Before I begin, take a moment to think back to the hardest game you’ve ever played in your gaming career… besides Battletoads… and Ninja Gaiden… Did Contra cross your mind? If it did, then congratulations! You are among the thousands, perhaps millions of gamers around the world that had your ass handed to you many times over by the sometimes unavoidable showers of gunfire and aliens. Contra ReBirth attempts to continue this legacy on the Wii with 16-bit graphics and more side-scrolling action than you can fire a Spread Gun at. Is this title a successful reboot for the series or does it need 30 lives to stand up in today’s market?
The story begins with Bill Rizer, from previous Contra titles, waking up from what appears to be a cryogenic stasis. He is a “Contra”Â (which is another term for badass), and has been awoken to combat the evil Neo-Salamander Force and prevent them from taking over the world. As either Bill or the samurai, Yagyu, you must navigate the game’s five stages and lay siege to Chief Salamander and his alien forces.
If this title’s premise sounds a little ridiculous to you, then you are not alone. It doesn’t matter though, as it merely serves as an excuse to run from left to right assaulting everything you see with a barrage of bullets. In fact, I think the developers had accepted the ridiculousness of the storyline at some point, and just went with it. I vaguely recall a scene where former Contra, Lance Bean, has to dress in drag in order to get behind enemy lines. As much as I would like to insert a witty comment to further highlight the sheer oddity of the scene I just had you envision, I honestly don’t think it’s necessary. Just let the imagery soak in.
The only real choice of modes to Contra ReBirth is whether you want to play with one or two players, which is standard for this franchise. There are also three difficulty settings to pull your hair out on, so good luck completing them all. Really though, what other mode could you possibly put into a Contra game? A multiplayer death match mode? Pffft. I’ve never heard of something so ridic… scratch that, let’s implement that feature in the next game! Konami, are you listening?
Story/Modes Rating: Mediocre
If you were a big fan of Contra III: The Alien Wars for the SNES or even Contra: Hard Corps for the Genesis, then you should feel right at home with the style of this game. Not content being 8-bit, while still staying away from 3D graphics, Contra ReBirth finds comfortable middle ground by looking like a title from the 16-bit era. Visually, this title is exactly where it needs to be.
There are a few “cutscenes”Â in Contra ReBirth, but not to the extent that most modern games would have. At the beginning and the end of the game, as well as in between stages, you will be treated to a series of still images that move the story along. Some of the images have a little movement, but it’s still just like reading a comic book onscreen. Of course, the focus has never been on the story in Contra titles anyways, so you will likely get a laugh from the humorous text in these scenes and then skip them the rest of the time you spend with this game.
Graphics Rating: Very Good
The soundtrack is a seamless blend of remixes from previous games, as well as some new stuff that fits in with the Contra atmosphere. If you’ve never played a Contra game before, then just think of it as music to blow stuff up to.
And speaking of blowing stuff up, that will be the majority of everything else that you hear in this game. Lots and lots of gun firing and explosions will be coming from your speakers, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you’re terrible at the game, you may also hear a ton of death cries from your character as well as a resounding “Let’s party!”Â as he respawns. Think of not having to hear that phrase over and over as an incentive for not dying.
Sound Rating: Good
You run and jump from left to right shooting at everything you see.
I can’t believe I said that about a title released in 2009. And you know what? That’s nothing to be ashamed of. For such a deceptively simple premise, the game throws a lot of stuff at you. There are gigantic bosses, battles fought while falling from the sky, giant robot ostrich things that deliver powerups to you as you ride on the back of a moving truck, and the list goes on. You also have slots for two separate weapons that you can hang onto, such as the homing missiles or the Spread Gun, but you will lose them if you die. And death occurs after being hit with but one bullet. Fortunately for you, it’s possible to modify the amount of your starting lives up to seven and you have unlimited continues in which to finish the game.
Playing this game with two players is when it truly shines. Not only will you have twice the firepower at your disposal, but couch co-op games like this are a total blast. Hopefully, whomever you choose to be your sidekick in this adventure can hold their own fairly well, as your partner can take your unused lives after theirs have been exhausted. I can’t imagine how many relationships were shattered after playing the NES original.
