Review: Contact (Nintendo DS)

Contact DS
Developer: Grasshoper Manufacture
Publisher: Atlus
Genre: Action RPG

Release Date: 10/19/2006

Every so often a somewhat original game realizes its originality and ends up playing off of that to be even more original then it originally was. Contact might end up being the most original RPG of all time in not just its story, but in its control, its humor, and its wonderful approach to every RPG clichÃÆ’© in the book. Contact is not a game for everyone as parts of it will profoundly frustrate those people who feel completely cut off from a game if you canâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t press the A button to attack. Contact is a game that has some hilarious parts to it. Like Grasshopper Manufacture bizarre yet beautiful Killer 7, Contact is a wildly different approach to the art, yes art, of creating video games. Contact redefines the very notion of what an RPG can be.

1. Story

Contact is really two separate stories in one game. The first is that the Professor and his space dog (who wants to be a space cat) named Mochi. They call out into outer space and make contact with you through an extraordinary device known as the Nintendo DS. The Professor asks you to buy one for him as it is an extraordinary device, but being a cheap bastard, you refuse of course. This is your introduction to the wonderful and often 4th wall breaking world of Contact.

In Contact you play as yourself. Since Contact is a video game though, youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re indirectly influencing the actions of a young boy named Terry. Terry is very inexperienced as far as world saving goes, but since todayâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s video gamers have ample experience, the Professor entrusts you to guide Terry to helping him fight off people trying to destroy the world. Sure, this would be considered â┚¬Å”kidnappingâ┚¬Â by most people, but Terry is a bit dense. The Professor and Terry go around collecting green shards of the professorâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s spaceship mysterious power sailing from island to island. Yes, sailingâ┚¬Â¦ in a 17th century galleonâ┚¬Â¦ to collect space ship partsâ┚¬Â¦fighting â┚¬Å”cosmic terroristsâ┚¬Â. Yeah.

Contactâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s story in and of itself is very reminiscent of something like Startropics. The method of telling it is much closer to one of the hilarious Monkey Island games though. Contact is vague at times and perhaps practically inaccessible at other times. Contact is just such a difficult game to discuss because any discussion of the story doesnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t do justice to it. The amount of jabs in this game tossed at the video game industry both specific (Hit the enemyâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s weak point for massive damage) or the slightly vaguer (There are no guys with â┚¬Å”spiky hair or amnesiaâ┚¬Â).

If there is a problem with Contactâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s story itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s that it is just too darn difficult to get through at times. The weirdness of Contact is overwhelming at times. This makes it a bit challenging to really get into Contact. The same can be said about the utter lack of personality that Terry has. Terry has about as much personality as a turnip (and even then the Super Mario Brothers 2 turnips have more interesting faces). Granted, Terry is meant purely as a puppet for the player to control, but there is utterly nothing interesting about him.

Contact has a beautifully weaved story with just a few slight flaws. The creativity of the gameâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s story causes much more joy then it does frustration. Contact is an exceptionally original game that offers gamers a wonderful experience if they are willing to work towards it. Contact is not a game for the meek of mind or heart. Nothing proves that more then itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s wonderfully bizarre yet slightly conventional story.

Score: 8 out of 10

2. Graphics

Contact is a very odd looking game. The professor and his space dog who wants to be a space cat Mochi live in 8-bit world while Terry lives in a much more animated world. So much has already been said about how the game borrows heavily from the Mother series (Earthbound in the US), but Terry dwells in a world that is much closer to the various Lucas Arts games such as the classic Escape From Monkey Island. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s an interesting look.

One of the easiest criticisms to make against Contact is that the two distinctly different styles that really look out of place when they cross over to each otherâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s worlds at first blush. When Terry visits the Professor or when you summon Mochi to help you, they look very invasive in each world. This is done to further the whole motif of invasion that permeates the game. Few games use the look and style of a game to really further the story. Like Killer 7, the style of Contact has consequences on the storytelling of the game. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s an odd choice, but a compelling choice.

Contact may look pretty dated with its pixelated graphics in one screen and the PC adventure look in the other screen. Most reviews will pass Contact off as a game where the graphics donâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t stack up to the gameâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s different control style and humor. The graphics in Contact accomplish something much more important then being easy on the eyes. Even if they arenâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t â┚¬Å”goodâ┚¬Â in the traditional sense of what we think of as good graphics, Contactâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s graphics serve the story much more then the beautiful and epic cut scenes we see in a Final Fantasy like game. Contact is not a beautiful game, but it is an artful game.

