Neo Contra
by Polly

2002's Contra: Shattered Soldier marked the revival of one of gaming's most memorable franchises. For eight years, Contra fans had to suffer through such abominations for Sony's PlayStation as Contra: Legacy of War, and perhaps the most unfortunately named game in the series (aside from Contra Force), C: The Contra Adventure. These games were not good. They did nothing that lived up to the lofty standards set by the series in its 8-Bit and 16-Bit heydays, and only ended up taking one of the greatest action series in the history of gaming and pretty much flushing it down the shitter.

At the end of the 32-Bit era, I was almost pretty sure that we'd never see Contra again. Then, 2001 rolled around and screens and video for Contra: Shattered Soldier began to surface, and God damn was it an exciting time. It looked like Contra: Hard Corps taken to the most insane level they could imagine. It brought the series out of a huge slump, actually got some pretty positive reviews, and put up some respectable numbers. Enough to warrant the release of a follow-up.

Neo Contra is what we got. It's not the greatest name in the world, but it's Contra! IT DON'T NEED NO FUCKIN NAME! Neo Contra takes some of what made Contra: Shattered Soldier good, adds a few things here, takes a few things there, and mixes it all up in a blender on high, forgetting to put the lid on. They could have left the lid on and blended it on low, but COME ON, IT'S FUCKING CONTRA, LOW ISN'T EXTREME ENOUGH AND IT DON'T NEED NO FUCKING LID! And you know what happens when you stuff entrails in a blender and turn it on high without the lid on... You don't...umm.. well this is kinda awkward...

ANYWAY, Neo Contra has a storyline. But I really didn't care about it. Why? IT'S CONTRA, IT DON'T NEED NO FUCKING STORY! I'm all for TRYING to give these characters some depth, but this game absolutely falls on a rusty railroad spike with its face trying to deliver a story. It's downright fucking goofy with what they've done to it. How..HOW....HOW THE FUCK ON GOD'S GREEN FUCKING EARTH CAN I TAKE A FUCKING GAME SERIOUSLY WHEN SOME OF THE MAIN ANTAGONISTS ARE NAMED PLANT CONTRA AND ANIMAL CONTRA? Yes, go ahead. Click those images again. Look at them. Study them carefully. Yep, that's a Captain Planet villian reject. Yes, his name is PLANT CONTRA. And you are NOT on an acid trip (and if you are, then this shit is probably all quite normal), what you see in the 2nd image is in fact, A DOG! Named ANIMAL FUCKING CONTRA! Yes, he really does look like that in-game.Do I really need to say anymore? SERIOUSLY, WHAT'S THAT FUCKING DOG GOING TO DO WITH A GOD DAMN SWORD? WHAT? TELL ME! SOMEBODY FUCKING TELL ME! Seriously, the story is fucking [REDACTED]ed.

The game looks pretty crappy too. It has its moments, but overall, its a big step back from the standard that Shattered Soldier set for the series. Most of the backgrounds and environments are pretty bland, and your characters and enemies are usually so small on screen that detail doesn't really matter. Only a few of the bosses and enemies seem inspired, but for the most part they're all just typical alien or military-themed mishmashes of polygons and textures. The game runs at a nice 60 frames per second, provided you're not playing on two players and that there's less than 5-6 enenmies on screen at once. Then you're subjected to NES-era slowdown that can seriously cripple the gameplay. Some of the in-game explosion and attack effects look good as usual, but it's hardly enough to save this game from looking like poop. There's some high-res cutscenes, but IT'S FUCKING CONTRA! IT DON'T NEED NO FUCKING CUTSCENES! Especially when you have a shitty story like this one to tell.

Audio is a huge step down from what Shattered Soldier did as well. The music has a few bright spots, with a couple of remixes of old Contra tunes making their way in, but it's far more relaxed than the intense, balls-punching tunes of its predecessor. Weapon effects are adequate, and weren't nearly as intrusive as they were in Shattered Soldier, so points for that. The real problem with audio is the voice acting. What? Voice acting? Contra? Why? IT'S CONTRA! IT DON'T NEED NO FUCKING VOICE ACTING! Well apparently someone thought it did. This shit is on par with the first Resident Evil in terms of crummy voice acting. Thought Darth Vader's "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO" was bad? You haven't lived until you've heard Bill Rizer scream, "LUUUUUUUCCCIIIIIAAAAAAAAAAAA!" (Sound clip forthcoming once I replace my capture card.)

The gameplay does manage to do a few things right, which is the only saving grace for this game. If there's one thing a Contra game DOES have to have, it's good gameplay. Neo Contra manages to fix a couple gripes I had with Shattered Soldier, such as longer stages and much fewer boss gauntlets. It retains the same three-weapon setup as Sattered Soldier, only now you can select from a few different sets. You're given two weapons (usually one fast, but weak weapon, and a slow, but powerful weapon) and a weapon that's exclusively used to lock onto overhead targets. The problem is, that the weapon sets are horribly unbalanced or just plain shitty for the most part. The Machinegun/Grenade Launcher set is the one you'll use until you unlock the Lightning/Rocket Launcher set because everything else is just garbage. And once you unlock the Lightning set, whose lock-on weapon can demolish most bosses in 3-4 hits, you'll never go back. You can select which weapon you want to use on the fly, but there's little point in it since you'll probably only wanna use the machinegun most of the time, because it gets the job done better than anything else. Using your Lock-On weapons requires you to hold down the Triangle button and "paint" your targets as they zoom by. It's a neat concept, but it doesn't work well in practice, because the weapons are usually just too weak and slow and oftentimes you need to take aerial targets out quickly before they either kill you or just fly off the screen.

A big problem with this game is the controls. They just don't feel right with the new overhead perspective. Most weapons still only fire in the normal 8 directions making it really hard to hit precise angles sometimes, which is just frustrating. Switching weapons and locking your aim in a certain direction are still handled with the top 4 shoulder buttons, but I've found that constant aim-locking to strafe enemies can lead to some really bad hand cramping. This is a game that really could have benefitted from a Smash TV style control setup with one joystick for movement and the other for firing in any direction you want.

The Hit Ratio % scoring system is back, and it still determines how far you get in the game. They've lightened up the requisites for scoring well which helps to make the later levels of the game accessable to players who aren't so hot at these games. But, it really wasn't necessary since the game is mind-numbingly easy. This is by far the easiest time you'll have with a Contra game. The enemies in stages pose little threat as you can mostly just run around most of them and the bosses drop like flies in a matter of a minute or two of constant pummelling. You still need to have an overall ranking of A or better in order to finish the game with the best ending, but a little persistence is really all it takes. The game isn't terribly long, but it's long enough. It ends where it needs to, because I don't think anyone could take anymore.

Neo Contra is only a game you should buy if you're a die-hard fan of the series like I am. Those who are curious might just wanna give it a rental. In the end, this is one of the few times that I wish they'd have just used the previous game's engine to make a new game. WE DON'T NEED NO MORE FUCKING NEO CONTRA!

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