Contra Rebirth came out on Monday for WiiWare, and it is fantastic. Contra is a classic run ‘n gun shooter that I’ve talked about in my work before and also created a machinima about. Contra Rebirth takes the old formula and brings it back with quite a bit of humor and insanity to boot, which is very interesting considering how the Metal Slug series borrowed Contra-style action and infused it with humor. In a sense, Contra is now borrowing from a series that was inspired by it! The series has essentially shed the seriousness that was present in Shattered Soldiers and Contra 4 and went back to its core: these games are just fun to play and don’t have to take themselves seriously.
Just to give a sense of the humor, the game is packed from cutscenes with ridiculous dialogue and situations to zany bosses and over-the-top action sequences. It includes a herd of giant robotic camels; Contra’s other hero, Lance Bean, dressed in drag; a Cho Aniki-esque giant statue boss; a stampede of wild aliens – even the Galactic President looks like Che Guevara! And the game had me with the exploding logo for the title screen.
Of course, this isn’t to say there is no challenge: the Contra games have always been known for their difficulty, and Rebirth is no different. The game is heavily pattern-based, but this means playing through several times in order to clear it. But even though you will die many times, the game gives infinite continues and has continue points, making it similar to Metal Slug – Konami has done their homework. The game gives a nod to its difficulty by reminding us of the many Contras lost during the course of the game. And in the end, Bill Rizer also goes back into stasis to ‘rest in peace’.
I feel the audio and visual aesthetics also require a nod. The audio replicates the early chiptunes of Konami’s arcades and the MSX while the graphics borrow the pallette used in Contra 3. All of this points back to nostalgia while simultaneously pushing Contra forward through the release of humor.
Contra Rebirth is short, sweet, and the infinite credits gives it instantaneous pick up and play; the humor plus the ease of play adds to its replay value. In many ways, it was a Contra game I was looking for, even if I do wish it had an extra level or two. It’s not going to win any art contests or make us think about ourselves. But that’s not what its point is, and its design is a polishing of an old, classic style. It’s something to sit back and play with a smile that helps forget everything, at least for awhile.