Score: 8 out of 10

3. Sound

Contact is very classical in its soundtrack. Characters have a specific â┚¬Å”voiceâ┚¬Â when they start talking similar to a Rare game, but this is underutilized a bit. The music is very good if a bit repetitive (especially the battle music). Ultimately, the sound of Contact is very minimalist compared to the rest of the game which is reveling in its own uniqueness and oddity. The sound isnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t bad, just underwhelming when taken with the rest of the game.

Score: 6 out of 10

4. Controls

Contact has a very different method of controlling the game. Contact plays like a combination of Secret of Mana and Lunar Dragon Song (in a good way). Rather then directly battling monsters, people, or animals, you put Terry into a battle stance and he does his thing with attacking. You can order him to perform magic or tactical moves, but for the most part Terry is on his own. Thatâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s not to say there isnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t strategy in the battle system. Since Terry strikes at random, you can try and move in and out of an enemyâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s range trying to hit it before it hits you. Additionally, the ability to use the decal system in battle as sort of a trump card adds a great deal of depth to the game, especially if youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re in the middle of a big dungeon right before a save point.

Speaking of the decal system, thereâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s a lot to talk about with it. The decal system is essentially Contactâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s way of having special attacks. Each decal gives you a different ability whether it is a nominal boost in Terryâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s stats or turning every enemy on screen into a (mostly) harmless bunny rabbit, thereâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s a wide variety of uses of the decals. The decals come in two forms, re-loadable or one shot. The re-loadable decals can be used and then given to you again by the professor. They include summoning Mochi to attack the enemies on the screen, using the microphone to blow up a balloon on the screen, or collecting cell pieces. The other decals can be found by defeating enemies and they can be equipped to raise your abilities and discarded once you get better stats. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s an interesting feature.

The other somewhat different thing that Contact does is in itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s costuming system. Scattered throughout the game is various costumes that Terry can wear. Not only do they boost stats in different ways, but they also allow Terry to access different abilities and weapons. For example, Terry can toss on a cooks outfit to wield a variety of knives but also gang the ability to cook raw food to boost his stats and abilities. Thereâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s also a monkâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s suit, various mage suits, a thief suit, and so forth that alters Terryâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s abilities.

Speaking of abilities and weapons, one of the biggest aspects of Contact is the huge amount of collecting that can be done. There are hundreds of weapons, food items, decals, and miscellaneous items to be found. Contact encourages this collecting by giving you a nearly unlimited inventory space and by critically integrating all of the features of Contact to this collecting.

The big knock about Contact so far has been that you cannot directly attack. You can place Terry into a battle mode, you can cause Terry to cast magic, but you canâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t actually get him to swing his sword or his knife. There are times when this can be a rather big bother as Terry literally stands around for fifteen seconds at times while in battle mode when youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re waiting for him to strike. On the other hand, itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s nice that Contact isnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t a point and click and click and click Diablo style game.

The one real problem with Contact is setting magic. There are times where it is nearly impossible to set magic if youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re trying to. Furthermore, casting spells is very temperamental. There are times where Terry casts magic in two seconds and there are times where he casts it instantly. The variety in times makes it somewhat difficult to plan a strategy to attack, something sorely needed in some of the bigger battles.

Contact can be controlled either with the d-pad or the stylus most of the time. There are a few â┚¬Å”stylus onlyâ┚¬Â parts of the game like peeling off decals or playing with Mochi in the Professorâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s lab while Terry is sleeping. Both function well, though youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll probably move much more often with the d-pad then the stylus simply because itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s more familiar.

Contact is a very interesting game in how you play it. The problems with the controls in Contact are mostly due to personal preference. The game has a ton of options, but there are a few areas where Contact could have been made more consistent.

Score: 7 out of 10

5. Balance

Contactâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s system of leveling character stats rather then just â┚¬Å”levelingâ┚¬Â puts it in a class of relatively original games. The practicality of this though is that there is very little level grinding you need to do while playing Contact. Terry just sort of gets naturally stronger as time passes. Thatâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s not to say you wonâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t run into enemies that will completely brutalize you if you take a wrong turn, but the amount of level grinding required for Contact usually is subjugated only to right before a boss fight or right after you land on a new island.

