’s the point?
While I can’t speak for Konami, I hope that Contra ReBirth heralds a turning point in the series; from this point, it either evolves or improves upon its past models. While most gamers go gaga over the recent retro craze, I am a vocal dissenter. I don’t believe in living in the past, and that goes for all aspects of my life. After all, you can’t go back in time and change the past, even if aliens are invading it.
Contra ReBirth does actually succeed in its presentation. The game looks nice, and the controls are solid.
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The gameplay is functional, but minimal mechanics get boring quickly. Infinite continues kill any semblance of a challenge, as you can just bulldog your way through the game.
The soundtrack consists almost entirely of remixes of music from earlier games in the series. This is cool, but it seems like a waste of talent considering that they got a high profile composer to work on the musical score. I would have liked to hear something new.
There are five levels, and that's it. You can play it on a higher difficulty level, and even unlock a ridiculously difficult "Nightmare Mode" for beating it on "Hard Mode." So, it depends on how far you want to take it: but most won't be taking it too far.
Contra ReBirth is an insultingly basic installment to a popular action series. It could be seen as a game for Contra newcomers, but I doubt that beginners would be impressed. As a longtime fan, the retro appeal is not worth the short and dumbed-down gameplay. I recommend it to die-hard fans only.