As a long time Contra fan, it’s kind of hard to not be slightly let down by Konami’s recently released Contra Rebirth for Wii. Sure, nearly everything is in place that makes a Contra game what it is; lightening fast gun fights, cool boss set pieces, and a (somewhat) hard difficulty with lots of one hit deaths. The biggest issue with Rebirth is that it simply lacks soul. It looks and feels like Contra, but it does little to attempt to further the concepts, nor does it ever find an identity of its own. It just kind of exists, there for fans of the series to try out and think to themselves “Oh yeah, I remember this stuff.”
The game features a very brief five stages, that’s short even by Contra standards. On top of that, the game does a bit of hand holding by offering check points throughout stages and infinite continues as well. I would like to think I’m rather good at Contra games, and I was able to blow through the game in less than 2 hours. I checked my Wii total times, and I played for 40 minutes on Monday, and about an hour today (and I had to sort of relearn Stage 2 and 3 since I already forgot). At 10 dollars, the price is a little steep, especially since players can find longer, better, more challenging and cheaper Contra games through Nintendo’s service by means of Super C and Contra 3.
Then again, the length and price wouldn’t matter if the actual product was rock solid. Unfortunately, after seeing what WayForward did with the series with 2007’s Contra 4 on the DS, a game in which the developers were in love with their source material and at the same time made it their own, it makes it harder to swallow Rebirth’s simple retreading of the formula. All the set pieces you know and love are all here, meaning you’ll be shooting giant hearts, scaling walls while being attacked by large monsters, riding on missles, blowing up the defense towers, and the like. We’ve done all of these set pieces before, and better. The wall scaling part I mentioned is straight out of Contra 3, but it lacks the context, the variety of the fight, and bad ass music from its SNES brother.
Speaking of the music, again, it is made up of nothing but themes from previous games in the series (though I didn’t recognize Stage 3’s music), and for whatever reason the composer decided on a Sega Genesis style synth sound that was popular back in later 80s Arcade games. Not only do they reuse music from Contra 3, but it doesn’t even sound as good as it did then. Jake “Virt” Kaufman’s Contra 4 soundtrack this is not.
Even the graphics are boring to look at, making the game feel like it should have been a free Flash download off the internet. Yes, the game does push some sprites around in ways the SNES couldn’t dream of (Stage 3 in particular) but the overall look and feel doesn’t impress. While I hate to compare it again, it is nothing compared to what Contra 3 looked like, let alone what WayForward did on the DS. Some of the animation is well done, but aside from that, the game looks about as basic as they come these days. It also doesn’t help that it seems to have a thin layer of Vaseline smeared across it, dulling the pixel work in the process.
Also, what is up with the continual goofiness of the storyline in these games lately? Of course the story in the Contra series was never too serious, and by the time Hard Corps rolled around it sort of had a tongue in cheek humor about itself, but between this and Neo Contra I’m just baffled. While there is never as anything as embarrassing/hilarious as Animal Contra from Neo Contra, the quick cut scenes in between stages here are mind blowingly bad. The image above is of classic Contra character Lance Bean. That seriously happens in the game, and there isn’t much context around that image other than the fact that they threw it in there for shits and giggles. Yeah, I laughed at it, so I guess it worked?
At 1000 Wii Points, it is sort of tough to recommend this game to anyone. For people new to the series, they’re best bet is to hit up the Virtual Console versions (or seek out Contra 4), and for people like me who have played nearly every game in the series, there just isn’t anything here that we haven’t already done before.
Contra used to be the action game back in the day. Before big meat head shooters like Gears of War, we had Contra, and it rocked. It is kind of sad to see Contra has become the butt of its own joke these days. Hopefully Konami will wake up one day and give this series a much deserved next gen make over (see Castlevania: Lords of Shadow) in order to make this series relevant again to people that didn’t grow up during the 2D days.