Contra Shattered Soldier
After the horrid PS1 Contra entries, especially Legacy of War, Konami learned their lesson and took classic Contra gameplay and made it next gen. Shattered Soldier, released early on in the PS2 life cycle, is definitely a worthy addition to the series. The entire game consists of classic sidescrolling gameplay, but in nice looking 2.5D graphics, which many 2D games have since adopted the look of. The explosions and other sound effects are all great, and the music, while not as great as the classic Contra games, is still quite good.
The gameplay is brutally difficult, as it should be. There is still the famous 30 lives code, but dying too much will ruin your score, as will not hitting enough set “targets” within the level. The percentage score in this game matters greatly, as you must get an A or S rank on the first five levels in order to unlock the final two. The story this time is simple as always: Bill Rizer is awoken from cryosleep because he is needed to fight off aliens once again. He’s given a cyborg partner, Lucia, and they go fight against the alien menace again. Later on, they find Lance Bean is being controlled by the alien cell, and must fight him.
You never have to get weapon power-ups, as you start with all three of the weapons you will use throughout the entire game: machine gun, flamethrower, and grenade launcher. These can be charged up to deal more damage or spread out and hit enemies that are otherwise unreachable. You’ll need to switch between the three weapons on the fly, as different situations call for different weapon uses. Bosses are larger than life as usual, but even some minibosses will give you a bit of trouble. If you can manage to make it to the final couple levels and fight the alien relic, you’ll be in for one marathon of a boss fight, which is done quite well. In true Contra fashion, trial and error are absolutely necessary to make it through the game.
Neo Contra is what Legacy of War should have been like. It’s a top down, 3D view Contra entry done right. The difficulty is quite a bit easier than most other games in the series, but it’s still fun. There’s a tutorial to help you get started, since instead of the usual running and jumping, there is an isometric control scheme, and you can evade bullets as well as roll out of the way, making for a different style of gameplay. There is still the ranking system, in which higher ranks enable you to make it to the final stages and get the best ending. This is done by hitting the set targets and dying as little as possible, much like in Shattered Soldier.
This time Bill Rizer and Jaguar must face off against four elite warriors, and then against Master Contra himself, who is cloned from the original Bill Rizer. This time you can pick your weapon set, starting with a choice of three and later unlocking three more. There are two weapons in each set that fire in the standard way, while the third one is charged up and can only hit certain targets that the other two weapons cannot. This most certainly makes the game unique, and once you unlock the Heaven’s Laser upgrade, most bosses and targets that can be hit with it fall quite easily. Nearly every weapon in the game is from other Contra games, so there’s a lot of customization available.
Overall, it’s a great Contra game, and one that is not to be missed, even if it is not close to being the best in the series. As always, it’s more fun with a friend in 2 player co-op. Still, if you do not like the 3D style and want more of a challenge, then Neo Contra may not be for you. It’s still far superior to the PS1 entries, so it’s worth checking out.