The Contra series has always been one of gaming's greats: incredibly simple yet fun gameplay, top-notch design, and of course, what the games are most known for, a hard-as-nails difficulty level. After multiple failed attempts to create a good 3D Contra game, the DS recently got a brilliant new 2D entry that, surprisingly, wasn't developed by series creator Konami. They've now taken matters back into their own hands, but has Konami learned anything from WayForward's entry?
In Contra ReBirth, you once again take control of the original game's hero, Bill Rizer. His partner, Lance Bean, has gone missing and it's up to him and a character who will be unfamiliar to most (and who is apparently a samurai, although he looks almost identical to Bill and uses the same guns) named Genbei Yagyu. Although the story is completely unimportant and not very interesting to boot, it is told using anime-style images between each level that are pretty nice to look at.
After the short, skippable intro, you're immediately thrust into the action. With a remix of the first level theme from the original game blasting in the background, enemies will immediately come running at you, but as in all the previous games they're pretty weak — it's the bullets that some of the other types of enemies shoot you'll have to worry about dodging. As in all previous games, you'll die with a single hit from anything, so it's absolutely necessary that you dodge or kill everything you see.
Your character will start with a machine gun, but rather quickly pods will float onto the screen which drop stronger weapons when shot - You have the choice of a shotgun, laser or homing missiles, which each has its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, the shotgun spreads out so you can hit a lot of enemies at once, but the laser shot doesn't disappear on contact — it'll go right through everything.
When you die, you'll lose the weapon you're holding, so that gives you even more reason to avoid getting hit. Unless, of course, you're playing on easy mode — then you'll keep your weapon no matter what! You can hold one weapon in reserve at any time, so on the higher difficulty levels, a useful tactic can be to switch to your weaker one right before you think you're going to die in order to keep the stronger one.
Some conveniences from Contra III, the game ReBirth seems most inspired by, have been omitted; there are no more smart bombs that eliminate all on-screen enemies, and it's no longer possible to hold both your weapons at the same time for double firepower. You'll just have to deal with the enemies one gun at a time!
Much like Gradius ReBirth, the game is surprisingly short. There's only five stages, but on the plus side, all of them are action-packed. Previous games sometimes broke up the action by including levels with completely different gameplay (such as the second and third game's overhead stages), which for the most part were fairly easy to beat, but none of those appear here. At the end of each stage you'll usually fight a mini-boss and stage boss in quick succession, usually together with something unexpected happening; how awesome is it to fight a giant worm in the middle of space while standing on moving debris from a spaceship that just blew up?
Thankfully, there's a bit of replay value. Beating the game on Easy and Normal will unlock two extra characters to play as (neither of them Lance Bean, strangely enough), while beating Hard actually unlocks an even more difficult Nightmare setting, in which every enemy you kill will leave behind a blue ring that instantly flies in your direction!
The levels all obviously include little nods to the previous games in the series; level two is almost a direct copy of the first stage from Contra III, while other sections of the game are bound to give you flashbacks of very similar locations from the other games. Naturally, a few of the series' final bosses also return to make your life miserable in the final stage.
Of course, Contra wouldn't be Contra without a 2-player mode. ReBirth is no exception, and it's just as chaotic as always — it can't get much more awesome than running around as two manly guys with giant guns mowing down seemingly endless amounts of aliens and robots.
Konami has once again opted for a very retro look for the game, which has worked out very nicely. There's a clear resemblance to Contra III in terms of graphics, but everything looks nice and smooth instead of pixelated, and the characters all have many more frames of animation. The music consists of remixes of old Contra tunes along with a few new songs, suiting the action perfectly.
Gradius ReBirth was a bit too short and easy compared to previous Gradius games (especially because previous games in the series already were pretty short), but with Contra ReBirth, Konami has struck the balance just right: there's only five levels, but they're all decently sized and quite challenging to get through. Once you think you've perfected your skills, you can try and see if you can make it through Nightmare mode, and of course, 2-player mode is always fun. For just 1000 Wii Points this is really a great deal and proof that Konami still has what it takes to make a good Contra game of their own.