Contact was one of my most anticipated titles for the year thanks to screenshots showing its strange visuals and Earthbound-like humor. The fact that it came from Suda 51’s grasshopper studio and is published by one of my favorite publishers (Atlus) hyped the game even more for me. I thought that Contact was going to be the second coming of Earthbound, especially after hearing nothing hopeful about Mother 3 making it over to the US.
The one aspect I was most looking forward to was the humor. I thought the game would poke fun at itself and other video games, and I was right. Not only does Contact take itself lightly, but the localization team did a fantastic job injecting it with jabs at pop culture. There are parodies of a popular band, MySpace, Metal Gear Solid, and blogs. The game’s perfectly catered to its audience in that respect.
Unfortunately, the music wasn’t what I was expecting. I was hoping for some catchy tunes that would stick in my head even after I turn the DS off, but most of it was forgettable. There were a few voices that started annoying me after the first hour. Mochi’s (the space dog who thinks he’s a cat) meows every few minutes and the high pitched laughter-voice of the female characters made me turn down the volume several times.
I expected the game to require more strategy than it did to beat. The decals/stickers were something I had never seen in a game before, so I was curious to see what they would add to the game. There are two types of decals: the ones the professor gives Terry (the character you control), and ones that can be found in treasure chests and on monsters. While there were some useful decals, most of the others from the professor felt gimmicky: two of them achieved the same effect. The decals that can be found are little more than stat modifiers, like wearing accessories or armor in other RPGs. Since only four decals could be put on at a time and uncovering one meant you had to either use it or throw it away, there was some strategy involved in picking which decals to keep on, but I couldn’t see a noticeable difference with what decals I had on either way.
I was delighted to hear about the different outfits Terry could change into since it sounded like a new take on the class/job system. However, after beating the game, I felt let down about them. Contact was plagued by the same problem other RPGs with job systems had: the jobs were unbalanced. Other than the chef and digging outfit, I never used any of the other ones because they didn’t offer any real advantage. I wish the devs could have catered the different islands to make use of the advantages and disadvantages of each outfit.
The battle system was also something that surprisingly let me down. I knew before playing the game that it was going to be an action RPG. Previewers had said that there wasn’t any direct control over battles: press a button to initiate attack, press a button to stop. That’s basically what battles turned out to be, with the addition of another button to use a skill which can be learned by gaining levels in a particular stat. Because the battles were so hands off, I never really felt like I was playing the game during fights. It was nice not to have to button mash thanks to the auto-targetting system, but sometimes it didn’t work correctly and the targeted enemy was actually behind another one, which meant I had to retarget to a closer one manually. Other than the reward of leveling some stats, battles started getting stale early on.
Because I thought the game would be so quirky and out there, I was let down by the bosses: they weren’t anything to write home about. I was disappointed how most of the bosses got their "boss status" by having more health, instead of being actually harder to fight or requiring a different tactic. Even games as early as Super Mario Brothers had bosses that required a different strategy. There was no strategy involved in how to beat any of the bosses — it was just get in as many hits as possible and keep your health up.
Despite my complaints, Contact was an enjoyable experience. I think I just ruined it by hyping it up too much for myself. While some people may find replayability in customizing all of the stats and getting all of the outfits, I don’t think I’m going to replay this anytime soon. I felt the developers put in a lot of promising features, which I was thrilled about while reading previews, but they failed to follow through with any of the features. While the humor and localization is great, that alone won’t bring this game out of its niche.