At any rate, this is a long roundabout way of saying I'm working on an HG101 article to Contra, mostly to accompany another Konami themed write-up I'm working on. I don't know when that'll actually go live, but in the meantime, here's a review of Contra Rebirth, which was released last month in Japan for WiiWare. I won't lie - I totally pirated this. I WOULD have paid for it, because it is excellent and way worth the 1000 points they're charging, but Nintendo's nimrod approach to digital distribution will continue to guarantee that they won't be seeing any real money from me until they get their act together.
The purpose of this Wiiware game is initially a bit confusing. The Rebirth series began with Gradius, which brought the series back to its 16-bit roots using similarly styled graphics, music and gameplay. But wait – wasn’t that what Contra 4 was supposed to be?
Well, kind of. If Contra 4 focused mostly on the first three games, Contra Rebirth also adds in some influence from Hard Corps, as well as bits and pieces from the other, later games. It’s another 2D game, with a visual style much like Contra III, and it plays pretty much the same way, including the two-weapon system and the position lock without strafing abilities, although the bombs are gone like in Contra 4.
The heroes from the get-go are Bill Rizer and Yagyu Jubei, the latter marking his second appearance after his debut in Neo Contra. The sprites look pretty decent, but the backgrounds are boring and look totally shameful – it’s sad that a portable title manages to look substantially better than a console game. Still, in action, it’s hard to notice, because it uses some effects, like the huge explosions from Hard Corps, as well as some scaling effects when certain enemies enter the playing field. The music is taken from a range of the Contra games, from the original up to Hard Corps, including even a song from Operation C, all done in the style of the arcade Super Contra, which is FM sound with some strong, digitized percussion. Once again, it's provided by Manabu Namiki, who, with Gradius Rebirth and Fantasy Zone II DX to his credit, seems to be the go-to guy for retro style arrangements.
While Gradius Rebirth was a bit too familiar for its own good, Contra Rebirth is a bit more innovative. The second and fifth level, the city and alien base stage respectively, should ring some bells for series fans, the other levels are mostly new. The first stage takes place in a spaceship under attack (you’re delivered by the same helicopter as the rest of the games, even though you’re in outer space) As you run past a window, you see a huge snake-like monster fly by, shooting it scales at the ship, which in turn crack through the floors and ceilings and start hatching little aliens. At the end, it launches another one of its spores on the window. Once you blow it up, it sucks you out into space, as you jump from debris to debris falling through orbit, destroy the snake bit by bit. The third stage has you riding a series of cyberneric llamas through the wilderness, first destroying a ninja-robot, then facing off against a gigantic missile which attacks by shooting other, smaller missiles. The fourth stage is a descent into a lava cavern and ends up with a fight against an animated stone statue. The final battle is against a huge floating garbage ball which lips the orientation of the screens. Like Contra 4, there’s just enough “holy crap” moments to keep it exciting while still feeling familiar.
The biggest problem is its lengths – it’s only five levels, along with a final boss fight, and it’s over. Still, Contra III was only six level, and two of them were wasted on the simple overhead stages, whereas Rebirth only has side-scrolling levels. For a Contra game, it’s also relatively easy on the standard difficulty settings, although the higher ones prove a nice challenge. Beating the game on different levels unlocks two additional characters – a cute little robot named Tsugumin and a robotic lizard-thing named Plissken. It’s probably not related to Snake’s callsign from Metal Gear Solid 2, instead going back to the original source of Kurt Russell’s character in Escape from New York, but you never know. In this case, you’re fighting against the General Salamander, and one of the pictures in the backgrounds looks like Venom, the bad guy from the MSX Gradius games (and Gradius Rebirth.) Could this be Konami trying together all of its classic game series together into the same canon?
The voice clips are remarkably cool and many pay homage to prior Contra games. Bill yells “Locked and loaded!” and "It's payback time!" upon respawn, like Ray and Wolf from Hard Corps. Plissken yells “It’s time for revenge!” and “Let’s attack aggressively!”, the same quotes from the English version of Contra III. Yagyu seems to be around just to yell out awesome sounding Japanese, while the little robot has a cute little synthesized voice. (A flower even pops up from her corpse when she dies.) In the intro, where Bill Rizer once again wakes up cryogenic sleep a la Shattered Soldier, the camera closes up on his face as his eyes shift back and forth wonders out loud “What is this place?”, just like the arcade Super Contra intro. It’s all so beautiful. All of this taken together not only works as a series tribute but also stands alone as an excellent game, easily up to the level of the 16-it titles.