By Denpa no Sekai . May 25, 2009 . 9:08am
[ This guest post is written by Denpa no Sekai and he shares his impressions of Contra: Rebirth. Thanks for telling us about the rocket riding and providing insight on the soundtrack! ]
The Contra series has always known for its big guns, big muscles and big explosions. But Konami took a page from Metal Gear when they stealthily released Contra Rebirth for WiiWare on May 12th, three days after it was announced through a lone page on their Japanese website. It may be available now, but the majority of hardcore Contra fans outside of Japan still probably have no idea that a new episode is wreaking havoc on Nintendo’s retro-friendly virtual platform. But how much of Contra Rebirth is actually new?
While the “Rebirth” label may lead to the assumption that this is a remix of the earliest Contra games (akin to Gradius Rebirth), the four screenshots that Konami put on the product information page clearly show that the inspiration for this new entry mostly comes from Contra III. But since WayForward already did a proper canon sequel, how could Rebirth possibly fit in Contra’s already convoluted timeline? The predictably-cheesy plot won’t be spoiled here, but let’s just say that the story takes place in 2633 – two years prior to the events in The Alien Wars. That’s right; Rebirth is actually a prequel to Contra III.
The first thing you’ll notice upon loading this game is the particular hand-drawn art style used in the cutscenes and, to some extent, in the game itself. Take heed, for the opening stills of a nearly-naked Bill Rizer may bring forth vivid images of Greg Valentino in his “prime”. That said, the in-game sprites of our overly muscular warriors are very smooth and so are those of their opposition. The action moves at a brisk pace despite constant explosions and an endless stream of foes and bullets; not once did slowdown of any kind rear its ugly head. In apparent tribute to Konami’s first 16-bit games, enemies and debris will often fly toward players using Mode7-like sprite scaling, injecting even more retro goodness into a title that just thrives on that factor. Fan service is everywhere to be found; rest assured that you’ll be riding a fair amount of rockets. My favorite part actually comes from the very first seconds of play, as our heroes catapult themselves into an enemy spaceship, in outer space… from a helicopter.
But certainly, you’ll also instantly recognize that just as much effort was put into making sure that Contra Rebirth also sounds the part. The tracks are pretty much all remixed and highly-influenced versions of previous Contra games. Here’s an interesting fact: WayForward (wisely) asked Jake Kaufman (aka virt) to compose all music and sound effects for Contra IV. History sort of repeats itself here, as Chibi-tech, another American chiptune composer (and longtime friend of virt, hence the connection) is listed in the staff credit, alongside Hitoshi Sakimoto’s Basiscape Ltd… it’s a small world after all. His involvement is not entirely clear, but talk about moving up in the industry! Definitely the most interesting part about the soundtrack is that it features a distinctly heavy MegaDrive/Genesis sonority that is sure to please Hard Corps fans.
It looks good, it sounds good, so how does it play? Luckily for us, the experience is exactly what we’ve come to expect from a true-to-form Contra game. Diehard fans that enjoyed Contra IV but wished for a console version instead of a diminutive iteration will be pleased, as this is the game they were waiting for all along. The five stages range from memorable to passable but they all feature interesting cameos at some point, including some very cheap bosses. A hallmark of this series is intense cooperative play, which was thankfully implemented in this new chapter. Three levels of difficulty are available by default, but only the most skilled players will unlock the Nightmare mode. Naysayers may be quick to dismiss the Easy mode, saying it doesn’t belong in a Contra game, but the game is just a blast to play cooperatively and not all of our friends and relatives were granted Contra expertise upon birth. But even so, continues are unlimited right out of the box and player stock can be adjusted up to 7, so the difficulty can truly be tailored to anyone’s skill level.
Which brings us to a crucial question: where does the Konami Code fit in? It’s still too early to tell, but so far it appears that the world-famous sequence was omitted. Surely there is no need for 30 extra lives when you have infinite credits. Perhaps it could open up a sound test menu, which is sorely lacking from the option screen. Speaking of which, secretive developers M2 opted to give players three fully-customizable control schemes: Wii remote (sideways), Classic Controller or Gamecube Controller. The Wiimote by itself handles this game just fine… but the CC option means ardent devotees can use the Hori Fighting Stick to simulate an arcade experience.
Contra fanatics outside of Japan (or without a Japanese Wii) will possibly have to bide their time. The fact that Contra Rebirth is essentially ready for the English-speaking world (including all menus and some decidedly macho voice acting) sadly doesn’t mean much. Six long months elapsed between Gradius Rebirth’s Japanese launch and its American landing. Let’s just hope that Konami has a bigger budget for the North American promotion of this game than what they set aside for the Japanese one (if any at all), because this is a title that deserves our attention. Although Contra Rebirth sometimes feels like an elaborate fan-made tribute, it nonetheless remains an official entry in the venerable series. Hopefully Contra will not be the last in Konami’s line of “Rebirth” WiiWare titles; if trademarks are to be believed, M2 could be working on Salamander Rebirth as we speak.