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Contra: Evolution (iOS)
Game Reviews

Contra: Evolution (iOS)

A decent retread through one of Konami’s best – and long neglected – franchises that remains quite playable in this touchscreen iteration.

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While some assumed Konami would eventually put their classic run ‘n gun franchise on rails for its iOS / mobile debut, Contra: Evolution instead keeps the granddaddy of action platformers on familiar ground. A relatively straightforward remake of the original 1987 arcade/NES classic, with development duties handled by PunchBox Studios (i.e. Chinese-based Chukong Technologies), those who feared porting a rather complex action game to the land of touchscreen-only controls needn’t worry. Like it or not, many of the faults in this mobile upgrade stem from those found in the original game, though it’s a shame a certain staple didn’t make the cut…

The core Contra gameplay has changed little from the original NES classic: you’ll still run, jump, and blast your way through several levels of side-scrolling and pseudo 3D chaos while picking up weapon upgrades and evading instant death. Purists will flock to the familiar Arcade Mode while hardcore players can hone their skills and collect Eagle badges in the new Mission Mode, which lets you practice on individual levels.

The original Schwarzenegger-style clones, Bill Rizer (Mad Dog), Lance Bean (Scorpion), are selectable from the start and are joined by two female newcomers – once you’ve unlocked them. Ricci Erica (Flame Rose) is a double-gun blasting machine who becomes available after completing the Arcade Mode while Sally Inohara (Moonshadow) requires grinding through Mission Mode and amassing 55 Gold eagle badges. Neither character adds much to the overall variety, though I did like how familiar weapons took on new characteristics – especially the new spread weapon.

Hilariously, there’s bits of Engrish sprinkled throughout with awkward phrasing like “Defeat Evil Empire!” and other gems, though I’m not sure this was intentional, especially with the slight misogyny aimed at the new female characters “Don’t be overwhelmed by their seductive appeal!”

Being a game designed for touch-only play the gameplay has been streamlined, though not as drastically as you might think. Yes, there are virtual controls to help guide your muscled warriors through the action, with movements handled via three virtual stick options: static, free-flowing, and left-right arrows. None are perfect but all work surprisingly well in most scenarios. My only gripe, much as with the original game, in the inability to fire downward from a stationary position (a flaw rectified in later games), an annoyance exacerbated with imperfect touch controls.

You can even set firing your weapon to auto-fire, which may help those who might struggle when juggling through the many onscreen virtual buttons but this dramatically slows down firing rates, too.

Evolution employs the now-familiar IAP (In-App Purchase) system, handled via the game’s own in-game currency with gems and Eagle badges. These not only let you continue after exhausting all your lives but also keep a slew of weapon upgrades at the ready, as well as unlocking the new characters without having to earn them the hard way. Sadly, it seems this virtual currency as replaced the beloved Konami Code for that extra helping hand of lives, though it would have been impossible considering the game really doesn’t support standard “Ups, Downs, Lefts, Rights”, with nary a “B” or “A” button in sight.

Apart from the in-app purchases and streamlined gameplay the biggest changes come from a complete visual overhaul and remastered soundtrack, the latter faring better than the former. The new visuals look OK, if a bit muddy and stiff, coming off like hi-res textures from a PSOne game (Shattered Soldier this game is not). While chunky, they occasionally hamper progress, especially with the zoomed-in camera on certain levels or when there’s just too much going on in the background (like the Snow Field level).

The soundtrack, on the other hand, is pretty awesome. Remastered Contra tunes are always a treat and what’s here sounds pretty great throughout. No complaints with the game’s audio from this fan.

Contra: Evolution is a decent retread through one of Konami’s best – and long neglected – action franchises and remains quite playable in this new touchscreen iteration. Little has changed from the NES original, minus the multiplayer and physical controls, though it’s debatable whether you’ll like the visual overhaul. The remastered soundtrack is amazing, however, and while nowhere as good as the WiiWare retro nod Contra ReBirth was a few years back, this mobile Contra can still pack a nostalgic wallop in a pinch. Imperfect controls aside, I wish they’d kept the Konami Code intact, as having to dish out real-world money for extra lives and goodies just isn’t the same.

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About the Author: Trent McGee