Neo Contra has the dubious distinction of being the shortest game that’s ever graced my PS2. Granted, I tend to prefer those 100+ hour monster games, the sort that tend to warp time and somehow cause the morning sun to rise seconds after “just popping the game in for a few seconds” after dinner. Neo Contra barely lasted until the 11 o’clock news. Four hours after first watching that opening screen, I found myself looking at the closing credits for the “good” ending, having unlocked and successfully defeated all the levels. Thinking there must be something more, I dove back in for more of that unlockable goodness. A scant few hours later, I’m sitting with a “perfect” score on all but one level. Well, at least it didn’t overstay its welcome.
I’ve never played any of the previous Contra games, nor have I really even played any of the classic “shooter” style scrollers. So the story, such as it is, really makes very little sense to me. From what I’ve gathered, it’s The Future, and Stuff Needs Shootin’. So “They” thaw out the super-soldier, Bill Rizer, hand him a few guns, and set him loose. The plot, thin as it is, really doesn’t matter. But it is fun to shoot stuff.
Players initially have access to four missions, which can be played in any order. After completing these missions with a high enough performance rating, the subsequent missions become available. None of these missions are very lengthy, although they do have a nice mix of flavor. There are the typical “shooting stuff while running around” parts to most of the levels, which are interspersed with “shooting stuff while riding a speeding dinosaur”, “shooting stuff while climbing a wall and being chased by a huge monster”, and even “shooting stuff while running atop the whirling blades of a helicopter, somehow managing to avoid being pureed.” Since the levels are all so short, they’re quite simple to memorize, which becomes essential for getting the high performance rankings later on.
There’s no collection of power-ups or weapons here. A “weapon set” is chosen at the beginning of the game, and that set will last the entire game. Each weapon set consists of two “ground level” weapons and an “above-level” weapon. The ground level weapons can be swapped out quickly and easily when the need arises, and they take care of anything that walks, rolls, or crawls around in front of Our Hero. The above-level weapon takes care of anything that’s out of reach or hovering overhead. It takes a bit of practice to effectively use the various weapons of a given set, but after a short while most everything on the screen is falling in a hail of lead/flames/plasma. As for the weapons themselves, they run the gamut from mundane (machine-gun, grenade launcher, homing missiles) to the truly bizarre (drill gun, squiggly laser stream). And the weapon sets differ greatly in usefulness, too. Some are almost useless, and some are so powerful as to be almost game-breaking. In fact, once one particular weapon set is unlocked, it’s laughably simple to complete the game in short order.
Most of the non-boss enemies can be killed with one or two shots, which is a good thing because all it takes is a single hit to kill Our Hero. Thankfully the enemies are, for the most part, quite simple to avoid. The bosses are a bit tougher, but certainly not incredibly challenging. In the classic vein, a bit of pattern-recognition and a decent memory will help defeat most bosses, as they carry out their attacks in nice, orderly, and predictable fashion. Of course, most of the bosses have more than one form and change their pattern as they’re damaged, so it’s not a complete cakewalk.
Graphically, things look…well, ok. Neo Contra takes the top-down angle, so it’s sometimes difficult to get everything in view of the screen. Apart from that, however, everything runs smoothly, enemy deaths are sufficiently gore-filled, and it’s quite easy to tell which enemies are going to try to attack with a sword, which ones are going to try to shoot you, and which ones are giant spider-things. Sound is decent as well, although the voice acting is just about as cheesy as the dialogue it’s reading. The game never lasted long enough for me to become annoyed or attached to the music, so I’m rather neutral on that point. Controls are pretty easy, weapon swapping is a breeze. There are also controls for a strafing move, as well as a position-lock and a fancy, indestructible spin maneuver, but players will get varying mileage out of these.
So is Neo Contra fun? Well, I enjoyed the brief time I spent playing it. And I’m sure there are lots of ways to increase the replayability, if one is so inclined. There are quite a few things to unlock, from levels to weapons to special characters and various extras. A two-player mode is available as well. And one could easily increase their difficulty by focusing on one of the more…esoteric weapon sets. For me, however, I feel I wrung out all the enjoyment in this title in a little under seven hours. For Contra fans, or those who like quick, down-and-dirty, and just a bit mindless shooters, Neo Contra might warrant a purchase. That being said, however, this title just doesn’t have the longevity to get my recommendation.
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A decent platform shooter that just ends up being too short. Passably fun while it lasts.