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Thread: Criticize this: early draft of Contra 4 review (?) for Contra HQ

  1. #1
    drowning in medals Ed Oscuro's Avatar
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    Default Criticize this: early draft of Contra 4 review (?) for Contra HQ

    Suggestions and criticisms welcomed - would like to know if people think I'm offbase or flat-out boring with this (it's late, so be forewarned of my tired brain's tendency to compensating with Seanbaby-isms that keel over dead at first glance). Sorry about the formatting. Don't let it distract you from the review - think of it as a "visual aid" for placing your virtual red pen marks

    -------------------------------

    Contra 4 is fading from the radar. Despite being a unique product on the market - not only is it one of a very few 2D action games on the market with gameplay derived from the tried and true formulas of old, but in the specifics of its implementation it is (in the opinion of this novice DS gamer, at least) one of a kind - in a year with so many quality 3D action games vying for the attention of gamers everywhere, there is an understandable cumulative attention deficit. CoD4? Sure. C4? Huh? This deficit even seems to have struck the large review sites, and those who have bothered to give the game a second look give it the safe 80%, four-stars ranking. The more time I spend with gaming's recent "best deals of all time," I have to wonder: What about the game, half the price at release of many console titles, makes it that much blander than the year's action games? Why haven't people been dying to pick this game up? Despondent GameSpot Forums user Amel0 noted that a Hannah Montana branded title sold three times as much as Contra 4 two weeks before Christmas; latest sales figures indicate the game has just recently moved 100,000 units.

    I'll be as blunt as possible. The game sports great polish (although there are some small issues Konami should tie up for the Japanese release), it's fun (especially if you're a diehard fan of the NES games), and you're likely going to roast on a giant kebab in Gamer Hell (not to be confused with GamersHell.com, which is surprisingly not hellish at all, although a bit disorganized) for eternity if you don't pick it up (stuck alongside the people who didn't support System Shock 2, or Otogi 2, or Psychonauts - and the folks who delayed the preview of Contra 4 for mobile phones). Maybe I'm overdoing the histrionics and it's not that bad, but shucks, we've got another deplorable example of gaming slime crowding out the shine. Get out there and point your DS at your local game store's demo kiosk and see if it's still got Contra 4 - and if you like it, get the game!

    Oh, enough of the guilt tripping - if the game really does warrant the 8.0 rating, why should you spend your money on it? Here I break down the game according to Plato's Five (or so) Categories, and - despite some misgivings at the start - I'm really not at all convinced that score isn't a tad bit low. No surprise: If you're not a fan of 2D gaming, the game probably won't impress all that much. If you are, however, the game arguably represents a real step forward for 2D action games.

    The gameplay is very well designed. Yeah, there's a split in the screen, but other than that it's a nice and fast paced action game where everything feels pretty good. Tons of detail all over the place, but not in the control scheme - you'd swear it's designed according to Federal standards for fault-proof systems. Yeah, there's a grappling hook, but it doesn't get in your way and doesn't dominate the game - it feels like a weak point when you're trying to zip up to the top only to get hit by an enemy (while defenseless - you can't shoot back at this point), but you get used to it and it's an elegant solution to the issue of getting around on two screens of action. Yeah, there isn't twitch-precise midair movement, which causes a problem here and there in the game - but instead of worrying about it, modify your behavior and use the ability to shoot up or down independently while jumping left or right (true to promises, this behavior is straight out of the NES port of Contra).

    Level design would make or break the game, and, happily, I can report that not only is the level design generally excellent, but in many places the design provides the most interesting platforming the series has ever seen. Period. There are some minor hang-ups, such as enemy randomness messing up your runs through the levels, and the difficulty of jumping about during the missile ride early in the game (the controls don't provide for precise movement in midair, which ends up being a problem in that section). What else need be said? It's excellently designed, and jumping about has rarely been so fun - which is really saying something given the split screen and the system it's on.

