Review by Da Dood

"Fresh Contra fix."

Contra Rebirth (2009), Konami - R010 - 09.14.2009

According to Keiji Inafune, creator of the Mega Man franchise, online gaming is the key opportunity to revive classics that likely wouldn't survive in the ultra competitive console market. With lower production values and a less blown-up scope, WiiWare (and other digital media services) presents a fascinating situation where our deepest nostalgic desires can be granted for about ten dollars. Who's never toyed with the idea that a new game just like the old game would be the best?

Well, Konami's Rebirth series distorts our fantasy in a crude way: these games aren't quite the best. In fact, they're not nearly as meaty as some earlier iterations, let alone the retro reboot in your head. They do, however, work as an interesting "fix" exercise, where you may experience your fond memories in a different enough flavor.

Far from a serious contender in your favorite shooters list, this Contra Rebirth doesn't particularly offer anything new, even taking away a number of established features. This is, regardless and more importantly, prime run-and-gun entertainment at heart.

Choose between two palette swap characters, skip the cutscene - the story is totally nonsensical and unimportant - and jump into action. There is no tutorial, no introductory stage elements. The idea is to run to the right, shoot anything that moves and try to stay alive. It's hell on Earth from the get go, just like old times.

And just like old times, Contra still controls like a dream. Responsive input, straightforward commands, you'll never feel that your death was a product of a lack of freedom to shoot or dodge. Wiimote, Classic Controller and GameCube Controller are all compatible (out of the way: Classic is strongly recommended). You may set any action to any button, simple as that. Most Contra games released since The Alien Wars allow the player to hold down a button to plant the character's feet on the floor, facilitating aiming. This is a fantastic feature, and it's here.

{ Important: I have noticed from some player impressions and reviewers that they played a good chunk of the game complaining that they couldn't run while holding the attack button on the Wiimote. This is indeed possible, just gotta tweak some settings first. 'Fixed aim' is a normal command set to holding down the attack button as default, forcing the player to tap the button if they want to run and gun. However, you can set the 'fixed aim' function to any free button of your controller and it'll go back to normal. }

Not only Contra Rebirth feels and controls like always, the game is designed in good old Contra 101. Action is non-stop, with one engaging combat scenario after the next, countless projectiles flying in every direction, plus that mini-boss that looks like a boss only to die and reveal the true boss. Areas vary mostly cosmetically, with the occasional auto-scroll section, and there are no unorthodox stages such as the Mode 7 top view in Contra III (I'm sure most will find this positive). You may store and switch between two weapons, and Spread is still the best power. Alas, out of only four...

The default power is the machine-gun (like the original M), and thank all goodness, it's fairly effective and you don't have to mash the button for a stream. But there are only three power-ups in the game: Spread, Homing and Laser. That's it. No bombs, no firing speed boost, no shield. Of course, it's not like you'd be anticipating anything other than Spread throughout the NES games, but then there's Hard Corps, where each character has their own arsenal, and Contra 4, where all weapons can be upgraded to become insanely powerful. A fully upgraded Homing in Contra 4 is quite a respectable force, whereas in Rebirth it's merely a convenience. Laser shines against bosses, but it's a total wreck everywhere else. Still, when Spread is available, and it is rather frequently, you'll be destroying aliens left and right (and sometimes up).

Infamous series trademarks are present as well, including one-hit deaths and brutal enemy patterns.

Oh, the patterns...

Old-school shooters rely a great deal on memorization to encourage replay sessions. You will die a lot until you've mastered spawn locations and attack routines. It's part of the charm, and it feels great when you can laugh at what just owned you days before. For this reason, the intelligent decision of allowing the player to start with up to 7 lives should help smoothen that learning curve, along with infinite Continues and multiple difficulty settings. The result is, for better or worse, a more forgiving game than most predecessors. The only minor oversight is that there's no way to rack up extra lives with high scores.

Even if for some reason you must start over, reaching the point where you quit shouldn't take long. Contra Rebirth is as short as any Contra, clocking in at about 25 minutes per run. Pacing certainly contributes there, as you'll be running and gunning from start to finish, with your only break time being the pause menu and the still-cutscenes between the five stages. Both the short length and crazy fast action make the game ideal for just plowing through in one sitting, whenever you have a good half hour to kill. If you're an old-school gamer, and this is aimed directly at them (possibly with Spread), it's a real treat.

Other than the game's natural addiction value, there are some unlockable features for those who prefer revisiting their collection with that something extra. The palette swap protagonists, for example, welcome two additional comrades upon completing Easy and Normal modes. Without spoiling much, while they don't differ in stats or control, they look... absolutely nothing like the usual shirtless hero. Beating the game on Hard difficulty unlocks Nightmare mode, where every single enemy you defeat turns into a blue energy ring that homes in your direction. It's that ridiculous.

On the presentation side, Contra Rebirth offers what you'd expect from a 16-bit effort back in the day. Visually it's a bit timid, sometimes uneven: the well animated main characters look slightly out of place storming through such bland scenery. Everything that dies explodes like fireworks, an impressive feat since there is no slowdown, but they will very often cloud enemy bullets. Occasionally you'll enter inspired territory, such as a boss battle that happens on a series of falling debris in the sky. Simple as Contra Rebirth may look, its visual effects never fail to suck you into that intense chaos atmosphere. All those people running away from trouble in the city, and you're heading towards the mess. Makes you feel all badass, you know? The game makes constant smirk-inducing references to the series, including previous stage archetypes and music. There's a sort of Genesis quality to the sound in this game, squeaky as ever, although it's always nice to hear some familiar tracks. Rebirth recycles several memorable tunes, from the original Contra to Hard Corps.

Contra Rebirth is not brilliant. You definitely could do better with your money. On Virtual Console, with Contra III's timeless finesse, and on WiiWare, even, since Mega Man 9 and World of Goo are truly magnificent gems of our time. But if you're a Contra freak in need of fresh Contra fix, this is just what you're looking for. Lock and load, and get ready to attack aggressively.

- Classic Contra action;
- Responsive, fully customizable controls;
- May start with up to 7 lives, unlimited Continues.

- Lame weapon variety;
- No way to rack up lives;
- Too many explosions, clouds view often.

Eight out of ten.

Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 09/14/09

Game Release: Contra ReBirth (US, 09/07/09)

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