Contra ReBirth
by Polly

IT'S CONTRA TIME AGAIN, [REDACTED]S! (Been a while since I addressed you [REDACTED]s like that hasn't it?) That's right, [REDACTED]S! Polly got herself her own Wiiwii and instead of doing what any sane person would do and diving into those other cool games she got like Super Mario Galaxy 2 or Metroid Prime Trilogy, she shot straight to the Wii Shop Channel and downloaded the newest installment of her second favorite game series of all time for the asking price of 1000 Wii Points!

Contra ReBirth is the second in a line of ReBirth titles developed by M2 (mostly known for their work at emulating older titles and arcade compilations) and released by Konami on the Wiiwii. Though the title may indicate that it's a remake (much like Gradius ReBirth and Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth), this one's actually an all-new game having seemingly little to do with any of the previous Contra continuity other than familiar references and other strange call-backs.

There's also a story. A goofy as fuck story that plays out in the intro and outro of the game as well as between stages featuring some nicely done (if really fuckin' silly) still images and scrolling text. It's got something to do with a "Chief Salamander" or something...alien invasion...I don't fucking know! It's Contra, and as I've said numerous time, IT DON'T NEED NO FUCKIN' STORY! Needless to say, the story is worth reading through at least once due to just how fucking bizarre it is. I mean, I know Contra fans have been craving cross-dressing Lance Bean since the series' creation, so I do believe the series has FINALLY covered all its bases. We got Animal Contra in Neo Contra for Chrissakes, so seriously, nothing's surprising at this point. It's that kinda tongue in cheek nonsense as well as the various cheese found in-game that really make Contra what it is.

And shirtless doods blowing shit up. Gotta have that.

We all know that what truly matters here is the gameplay though, and well....Contra ReBirth certainly is a Contra game. Anyone picking up a controller will within seconds know exactly what to do and how everything works, so there's no real need to explain the basic concepts. It should be noted, however, that it's best to play this game with anything BUT the Wiimote by itself. While it's still very playable, simple actions such as locking yourself in position and aiming without moving can prove a tad bothersome on the Wiimote-only setup because holding the fire button locks your character in place. In order to actually run and gun, you have to continuously tap the fire button rhythmically to maintain a steady stream of annihilation, and this feels somewhat clunky. Otherwise, the controls are a breeze and as tight as they should be for this game.

Of course, you can't have a Contra game without big guns, and the series' arsenal has been scaled down a bit for this installment, which includes only three of the signature death-slingers players have become familiar with over the years. Of course you've got the ever-iconic Spread gun, a powerful rapid-fire laser with penetrating attributes, and a homing gun that's pretty damn weak and doesn't seem to home in on much of anything unless the target it sitting on your nose taking a big fat dump. They can all be fairly useful, if a bit overpowered, and even your default machinegun is no slouch when it comes to mowing down enemy forces and melting bosses in a matter of mere seconds.

That being said, this may have something to do with the game's overall lack of difficulty. Even on the Nightmare mode, Contra ReBirth never quite seems to live up to the series' renowned twitchy challenge roots, and is made even easier by the simple fact that you're given unlimited continues and can give yourself up to seven lives starting out. Continue points within stages are also quite generous, dropping you right back into the action only set a little ways back from where you were originally killed off. It's be quite easy to continue spam your way through the game your first time playing in under an hour if you suck that much. My first time through the game on Normal mode, with three lives on the counter, I was able to pull off victory only having to continue twice, so even under traditional Contra life/continue restraints, the game was downed in one sitting. That's just not the Contra I know.

