Remember Contra? After Green Beret (Rush 'N' Attack to Americans) it was the definitive run-and-gun game from Konami which saw two games in the arcade and ports and sequels on home consoles. I cannot say I ever played the latter, but the former I remember well. Despite being punishingly difficult (to me, anyway) there was something compelling about it that caused me to drop numerous tokens into the arcade cabinets withstanding the frustration over easy and repeated deaths. Contra ReBirth is true to that arcade heritage, though thankfully no further tokens are required after the initial 1000 Nintendo point investment, and it's a good thing too because even on the easy setting this game is repeatedly kicking my ass!
Starting it up you're treated to a lengthy intro movie from the point of view of Bill, our hero, who apparently wakes up with some robot on a space ship. Skipping past that you see an opening screen that looks like that on an SNES or Mega Drive game with three choices in English: 1 Player Start, 2 Player Start and Options. Start the game and you're looking at what could be Contra III in the arcades or Contra IV on the SNES/MD. Nice looking 2D sprites -- though as in Gradius ReBirth many of these are textures on 3D rendered characters made to look like 2D sprites. The effect is pleasing and anyone who has played any Contra game immediately knows what to do: run and shoot everything!
The controls in the game are the same in terms of being able to hold the fire button and use your d-pad to change firing angle or pressing down to lie prone for shooting enemies in the kneecaps or hitting those low-to-the-ground enemies. Jumping results in the familiar backflip manoeuvre and pressing down and jump on a platform causes you to descend to the one below. A new addition is the ability to change weapons with one in reserve.
Including the default "Normal" gun there are three others providing variation in your arsenal. Controls are completely customisable from the option menu. The default is Wii Remote on its side with a swing to do the weapon swap and 1 and 2 buttons firing and jumping, respectively. Oddly enough I kind of liked using the motion control, though in time I may remap the function to the A button. There also appears to be a "Fix" button, but I have no clue what that does and it's not part of the default Wii Remote layout at all. Classic Controller and Gamecube controller are also supported for those who like that sort of thing.
I should also mention that the game is in 480p, but like Gradius ReBirth it's a 4:3 aspect ratio title. Unlike Gradius Rebirth the game is presented in a "pillarbox" format, so widescreen owners won't need to change aspects manually (yay), though the bars on the sides are black rather than grey (boo).
Enemies consist of the usual assortment of alien critters and turrets as well as people in weird jumpsuits, giant robots, giant rockets, weird spacesuited samurai fireball throwing aliens hanging from rockets, giant space centipedes -- you know, typical Contra baddies. Enemies are nicely animated; sometimes coming from the background to the foreground (or vice-versa) in scaling sprite stylee and all very colourful and lethal to the touch.
Like its arcade forebears, despite repeated bottom paddling (or due to my deviant nature perhaps because of this), I still find myself wanting to virtually "insert coin" to continue. It just has that same great feel of a nice Contra game: the feeling that "oooh, if I'd only timed that jump better he wouldn't have got me!" which eases frustration (slightly). To make life a little easier you can increase the default lives from 3 to a maximum of 7 and there is the Easy difficulty setting, though frankly that only really seems to have the effect of making bosses and sub-bosses require less damage to destroy so I found it not much easier than the Normal level. I haven't felt I required further challenge, so I've not tried Hard yet!
There are unlimited continues, but your score (which interestingly is only displayed on a status screen between game areas) resets with each one, so that should be sufficient incentive to avoid wanting to go on for those requiring bragging rights. The braggart will have to rely upon ye olde photographic evidence however as there are no online leaderboards or additional game modes to be seen and only the highest score is tracked without the ability to enter one's initials. There is also no save system or checkpointing, but it doesn't seem like a very lengthy game; just one that requires a bit of skill to master.
It's a nice update to a classic franchise with lovely nods to the 16-bit console era. Everything outside of the text in the intro bits is in English, so I expect a worldwide release will be simple, but then I thought that about Gradius ReBirth, so who knows when this will see release overseas. For people able to buy this game I think it's 1000 points well-spent; for others, well...just think how excited you'll be when you can finally download it on your system!