Contra: Shattered Soldier
Here’s the basic premise of Contra: Shattered Soldier, Konami’s latest revision of the 1987 classic. Player One is removed from a cryogenic chamber after learning that Player Two has decided to lead an all-out alien invasion. It turns out that Player One is the only one powerful enough to stop Player Two so it’s up to Player One to stop Player Two and his alien buddies from taking over the planet. This ain’t epic storytelling and to be honest, it doesn’t need to be. This is Contra, it’s all about up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, B, A baby! The only thing that’s missing is the narrator in those cheesy “In a world trailers” and we’d have ourselves a classic sci-fi flick.
All right let’s be honest, there’s a bit more to the story that I haven’t told you. The main character is actually Bill, player one in the 1987 original, and the main baddie is actually Lance, player two in the original. Bill teams up with Lucia, an entirely new female teammate, to bring down Lance and his alien friends. Both Lucia and Bill are exactly identical with the only changes coming in appearance. Odd, I thought that Bill was the only one powerful enough to take down Lance, oh well, guess there goes that storyline.
What you’ll get from Contra: Shattered Solider is a game that respectfully pays homage to the classics. The game pans out in a 2D fashion and is set in a 3D world. That means that although the environments are fully 3D, you’ll be restricted to one plane just like the original. There are some quasi-3D shooting sequences that mimic those of the original and although they are impressive the first few times, they eventually get old and drawn out. The levels seem pretty inspired from the start but tend to fizzle out by the end. You’d think that with only five levels to work with, variety wouldn’t be too difficult but apparently this isn’t the case. Each of them seems like filler space leading up to an awesome boss battle. To put it into perspective, I’d say that I spent about only a third of my time actually playing the levels while the rest of the time was spent battling the bosses. Thankfully the boss battles are just awesome and live up to the legacy that Konami has built over the years.
In another nod to the original, one hit kills is the order of the day here. Every bullet, every nudge, every time an enemy breathes on you will result in immediate and painful death. This is classic Contra and I’m certain that veterans wouldn’t want it any other way. As you progress this actually turns into a thinking man’s game. You’ll become more observant of the sequences and situations as you try to find more and more ways to save lives. While this is a highly archaic way of playing games, I feel that it fits in perfectly with the structure of this game. It makes the game difficult as hell and I’m sure that Contra vets wouldn’t want it any other way.
Tradition is broken after you realize that you’re given three weapons and only three weapons to work with. Half of the fun of the original was getting in a fight with your best friend over who was going to get the Laser on the 4th level of the game. Instead of shooting down those wing-shaped objects you’re stuck with the machine gun, flame thrower and grenade launcher. Each of them has a charge feature that can unleash a secondary attack but as you progress, you’ll find that these attacks are more flash and less substance. There really should have been more weapons included but much like the rest of the game, the selection is rather thin.
Repetition is the key here and you’ll see tons of it. There’s no way in hell you’ll pass the game on your first time through, or your second or third or tenth time for that matter. This is one hell of a difficult game that will really test your mettle and more importantly, your memory. It’s all about memorizing sequences and patterns in the game. This game is more about trial and error and dumb luck than sheer skill and talent. Often times you’ll travel through a level thinking that you’re in the clear when all of a sudden the unexpected happens and you’ve bitten the dust. Of course that usually happens just as you realize that you’ve run out of lives and continues. Prepare to be frustrated because you’ll be experiencing a whole lot of it. The only game I can think of that agitated me more would be Reflections’ horrid Stuntman, not the type of company you want to place yourself in. But then again, one could argue that being frustrated is part of the charm of the original and then again, you could say that being frustrated is the number one cause of violence among teens. Come to your own conclusions on that one.
CSS is just a beautifully game and you’ll realize this right from the start. Everything is rendered in the highest resolution possible at this point in time on the PS2 and the end result is a stunning visual package that proves the be the best aspect of the game. Every visual aspect seems to have received exorbitant amounts of love and care and your eyes will want to thank Konami’s artists for every bit of it. Metal Gear Solid 2 pushed the visual envelope when Konami unleashed it among the masses and a year later, Contra Shattered Soldier busts the envelope wide open. Flames are rendered with amazing fluidity, the animations are beautiful and the creature designs are downright gorgeous. Of course each of the environments are just absolutely spectacular and will have you drooling for weeks. Best of all, the frame rate consistently remains high even during the more hectic sequences. When it comes to visuals they just don’t come any better than this on the PS2.
Sadly the quality doesn’t carry over to the aural aspects of the game. Sound effects are oddly underwhelming for a game of this type, I was expecting glass shattering bass and ear-thumping sound effects but I was sorely disappointed. Many of the effects are bland and seem to have been re-used in many portions of the game. The music retains a generic techno-like soundtrack that becomes repetitive at times but is perfectly upbeat for a game of this type. I just wish that it would have done a better job of pumping me up. Perhaps Konami should have contacted Rammstein to do their soundtrack.
I’m not a big fan of what I like to call “artificial replay value” and unfortunately, Contra pleads guilty to this crime. While this game could easily be beaten in an hour had there been more continues, the designers opted to limit the number of lives and continues in hopes of extending the game’s extremely short longevity. Changing difficulty levels doesn’t really actually affect the gameplay but instead changes the number of lives and continues available to the gamer.
Thankfully the addictive gameplay makes up for the majority of the game’s shortcomings. You won’t be sitting there thinking to yourself, “you know? This music blows, I hate it!” because chances are, you’ll be too pre-occupied with the on-screen action. The gameplay is vintage Contra and in that respect, it makes the game just absolutely spectacular. You better make sure to rest your thumbs because they’ll be getting a whole lot of lovin out of this one, thankfully you’ll have a better gamepad than that old NES controller to work with. In an age where games have moved into the single-player realm it’s nice to see that companies are still catering to the multiplayer crowd. Games of this type (beat-em ups, side-scrolling shooters) are far and few between. Play this with a friend; you’ll have yourselves one hell of a good time.
What I get when I play Contra: Shattered Soldier is that weird fuzzy feeling that comes arrives when one is surrounded by fond memories. It’s that sort of reminiscing feeling that somehow always brings a smile to my face. The game has those intangibles that come with nostalgia and history that cannot be manufactured but instead, must be felt intrinsically. This is classic Contra by every definition of the word and while to newcomers this game may feel light years behind, I’m certain that hardcore fans wouldn’t have it any other way.
Konami updates their classic franchises with slick visuals and classic-style gameplay. Just like the original, it ends up being a bit too shallow and simplified for its own good.
Rating: 8.4 Good
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.
It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.
It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.
When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."
As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.
When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.
Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile