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‘Contra: Evolution’ for iOS and Android game review

You can’t call yourself a gamer if you never played Contra. Released back in 1987 for the NES, Contra went on to become a cult classic and one of the best 2D side-scrolling action adventure games of all time that every gamer has a soft spot for.

Now, after all these years, developer PunchBox Studios has finally decided to remake this popular title for the mobile platform, starting with an iOS version. [Update: An Android version is now available on the Play Store.] Titled Contra: Evolution, the game features updated visuals and some new gameplay elements while keeping the original story and levels intact. But will it be able to recreate the magic of the original? Let’s find out.

Title
Contra: Evolution
Developer
PunchBox Studios
Platform
iOS
Android
Release Date

May 31, 2013
August 22, 2013
Content rating

9+
Low maturity
Size
47.9MB
18MB
Price
$0.99

Gameplay

Contra: Evolution is a remake of the original but unlike some of the other remakes we have seen recently, this one preserves the original gameplay. You can choose to play as either Bill “Mad Dog” Rizer or Lance “Scorpion” Bean, the same two characters from the original game. There are two new female characters as well – Ricci “Flame Rose” Erica and Sally “Moonshadow” Inohara. Unlike their male counterparts, who are virtually indistinguishable from each other, Ricci and Sally have different weapons, with the former wielding double guns and the latter a Katana (a type of Japanese sword). Unfortunately, both the female characters are initially locked and can only be unlocked by completing the Arcade mode and collecting 50 Golf eagle badges in Mission mode respectively. Or you can just pony up the cash through in-app purchase and unlock them right away.

Once you choose your character, the gameplay is virtually identical to the original game. Everything, from the level design, to the enemy formations to even the power-ups that fly past you, are exactly where they were in the original game. The only thing different here is that it looks different due to the updated graphics.

As with the original, you get three lives per game after which the game is over. You can choose to spend two diamonds and continue from where you left off. You get fifteen diamonds by default and you can get more by playing the game or IAP.

While the core gameplay hasn’t changed, the controls most definitely have. Unlike before, you don’t have the luxury of physical keys and more importantly, a physical D-pad that is so essential in this game to direct your bullets properly. Although the virtual controls aren’t terrible, they can’t substitute for physical controls and take a long time to get used to. Even after you get used to them, they are often not very accurate, which can be very frustrating when you have to quickly dodge a bullet. Unlike most remakes these days, PunchBox Studios hasn’t really bothered to dumb down Contra, which is admirable but considering the constraints placed by the controls it makes the remake even more difficult than the original, which was already pretty challenging.

Eventually, you do get used to the controls but they never feel as sharp and accurate as you’d want them to be. This game deserves to be played with a physical controller and can be a good game to highlight the advantage of devices such as the NVIDIA SHIELD and OUYA as and when it releases on Android, if at all.

One minor annoyance with Contra: Evolution is the heavy reliance on IAP. Game developers these days either make you pay the full amount upfront without any kind of IAP or choose to make the game free/sell it at a low price and then make up for it through IAP. PunchBox Studios, sadly, has chosen to go with the latter. Sure, the game does not force you to pay for anything and you can always choose to just play the game and unlock everything but you can’t help but feel that everything has been placed far out of your reach just so you will eventually give up and pay the cash to unlock whatever it is that you want, whether it is the two extra characters, levels or upgrades for your weapons. The in-your-face IAP can get tiresome and makes you feel that the game developer gave more prominence to profits rather than the enjoyment of the player.

Graphics and Sound

Contra has gone through a complete visual overhaul in the form of Contra: Evolution. As mentioned before, you are still seeing the same objects but they have all been redrawn with the new high resolution screens in mind and the game does actually look quite good. It’s still 2D but the visuals freshen up the aging game quite convincingly, giving it a fresh new coat of paint that doesn’t make it seem like a 26 year old title.

While we do love our retro 8-bit graphics, it is important to note that not everyone does, particularly young gamers who may not be fond of pixelated visuals, especially after seeing high resolution visuals elsewhere. So PunchBox Studios has done the right thing here by maintaing the general look of the game while still making it look fresh and relevant in 2013.

The sound too has been overhauled in favor of a more modern soundtrack and weapon sounds. Although not as noticeable as the new visuals, the improved sound also plays an important role in making the game feel fresh.

Verdict

The original Contra holds a special place in the heart of us gamers and it would take a lot to unseat that game from its throne. Although Contra: Evolution is a fine attempt by developers PunchBox Studios to recreate the magic of the original game, the game falls short of the mark due to the less than ideal controls that make the experience frustrating at times and the overzealous use of IAP model. Nonetheless, it is still a fairly enjoyable game and definitely worth trying out at $0.99.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pros: Challenging gameplay that is faithful reproduction of the original, revamped visuals and sound go a long way in making the game feel fresh, adds two new characters with new abilities
Cons: Controls can be frustrating, heavy-handed use of IAP throughout the game

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