Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Contra: Shattered Soldier

Every old-school gamer has a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Contra series. We love them because they’re so fast paced and fun (seriously, can you name a better series based entirely around you running around shooting at everything you see, because I sure can’t), and we hate them because they are so ridiculously hard you want to hurl your controller down and scream obscenities at your TV. Contra: Shattered Soldier continues in this proud tradition, while making the crucial upgrade to three dimensions and adding stupid cut scenes (Note: I haven‘t played either PS1 Contra, so it‘s very likely that both of these advancements came in one of them).

Much like in the original games, you play as Bill (or if you’re the second player, you get to be a new character in the cybernetic soldier Lucia), who is released from prison (??? The hell did I miss in this series?) to help the government fight off the menace of the Blood Falcon, a terrorist organization that seems to be siding with the aliens against Earth’s government, and which is being run by an old friend of Bill’s…

Okay, let’s get one thing off the table right away. This game is absurdly difficult, to the point where I died almost immediately and had to give myself Infinite lives to win. When a game is so hard that people in Japan refer to it as Hard Like Cancer, the developers may have gone a little overboard. It’s to the point where apparently I didn’t get a good enough rank on each level to get to watch the last two levels and get the good ending even with infinite lives, so now I’m left to watch someone else doing them on Youtube. To be sure, the controls are just about perfect (after all, they were perfect in the late 80s, and Konami hasn‘t screwed with them), and while the game utilizes a 3D environment, you’re still moving along a 2D path, so there’s never a point where you die because the camera got stuck anywhere and you can’t see what’s going on. I’d say this means that when you die, it’s your own fault, but no, it’s because there’s a ridiculous number of enemies on the screen at any given time, all charging at you or shooting you. I don’t think I’ve played a game this hard since Silver Surfer on the NES. No mercy is to be found here.

The game is thankfully pretty short (yes, even if you manage to get to levels six and seven, which I didn’t), so if you can withstand the insane difficulty you can play the entire game in under an hour. This puts it at just a little longer than Contra 3, which was just a bit longer than the original. I kind of like that, as it makes the game feel a bit more like a throwback to an earlier age of gaming, back when games were often pretty short, but so amazingly frustrating that Nintendo had to make their controllers super durable to survive their customers’ childhoods. There’s no save feature, so you pretty much have to finish it in one sitting, making the brevity of it extra appreciated.

The controls need to be touched on briefly as well, or at least the weapon system. Whereas in previous games you’d upgrade your gun by shooting various power ups that went flying alongside the screen, always hoping for the spread shot and crying if you accidentally picked up that one that would send all your bullets out in big looping circles like you were playing Fester’s Quest, here you get no such power-ups at all. Instead, you just have three different guns that you can switch between at any time: the standard fast firing machine gun, the short range but highly damaging flamethrower, and the slow-firing homing bombs, all three of which can be charged up for a super shot that I never found extremely useful. While I miss my spread shots, having three permanently available is extremely helpful, as you always have one for whatever situation you’re dealing with, and most importantly, they don’t disappear each time you die and leave you with nothing. I also like how the game tries to change up the gameplay a bit while retaining the “run and gun” atmosphere the series is known for, by giving you segments where you’re racing on a motorcycle, riding a snowboard down a mountain, or straight up flying around by holding onto a rocket with one hand and firing with the other a la Contra 3. It keeps things good and fresh for the duration of the game.

Remember what I was just saying yesterday about liking Prince of Persia because it was the right level of difficulty for me? Well, this one is just so ridiculously hard that I wouldn’t have been able to complete a single level if I hadn’t cheated (by the way, you can do the first four levels in any order you choose). If you’re a much better gamer than I am, maybe the challenge will just be more fun for you (though if even Japanese gamers are making jokes about how hard it is -- the same Japanese that gave us Super Mario; the Lost Levels, and who went around the original Resident Evil using nothing but a knife because they didn’t think it was hard enough normally -- then there may be a problem), but it kept me from fully enjoying what is otherwise a really fun game. The controls are great, the graphics are great (particularly for such an early release on the system), and the driving techno music gets you good and pumped to start tearing through some mutant alien baddies. I just kind of wish there had been more of me tearing through them and not the other way around, that’s all.

Rating: ** ½

1 comment:

katsucurrys14 said...

excuse me but it says "movie" guide at the top of the screen. i demand answers