The game has fully configurable controls, and can be played using just the Wii remote, the classic controller, or even a Gamecube controller. The Wii remote was my first preference, as it more closely resembles the original NES controller than any other configuration. I was slightly baffled by some of the default settings that were provided for the Wii remote. For example, I could not for the life of me figure out why there were no buttons on the controller that allowed me to switch weapons. Little did I know there was no button for this. You have to shake the controller. Why would they delegate such an action to motion control when it’s far more convenient to map it to the A button? I could go on a rant about how just because you can use motion control, doesn’t mean you should. But that’s a discussion for another day.
Control/Gameplay Rating: Great
Since this is a game that has to be completed in one sitting, there should be an incentive for subsequent playthroughs. While it’s not much, each difficulty that you complete the game in unlocks a new character for you to play as. However, since the differences between these characters are purely cosmetic, it’s not exactly a huge motivation to stick your neck out in hard mode. Still, it’s more than what any of the other titles in the series offer, so at least it’s something. An endurance match or similar mode would’ve been nice though.
Replayability Rating: Poor
Contra games have a history of being difficult, and this one is no exception. The enemies that you will face are not smart by any means. But what they lack in strategy, they more than make up for in sheer numbers. There will be some cases where the screen is just covered with aliens and bullets and the only thing that you can possibly do is just to accept your inevitable fate and hope you don’t get screwed so bad the next time.
In comparison to other Contra games though, this one is a walk in the park. You have unlimited continues in which to complete the game and using one doesn’t necessarily drop you back at the beginning of the stage. Sometimes it will place you just moments before a boss fight that you may have lost to. If you’re playing on easy difficulty, you even get to keep your guns that you picked up! I was able to complete this game in one attempt and I honestly can’t think of any other Contra title where this has been possible. On the flip side, this makes a great entry point for newbies who want to experience what all the fuss is about.
Balance Rating: Above Average
Contra ReBirth does practically nothing to innovate its franchise or the genre it’s in for that matter. Everything that you see in this game has been rehashed in some form from a previous Contra title. All the weapons you can obtain have made previous appearances, and even some of the bosses you face have been lifted straight out of other Contra games. One might even say it’s a step backward because there are some things that it doesn’t do, such as the top down stages and the ability to toss grenades.
Originality Rating: Poor
Despite its faults, Contra ReBirth is a tough game to put down once you start. In fact, there isn’t one moment that is not full of excitement. Like a good action movie, once this game sinks its teeth into you and gets your attention, there is no getting away until you’ve seen it through to the end. Or until your friend bans you from playing anymore because you’re hogging all the free lives.
Addictiveness Rating: Classic
This game was seemingly made to remind long time fans of Contra and newcomers alike that it is a franchise that is still relevant. Not only that, but it aims to be a title that, while difficult, will not frustrate them to the degree of a game like Mega Man 9. It’s very easy to pick up and play, and as long as you have friends willing to blow stuff up with you, anybody casual or hardcore can get into it and have a great time. Just remember to share some powerups with your buddies.
Appeal Rating: Great
When I first tried this game, I was disappointed to find that the Konami code doesn’t appear to exist in this version of Contra. At least, not that I could find. Not that you would need 30 extra lives anyways, since you have unlimited continues. A code like that was invented for masochistic titles such as the original Contra, where you only had three continues of three lives each to conquer all eight levels. Back then, that was downright inhumane, even though it guaranteed that you would be playing that game for hours on end.
As of this writing, this game costs 1000 Wii points, or $10 if you prefer an actual dollar amount. I found this to be a decent price for this game, despite its short length, though I’ve been a Contra fan for years. Similarly, you can pick up other Contra titles on Virtual Console for less and they will likely last you a lot longer. The original Contra as well as Super C go for $5 each, and Contra III: The Alien Wars will only run you $8 and is very similar to this. That’s assuming you haven’t played those games to death already. Stick with ReBirth if you’re looking for a new experience.
Miscellaneous Rating: Mediocre
Graphics: Very Good
Balance: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Great
Final Score: Enjoyable Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Contra ReBirth is the culmination of a number of features from its predecessors all rolled into one. It’s more difficult than your average game, but still quite tame compared to the other titles in the Contra franchise. If you’re a longtime Contra fan and want to snatch up any new content that you can, you will likely be able to justify the $10 price point. If you’re a newcomer to the series, but have mentally prepared yourself for the punishing difficulty that Contra has to offer, your needs may be better served with the other games in the franchise that are currently on Virtual Console. If you’re a Contra virgin and want your first experience to be gentle, then ReBirth would perhaps be the right choice for you.