Over the years, the series has done a pretty decent job of coming through with fun and challenging level design, and unfortunately, this is also where the game falls short. The designers simply didn't feel they had to try anything new, so what you're treated to is mostly rehashes of old gimmicks and stages that feel half-hearted, existing only to identify the package as a Contra game. You'll see the famous turret wall, deal with geysers of firey rocks gushing up under you, and of course, fight a giant beating alien heart. They're not bad gameplay or stage design on their own, it's just that we've all done these things and fought most of these bosses before. There's a clever twist or two, but it never feels like enough. The parts of stages, enemies, and bosses that are new simply fail to excite because they feel like they either don't belong or were just thrown in there because "we need some kinda enemy thing here!" Throughout the course of the game, I really couldn't shake that "somewhat mediocre fan-game" vibe. The game never asserts itself enough as a real chapter of the Contra series, worth of the name and legacy.

Beyond the normal gameplay, there are a few unlockables, most notably the secret characters as well as the dreaded Nightmare difficulty. All are unlocked by completing the game on each of the three initial difficulties once. The secret characters Plissken and Tsugu-Min (Brownie) are real head scratchers. For the life of me, I can't figure out why they're here or why Brownie is now a cute lil' loli-bot that Rhete was immediately attracted to and sprouts a flower when she dies. Maybe she's a reference to something I'm too fucking lazy to look up. (read: more than bloody likely!) They really couldn't think of better unlocks that were more tied to the series like the Hard Corps characters (the Brownie here really doesn't count) or even Lucia from Shattered Soldier? And, being the awesome reviewer I am, I didn't even research to figure out who the hell Plissken is supposed to be. Playing as either Brownie or Plissken does affect player height (Brownie is smaller, Plissken is larger), but all in all, it's not really that big of a deal at the end of the day.

Similar to how the rest of the game has seemed thus far, visually, Contra ReBirth is adequte and not much more. The best part of the entire visual package would be the sprite work, which looks about as fluid as the characters featured in Contra 4, with player characters having quite a few frames of animation for all of their actions, and bosses looking quite sharp, if a bit uninspired, themselves. The background work is fairly lacking and is honestly never exciting. You've seen all these locales before, and done much better. The background scenery behind the action is almost always comprised of repeating still images, and while they look nice, still gives the game a bit of a "cheap" look that, again, spells "mediocre fangame." Another effect seen quite a bit is sprite scaling from enemies dropping into the play field or blowing up into parts. The effort is nice, but again, looks pretty bad when taking everything into account. I will be fair here and say that this is a $10 game and locked tightly into Nintendo's 40MB limit for games on their download service, but that doesn't mean that the visuals just aren't that amazing.

About the only other thing worth noting is that EVERY SINGLE ENEMY IN THE GAME blows up real good, with parts and fire flying everywhere, and unlike other games that opt for this kind of presentation, it never seems to get in the way of gameplay. I've never once lost a life because the explosion effects got in the way, and that's something a lot of games like this could learn from.

On the audio side of things, Contra ReBirth's soundtrack is comprised entirely of remakes cherry-picked from the series' long-running history of great tunes. Everything from the Contra opening jingle, the jungle stage, through Hard Corps' more abrasive techno pieces gets represented here. Even fuckin' Contra Fuck Force gets a nod on the character select screen. Interestingly, the music itself sounds as if it were composed on the same hardware that ran the Super Contra arcade cabinet, giving it a distinct faux-rock, yet still videogamey sound that's much preferable to just streaming elaborate compositions done with real instruments. The music was good enough to also be included on a soundtrack CD released only in Japan, featuring the music of both this game as well as Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth.

Whether it's trying too hard or simply not trying hard enough, Contra ReBirth rarely ever feels like it gets the job done when it comes to delivering a satisfying and action-packed Contra adventure. It's merely a competent action platformer that's only worth your 1,000 Wii points if you're a dedicated Contra fan. You'll have fun with it, but you'll probably wanna be playing a better game in the series.

It's nowhere near as terrible as some of the worst games in the series' lineage, nor is it really all that great at providing the immediate thrills and twitchy gameplay its better installments can. It's just...there. A new Contra game is always reason to celebrate, but the party thrown by this game, unfortunately for Andrew W.K., is not all that hard, and just like always, you'll still be going home alone. Poor, poor you.

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