ReviewThe first time I played Contra: Shattered Soldier was one of the most amazing moments of my video game life - with hardly a moment of hesitation, my hero shot through a billboard and exploded forth onto the playing field, riding his motorcycle towards the approaching gigantic battle ship that lie in the background. My jaw dropped and the drool began to flow - after playing video games for twenty years, here was an experience that made me feeling like a virgin all over again. From the get-go, Shattered Soldier grabs you by the throat, shoves its tongue down your throat, and makes love to you in the roughest, sweetest way imaginable.
Of course, this isn't going to be for everyone. Contra has always been known for being masochistically difficult, and this is thankfully no different. Practically every single boss encounter, you will get utterly decimated, and think to yourself, "How the hell am I going to deal with that?" But the game is so meticulously designed that each challenge is one you'll welcome with open arms, as these are some of the most well-planned battles you'll even find. The mechanics have been further tuned to allow you to lock your weapon angle when moving, making controlling your character a charm. And the redesigned weaponry system plays one of the biggest roles in making the gameplay as deep as it is. It has been somewhat controversial, since you always have three main weapons in your inventory that you can cycle through, thus there is no need for conventional power-ups. Instead, each piece of your arsenal has specific situations where it's particularly useful - the machine gun can be used to destroy explosives in midair, the homing missiles can take out lots of small, weak projectiles, and the bombs work best against enemies close to the floor. It can take a little getting used to, especially since certain weapons require charging up by holding the Circle button, but after a bit of practice, you'll be taking down aliens with incredible ease.
If there's any problem with the game, it's that since the game, like Hard Corps, is primarily a bossfest, and basic gameplay relies just as much on rote memorization as your reflexes. People looking for the platforming or regular run-and-gunning of the older titles will be rather disappointed. To make things a bit easier, there is a practice mode that lets you take runs through the levels with ten lives and gives you 99 credits to work with, although you can't beat the game like this. And every once in awhile, the game will generously increase the default number of lives or credits to make the going a bit easier. And the basic design further promotes complete mastery by ranking how well you play - you receive a rating based off how many enemies you killed, how many parts of the level boss you destroyed, and how many times you died. If you do well enough, you can enter the final levels of the game - otherwise, you'll get the bad ending. Truly beating Shattered Soldier requires the dedication of a true master. Unfortunately, the game is a bit on the short side - only five levels, and a bunch of boss fights, but there's plenty of action for your dollar.
But all of this challenge shouldn't put you off - the wars you must wage: fighting gigantic robots while hangliding on a missile, ducking beneath a monstrous human/fish hybrid, snowboarding down a mountain while being chased by an alien snake...all of these ooze intensity unlike any you've experienced, and part of this is due to the superb 3D graphics. Although it plays just like the 2D games, the whole world feels that much more alive when the bridge beneath you is destroyed or the zooms out to let you get a full view of the fifty foot robot you're about to fight. The game is also veritable fan servive to Contra fans, featuring many classic moments (and unique twists), all redone to fit the 128-bit generation. The character models do look a bit stiff and silly, but they're no worse than their sprite-based counterparts. The music has also switched gears to a hard rock/techno mix that perfectly compliments the action, even though it's usually drowned out by the sounds of machine guns and explosions. There is a vague semblance of a story - something about Bill Rizer, good ol' Player Two, being locked up for crimes he didn't commit, only to be unfrozen by the cyborg Lucia to kick the ass of an evil group of old men known as the Triumvirate. These cutscenes, luckily, are easily skippable.
Sure, it'll be frustrating when you reach the final boss battles and then lose your last credit. Yes, you will die, and die a lot. You may never, ever see the ending without a Gameshark. And yet this is one of those games where it doesn't matter, that you play for the pure zen experience of blowing shit up. This is the best looking, best sounding, most fluid, most well-designed game action game to come out...well, ever.
Comic (from Konami Japan's site)
Origami (from Konami Japan's site)