reviews\ Nov 3, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Contra: Shattered Soldiers - PS2 - Review

Are you looking for a challenge?  Was Super Ghouls 'N' Ghosts not headache-inducing enough for you?  Were you unsatisfied by Maximo, which only made you lose half of the hair on your head?  Then Konami has got just the thing you need to help push you over the edge, kiss your family goodbye and say hello to a mental institution.  It's not a drug and it's not another Spice Girls CD -- it's Contra Shattered Soldier.

Contra Shattered Soldier is the overdue sequel to everyone's favorite side-scrolling shooter series of the 8 and 16-bit gaming eras.  While developed specifically for a next-gen console (PlayStation 2), Shattered Soldier is true to its two-dimensional roots, using polygons only to enhance the game's graphical appeal.  Every level, and every gameplay mechanic is strictly 2D.  There are a couple of boss battles where the camera will shift in such a way that things appear three-dimensional, but your movements are still limited to simplistic actions.  This is the only time I'll use the word "simplistic" in this review, so please take note of it.  A group of inept monkeys could pick up CSS and play it for a minute or two.  But only a relentless stoic like myself will be able to complete this action-packed journey that Konami has created for us.

If, by some crazy chance, you have not played a Contra game before, then think of the series as Super Mario Bros. meets R-Type.  There's lots of running and jumping involved, but you don't have to collect any items, solve any puzzles or do anything other than shoot every enemy in sight.  This is accomplished through a decent control system that gives the player impressive attack abilities.  Ammo is unlimited, and every weapon can be fired continuously by holding down the attack button (square).

The game is almost always moving forward (to the right).  If you aren't being pushed forward automatically, the game more or less forces you to keep moving with enemies that constantly re-spawn in particular areas.  This keeps the action up at all times, except during boss battles, when the game overwhelms you with intensity.

There is no doubt in my mind that you will be in awe for the first five minutes of play.  If you were alive in the late 80s/early 90s, chances are you've played at least one Contra game.  My experience with the Contra games, although brief, was extremely memorable.  I don't know a single gamer who doesn't love the series.  All of the memories that you have will be rushed to your head when you begin playing Shattered Soldier.  The game feels so familiar, yet still fresh and new.  The 2D level structure, the onslaught of foes and the fancy weapons feature the same great, highly addictive, long-lasting appeal that made the whole world fall in love with the original Contra game.

Then the awe(some) feeling passes.  It is not replaced by disappointment, but rather an overly difficult set of enemies that will make you bang your head against the wall in agony.  Consistent termination is fine by me, especially when the enemy suffers every now and then.  But when you find out that the game provides you with three measly continues, and that the whole game must be beaten in one begin to wonder if you should even continue playing.  Is the torture with it?  Does your sanity matter?  Or is this merely a challenging game, not one of frustration, which is what it appears to be at the moment?

That last question is hard to answer, depending on the type of gamer you are.  Casual gamers, and any Contra virgin, will no doubt perceive Shattered Soldier as being frustrating.  On the other hand, hardcore gamers and long-time Contra fans will look past the excruciation and see a game that they must conquer.  A test that only the best players will be able to pass.  All things considered, most gamers will fit into the second category.

I would love to stop the review right now, but there's more to be told.  No one expected this game to be easy (at least, I didn't).  However, I did expect there to be save feature.  Guess what?  There is one, but it's only used to save your high scores!  Level completion is NOT recorded!  If you run out of continues, or feel like exiting to the level select screen, everything you have accomplished will be erased.  "It's not challenging enough as is, so let's force players to beat the game all in one sitting."  How brilliant.  Now instead of playing Contra frequently, I can let it sit on the shelf next to Super R-Type and watch it collect dust for a while.

In theory, you should be able to beat this game all in one sitting since it is very, very short.  But it's so difficult that I honestly did not want to beat it all in one sitting.  I would have preferred to stretch it out and give myself a breather every hour or so.  That's not possible though.  I can't even switch games if I want to play something else and come back to Contra later.  I really hate to degrade a game just because it lacks an actual save feature, but I have no other choice.

That said, Contra fans must play this game.  If you don't care about the fact that you can't save your game, then obviously you have an endless amount patience and look forward to a game that will make you scream mean things at your television.  In that case, Contra Shattered Soldier would be a must-buy game for you.  For everyone else, it's a must-rent, or a must-borrow kind of game that will have you feeling pleasantly tortured from start to finish.  The challenge is so extreme, even on easy mode (which, thankfully, gives you eight extra lives and 99 continues), that hardcore gamers will want to finish this game just to prove that they can.  (I must admit, that is one of the reasons why I stuck it out.)  Beating it will leave you feeling proud, if not a little shattered.

Reviewer's Scoring Details

Gameplay: 7.4
If you've been wanting to take a trip down memory lane, there's no need to give American Airlines several hundred dollars, when all you need is a PlayStation 2 and a copy of Contra Shattered Soldier.  It is everything the original games were, and is even more challenging.

Graphics: 6 
Smooth framerate, decent animation and colorful explosions make for a nice, attractive game.  Those things aside, this game is pretty close to a high-resolution PSone game.  There are more intricate details than that system could handle, but they're not too noticeable.

Sound: 6.5
Contra Shattered Soldier's soundtrack is comprised of repetitive rock and techno music.  It gets the job done, fitting in with the lower-class music of the 16-bit era.  But after hearing the same few songs over and over again, you'll be glad that someone invented the mute button.

Difficulty: Hard
It's games like these that make me wonder why we don't have an "ultra hard" category.  Seriously, Contra Shattered Soldier takes everything you know about challenging games and throws it out the window.  It is beatable, as all games are, but it's going to take a lot of effort to get through this hardcore shooter.

Concept: 6 
Contra Shattered Soldier is exactly what you would have expected a new Contra game to be like ten years ago.  It doesn't advance the series in any way -- the developers just stuck with what worked, created some new, extremely outrageous bosses and invited gamers to relive the past.  Dated?  Yes.  But this is a past worth reliving.

Multiplayer: 7.4
If you have a friend who is as dedicated as you are, then this game will be a real treat for you.  Most multiplayer games pit you against each other, but in this game, you're fighting against the all-mighty computer-controlled enemies.  As with the original Contra games, the co-op mode is incredibly difficult and incredibly fun.

Overall: 7.4
"He loves me.  He loves me not.  He loves me.  He loves me not..."  Oh, I'm sorry, I was just quoting my copy of Contra Shattered Soldier.  It keeps mumbling those words when I'm not playing it.  For some odd reason, it seems to think that I don't love it.  Well, it's wrong.  Unfortunately, it's also wrong when it thinks that I love it.  See, Shattered Soldier is an excellent game.  As a side-scrolling shooter, I couldn't have asked for anything more (except more levels!).  But as a whole, it's not the kind of game that I am looking forward to coming back to week after week, month after month, year after year.  I'm sure that I'll have the urge to beat it again in a year, and then again in five years.  But aside from playing the co-op multiplayer mode, it'd be tough to get me to come back any more frequently than that.


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