Genre: Run and Gun
Developed by: M2
Published by: Konami
Feeling Like: Spread out
Video games have it easy. Not only is it expected for any successful game to spawn a franchise, it’s generally encouraged. Since story matters so little compared to movies or television, gameplay refinements and new areas are really all that’s expected for a sequel. Fans of a series will rarely lose interest, even its popularity reaches the zenith of having yearly releases. More of the same is just fine.
It’s still a tricky line to walk, however. Especially if a sequel is being produced long after a franchise has any relevance. Will it be met by a cynical eye roll, with claims of the developers purely trying to cash in on nostalgia? Or will it be lauded for retaining the spirit of the originals, while updating mechanics to be enjoyed within modern standards?
Contra Rebirth lands somewhere in the middle. It was released as a ten dollar downloadable title on the Wii that offers classic side scrolling 2d action, just like Contra, Super C or Contra 3: Alien Wars. It hardly missteps and doesn’t forget its roots, complete with insane enemies, memorable weapons, head bashing music and a storyline that is not even considering making sense.
Very few people played it, though. The Wii’s downloadable shop was hardly a bastion of groundbreaking indie titles the way XBox Live Arcade was. Was it a result of the audience? How about that terrible name? I suppose #466 is as good a place as any to start my rant about properly naming games in franchises. I cannot STAND non number-sequencing games in a series. It’s a thing I have. Go check out the Angry Video Game Nerd’s rant on “Chronologically Confused about Sequel Titles” and that’s exactly how I feel. Instead of numbering their sequels, the Contra franchise resorted to ambiguous names like “The Contra Adventure” or “Rebirth”. What’s with naming things with re-(insert cliche here)? Resurrection, Revolution, Rebirth, Reanimated. All hot garbage. What, reused, rehashed and recycled too obvious?
I’ll try to keep my rants to a minimum, but this topic is a big one and with Contra Rebirth being the 12th iteration in the series, I felt like it had to be mentioned. Also, Contra 4 is the 11th game in the series, so there’s that too. I know, I know. The others are “spin-offs” and don’t have the measure of quality or canon that the original ones do so they’re afraid to attach a number to it. Don’t even get me started on the Kingdom Hearts series.
So, back to my original point; it’s too bad so few played this, because it hits all the right points. Blowing up robots and aliens with unlimited ammunition. Cooperatively beating the game with a friend. Riding on flaming rocks as you descend into Earth’s atmosphere while blowing up a giant space centipede. Dodging missiles the size of a school bus. The unmistakable and incredible “Stage Clear” music, which is as much a staple of Contra as the spread gun.
It’s unclear if Contra will ever make it back to its initial heights, but I’m reminded of two examples that came out this summer that showed two extremes of handling nostalgia. Ghostbusters and Stranger Things. Ghostbusters relied heavily on an existing audience, updated it with superior effects (which didn’t look all that superior) and an all female cast. Stranger Things took everything that audiences loved about 80’s movies and made a totally new story that wasn’t a remake or reimagining. Reliance on nostalgia can be a double edged sword, but it’s hardly a bad idea to make something “in the vein of” rather than copy and paste it with a new coat of paint. Maybe that’s the problem with Contra Rebirth.
Also, where the hell is the Contra code?