Member the games you used to play? We member. The basement at the Hardcore Gamer office has a section known as the Crust Room, with an old grey couch and a big old CRT TV. All the classic systems are down there collecting dust, so in an effort to improve the cleanliness of our work space, we dust off these old consoles every so often and put an old game through its paces, just to make sure everything stays in working order. We even have a beige computer with a floppy disk drive.
Since the days of the NES, Contra was synonymous with 2D run n’ gun action. Like many popular 8-bit and 16-bit titles it made the awkward transition to the 3rd dimension on PlayStation, and while some popular games adapted well to the additional depth, Contra was not one of them. Even the newest 3D iteration, Rogue Corps, was actually fun if viewed as a parody of hypermacho ’80s action movies and you enjoyed the games Smash TV and Total Carnage, but failed if someone was looking for Contra. This is what made Contra: Shattered Soldier such a surprise in 2002 as 2D action games were few and far between on PlayStation 2.
Contra: Shattered Soldier takes place in the year 2647 with Earth still in shambles from the Alien Wars back on the SNES. In the year 2642 another disaster befell humanity, which was the malfunction of a magnetic weapons grid development. Bill Rizer, the Schwarzenegger-looking Contra hero, was held responsible for this disaster. He was also convicted of murdering his partner Lance Bean, the Stallone-looking Contra hero. The criminal justice system looks a little different in the 27th century, and Bill was sentenced to 10,000 years in a cryogenic prison. Some thanks for saving the world from Red Falcon.
Getting back to the current year of 2647, Earth is under attack from the terrorist organization Blood Falcon. An organization called the Triumvirate who is acting as the government decides to grant Rizer early release based on how he was previously able to save the world from alien threat in hopes he can stop Blood Falcon. They sent a cyborg soldier, Lucia, to assist Rizer in his mission, and spoiler alert, it turns out that not only is Lance alive, but he’s also the commander of Blood Falcon. To further muddy the waters, after killing his former partner a second time it’s revealed that the aliens are once again attacking us because the Triumvirate stole a powerful relic from them. So we have a plot with invasive alien attacks, betrayal from partners who don’t have the decency to stay dead while being used by a government to solve a problem that was created by their own deceitful nature.
The gameplay of Contra: Shattered Soldier was a welcome return to the 2D run and gun action prior to the conversion to 3D on PlayStation. Rizer finds himself running and jumping through dangerous levels filled with mechanical monstrosities, alien invaders and mutated abominations, some of which are not so subtle nods to the threats that were faced in the games of Contra past. Most of the gameplay is on foot, but to heighten the feel of the high octane action there are a couple parts where gets to rest his legs and fight the Blood Falcon threat while snowboarding down a mountain or pulling off trick shooting while riding a motorcycle. Unlike past games with weapon powers, Rizer is armed with three weapons throughout the game. He has a flame thrower, grenade launcher and machine gun. Each weapon has a short and charged shot, giving him six different types of projectiles which include gun pods, flame whips and homing missiles.
Having grown up with the Konami code permanently ingrained in my mind before building up the skill to beat the original without it, Contra: Shattered Soldier was a fun action game that was enhanced by nostalgia for a game style that was becoming increasingly rare. The frenetic pace of action made this title equally challenging and fun, and like the previous Contra titles it was best enjoyed with couch co-op. The game featured multiple endings, and in order to achieve the best ending, the player would need to eliminate all the unique targets in each level to get a high hit percentage and also not die often, the second requirement taking time to achieve. For its time there were impressive boss battles, with the first level’s boss an obvious nod to alien turtle in Contra III: The Alien Wars, except it was given a giant human face for its backside, which was a rather disturbing image. The gamplay is strictly 2D, but the 3D models used for the characters and environments gave Contra: Shattered Soldier a unique and memorable graphic style.
Contra: Shattered Soldier was great 2D run and gun action from era where worthwhile 2D titles were few and far between. At the time of its release 3D had already become the dominant gaming format and several big names had successfully transitioned from pixels to polygons. Contra’s initial foray into the third dimension didn’t yield great results, but Contra: Shattered Soldier reminded us that 2D contra is the best Contra.
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