ReviewShattered Soldier was a love letter to gamers who loved their games hard and tough. Said gamers were very happy with this game - however, those who grew up with the NES Contra (and there are a lot of us) and just wanted to blow up stuff were annoyed at the overt deaths and relentless boss battles, as opposed to the regular run-and-gun of the old days. Konami, happy to give delicious treats to its fans but also wanting more sales, decided to give us a Contra for the masses, a game that anyone could at least settle into. And that is, undoubtedly, how Neo Contra came to be.
Neo Contra is much easier than Shattered Soldier, which will come as a disappointment to those of us who like our games to punch us in the teeth and spit on our broken, bloodied faces. Oddly enough, it also completely ditches the side-scrolling aspect in favor of a more dynamic overhead camera. This might sound like a bad idea, especially with the screenshots looking a mighty lot like Legacy of War, but thankfully the controls are much better. It really plays a lot like an overhead arcade game - like Ikari Warriors, Heavy Barrel, Thunder Zone or the overhead level of Super Contra. You can strafe and stand in place and rotate fire, as well as perform rolls and a spinning maneuver that makes you temporarily invincible. While this control scheme will be familiar for arcade gamers, you have to wonder why they didnít implement a dual analog control scheme a la Robotron or Smash TV. You cannot jump, which thankfully means no awkward platforming elements, or trying to hit airborne enemies with your weapons. There are several bad guys that are out of reach of your main guy - you have a lock-on to take care of these. Aiming this can be slightly difficult, as the trying to get the enemies into the targeting cone is a little awkward, but itís never too hard.
Besides the airborne lock-on weapon, you have two regular weapons to take into battles, ranging from the usual machine guns, flamethrowers, grenades and (thankfully) the spread gun. There are only three configurations of these at the beginning of the game, and while more open up later on (the Gradius V weapon set, featuring the Ripple Laser and G V Laser, is one of the coolest), you never get to mix and match what you want. You also canít change your weapons at any point once you start the game, so once you pick one set, youíre stuck with it.
As mentioned before, Neo Contra is far easier than Shattered Soldier. Actually, itís far easier than almost any Contra game. This time around, they are far more generous with lives, credits and even checkpoints. Once again, the real challenge is getting a good ranking so you can unlock the better endings, and once again this is accomplished by (A) blowing up as much stuff as possible and (B) not dying. Even this isnít very hard, as they are also much more lenient. You can die twice in a level and still get an S ranking. Not only that, but the general design is geared towards gamer friendliness. The levels are structured more like the NES Contra games, in that thereís a fair amount of running around the stages, shooting things, before running into mid-bosses. It does strikes a good balance, but it also lacks the breakneck pace of Hard Corps or Shattered Soldier, which tosses gigantic creatures at you every few seconds. Itís not that Neo Contra is an easy game by any means, but considering its lineage, pros will most definitely be disappointed.
But once you get over that initial disappointment, thereís a lot to like about Neo Contra - it still maintains the fast action and destruction weíve come to adore. It also maintains the sheer amount of ridiculousness thatís been ballooning out of proportion within the past few games. One level has our heroes launched out of an erupting volcano - another has them running on top of the blades of a helicopter. And it gets sillier - the plot this time is that Bill and his buddy Jaguar are fighting against an evil group called Neo Contra. These fellows all have goofy names like Guerilla Contra, Plant Contra and Pheremone Contra, and are all introduced with just silly, silly cutscenes and even goofier death scenes. Donít even try to take these seriously - thereís almost no way the developers didnít intend this to be a parody of Metal Gear Solid, with their animal-themed titles and melodramatic speeches about soldiers and wars and death. And all of this nonsense isnít taking into account Animal Contra, a talking dog who commands his own battleship, wears a WWI helmet and has a tiny little sword despite the fact that he lacks the opposable thumbs to wield it. And THEN thereís the vocal title theme, sung by Paula Terry of Dance Dance Revolution fame, who belts out lyrics about defending the universe from evil. It may sound cheesy - and it most certainly is - but it lends the game a superbly unique charm that helps make Neo Contra stand out from not only any other game on the market, but the rest of the series. Those who only want dead-serious Rambo-style plots may be disappointed, but the stoic heroes, who remain deadpan through all of the wackiness, still somehow maintain their sense of badassness.
Unfortunately, Akira Yamaoka, the primary composer of the last game, is gone, replaced entirely by Sota Fujimori, who did several of the techno tracks for Shattered Soldier. That means that the grinding guitars are gone, replaced by a more dance-rave feel that would make ESPGaluda jealous. It may sound like the usual generic electronics beats that have become the reigning clichť nowadays, but it begins to grow on you after awhile. Still, at least a few songs are lifted from Shattered Soldier, just slightly rearranged, which is more than a little lazy.
So while Neo Contra might be a step in a different direction - and not necessarily a direction most fans may have wanted it to go in - itís still an incredibly fun game, and its relative ease means you may be able to convince your less twitch-enthused gamer friends to give a play along with you.
Thanks to EToychest for the Japanese pics.