The other nice part about Contactâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s balance is the game is never too easy. Even after increasing Terryâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s strength significantly, a swarm of four or five enemies will always take a serious chunk out of you. Additionally, boss fights are challenging too. The only slight concern with Contact is that if you die, youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re transported back to your ship rather then your last save point in a dungeon (even though you get a decal to do that). Still, thatâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s only a slight flaw in an otherwise well balanced game.

Score: 9 out of 10

6. Replay Value

Contact has a few problems with its replay value. The fact that the game isnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t about leveling and mini games as much as it is about collecting and side quests harms the replay value of Contact for gamers who get consumed with battling in a coliseum setting or to unlock that last secret character. The online aspect extends the gameâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s life considerably, but only if youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re into the collecting aspects of the game. Contact is about 20 hours long or so, a good length for a portable RPG. You may want to replay parts of it to enjoy the gameâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s humor, but most people will play it once, maybe spend an hour or two searching out secrets and such, and move on. Thereâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s a lot to do here, but youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll probably only do it once.

Score: 6 out of 10

7. Originality

Contact is a rather original game. Beyond the jabs at Sony and Earthbound, thereâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s a lot of different things going on here. It employs the system of leveling seen in Final Fantasy II and Romancing SaGa which is employed very rarely, especially today. The decal system is completely new even though it harkens back to the idea of summon spells or special abilities in arcade side-scrollers like Golden Axe. The interesting method of indirectly controlling Terryâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s fighting is also very original.

Mechanically the game is somewhat original, but the gameâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s true originality comes in its presentation. The clashing art styles, the games wit, the breaking of the â┚¬Å”fourth wallâ┚¬Â that weâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re all so familiar with, and the fact that you can slay townspeople blocking your way are all shining examples of how original this game is. Contactâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s online system is also quite different then most other games. All of this put together makes Contact one of the most original games of the year, and the most original RPG in years. Contact should (and hopefully will) stand along side Pokemon, Secret of Mana, and the Shin Megami Tensei series as an enduring example of what a good RPG can be.

Score; 10 out of 10

8. Appeal

Oy vey. Read what I said about Contact with regards to originality and read the three examples that I gave. Besides Pokemon, these series are only nominal successes in the United States. Contact has two big things going for it. First off, itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s an RPG on the Nintendo DS. Secondly, itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s got Wi-Fi which no other RPG, until Final Fantasy III, has on the DS. Contactâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s sense of humor and look will draw some people in too.

What hurts Contact is the combat system and the moves away from tradition. Many, far too many really, gamers will complain that you have no control over Terryâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s abilities to physically attack; apparently people really like pressing that A or X button to play an action-RPG. Furthermore, when an RPG is taken out of a fantasy setting, many of the *ahem* gamers who choose to play it dwindle. Furthermore, the costume system takes some getting used to and draws up images of Final Fantasy X-2 to most people (again, not a good thing). Contact is one of those games youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll either get or not get within playing it for ten minutes or so. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s sad that so many people will take a pass on what is a great game.

Score: 6 out of 10

9. Addictiveness

Thereâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s quite a bit to do in Contact, and the wit and charm of the game makes you want to keep playing. The only â┚¬Å”problemâ┚¬Â with it comes with the save system. Contact desperately needs a temporary quick save file as there are some lengthy sections of dialogue and other miniature cut scenes that eat up a chunk of time. Furthermore, Contact is really a game you have to be in the right mood to play. If youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re in that mood, itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s very easy to get sucked in by the game.

Score: 7 out of 10

10. Miscellaneous

Contact is easily one of the wittiest games weâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve seen on any system in years. Even the packaging stating what this game is and is not is hilarious. Atlus put a lot of love into the release of this game and it shows. The box and manual both ooze with Contactâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s cute yet dorky humor. There are few games out on the market these days that have this level of visible love shown to them. Well done.

Score: 10 out of 10

Inside Pulse Scores for Contact
Story: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Sound: 6/10
Controls: 7/10
Balance: 9/10
Replay Value: 6/10
Originality: 10/10
Appeal: 6/10
Addictiveness: 7/10
Miscellaneous: 10/10
Total Score: 79/100
Final Score: 8.0

Short Attention Span Summary
In a year of sequels, spin-offs, and other trite, Contact is a frontrunner for the best RPG of the year. Contact combines the wit of a Lucasarts Adventure game with the uniqueness weâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve come to expect from anything branded with the Atlus logo. At very least, Contact is worth renting. There are few games like Contact and even fewer games done as well. Highly recommended.