Monday, 2 May 2011

Harder Than A Bag Of Nails: Game 0007

Wanna die every few paces you take only to respawn with no weapon upgrades? Wanna see 16-bit worthy foes blown away and sprite-scaled right into your face? Wanna ride on the back of stampeding purple robot llamas? All the while being too scared to lift your finger off the trigger to scratch any of those body parts that only seem to itch during insanely intense video games? Then come on in old friend, developers M2 welcome you to the greatest homage to the greatest installment, of the greatest run 'n' gun series of all time. Contra Rebirth is THE spiritual successor to the Super Famicom classic Contra Spirits and if that means as much to you as it does to me then I guess you'll...Hey put that Wii Shop Channel down, I haven't finished yet.

Contra Spirits defined the possibilities of the platform shooter and to this day still shows the immense power under the hood of the aged Super NES technology. Rebirth developers M2 knew this, and have employed every trick to bring the nostalgia back to the Wii Ware service. Its fitting that a company that has been tasked with conversion and emulation projects over the years (highlights including the technologically bewildering Game Gear port of Gunstar Heroes and many of the Wii's Virtual Console refits) be tasked with reigniting the memories of this genre stalwart with a genuine extension of the 19 year old Super NES classic. The game itself is perfectly pitched at a difficulty level anyone familiar to Contra will recognise. To anyone not familiar that's bloody hard. But like the best of the series its a war of attrition, a game of pattern recognition which is fortunately made easier due to the game's generous infinite continues and frequent restart points.
The advancements in graphical power over the intervening years have been lovingly dressed down to mimic the sprite scaling and rotation effects of the classic Mode 7 look, throwing everything from tiny man-faced scavenging birds to screen filling robots at you, but with none of the slow down or flicker associated with older technologies. The screen literally bursts with explosions, bullets and bodies (often yours) and blasts you from action set piece to set piece much like the Super NES original. Much of the music and sound effects are also lifted straight from Contra Spirits, adding to the nostalgia.

What is missing are the intervening levels between the side scrolling action of the original games. An update of the overhead SNES levels, or the claustrophobic corridors of the NES titles, or dare I say it, a complete reimagining of these bonus levels would have cemented Contra Rebirth as an 'out and out' classic. As it stands its a fantastic addition to the series, M2 having delivered a semi sequel the original dev team can be proud of. And while it may only fill the shadow of Contra Spirits, it's a difficult shadow to fill, and something that hasn't been achieved by any of the pretenders to the throne over the intervening years.

Favourite Moment: Story has no place in any Contra game, and its nice to see M2 agree. Between levels you are treated to a series of genuine WTF cut scenes, each making less sense than the last. But you can't help raise a smile at the mega butch Lance appearing undercover dressed as a woman in a cocktail dress and a father boa. Classic.

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