    Graphically, the game really is excellent, and should especially delight fans whom haven't gotten a chance to enjoy the skills of classic Amiga-style graphics artists. Bosses and backgrounds tend to look amazing, and in particular the familiar jungle has undergone a comprehensive overhaul - the aliens have torn down much of the jungle, providing a clear picture of structures far off in the distance, and yet you'll notice familiar little doo-dads being overtaken by the creeping flora as you run along. The designers have done a great job meshing the levels with graphical design. On the other hand, not all animated characters are up to the standard. A particular annoyance is the loping, cartwheeling gait on many characters - aside from looking somewhat silly, it produces a subtly nasty blurring even on a DS Lite as there's simply too much motion there for the screen. There also is a somewhat jarring discrepancy between the greatly detailed and amusing sprites for the regular running enemies (based on, but improved from, the running guys of the original arcade game and the NES ports) and the bland stationary riflemen with bug-eyed goggles whom would be at home in Jin-Roh or Killzone for the PS2. On the other hand, such wide-eyed and pure-intentioned mimicry has always informed Contra's aesthetics. On that note, the biggest issue graphically that you'll notice is that the four Contra heroes so highly promoted before release are actually palette swaps. In this day and age? You've got to be kidding me. The bottom line here, though, is that the graphics are great, and the only graphical-related issue is really one of a bit of understandable hubris from the developers ended up catching up with them. It's disapointing that the guys (and the gals) are all sprite swaps, but consider that you've never been able to change to a different palette look to suit your personality and playing style, and the tears dry quickly. For what it's worth, I played Scorpion with the ridiculous Uday Hussein-style gold plated assault rifle.

    Musically, Contra 4's competent and pretty consistent. Fans who were looking for tunes with random "classic Konami-sounding" passages interspersed won't be disappointed; the lack of tight melodies clearly distinguish it from a real classic Konami soundtrack, but as we all know - this game is its own beast, and even in music we should give the designers some leeway to mix things up. Else, next thing you know - bam, more straight remixes of Bloody Tears and Vampire Killer. It's an interesting contrast to the series' recent 3D console games mixing straightforward remixes, strangely dated-sounding Eurobeat, and crazy cinematic/experimental/insert-a-genre-here type stuff. Fans have been vocal in appreciating the cohesive quality of the whole production. Pay attention to the music when starting the game on Hard mode!

    Contra 4 also throws a very respectable number of bonuses the player's way, although they must be unlocked - unfortunately - by beating Challenges, bite-sized chunks of level with a special set of varied rules. The unlocking idea isn't bad, and is another way in which the team has thoughtfully modernized Contra and started fleshing out ways to make the series fit on newer platforms. The unfortunate part comes in the way many of the Challenges themselves are laid out. Challenges range from "hey, that's a cool idea I had a long time ago, and I thought that'd be a fun way to play" such as dodging all the enemies and their shots to "this does NOT BELONG IN MY CONTRA and there is also a reason why Rainbow Six Vegas has very few hostage rescue missions." There are lots of modes - some fun, some not so much - but you'll play the same few areas over and over. They could easily have trimmed away some of the fat here and cut down the number of challenges from 30 to 40, unlocking bonuses every three challenges (instead of every five) while keeping the variety high. On top of the repetition, you also must unlock Challenges via other Challenges - you simply beat Challenges straight down a list, and while you can put off beating a Challenge for a while by beating the ones that come afterwards, the player who attempts to ignore a challenge will soon come across a bunch that simply will not give way. Good concept, but imperfectly executed (and I don't like the sound bug at the start of the Waterfall area, or the fact that it's always labeled "Laboratory" - it's no longer a secret that we're at the Waterfall, gentlemen).

    The biggest problem with the game is really the system it's on. The screen gap throws the occasional death your way, and it's a bit much to ask players to play at S-rank level while moving their attention from one screen to the other, but this is a minor issue. What is really intolerable is the lousy control setup and d-pad of the system this game is on (there's also the lack of user-configurable controls, at that). Pounding the fire button during a Rematch Challenge while holding the Right shoulder to keep your fire locked downward is positively painful, as the DS Lite does its best to simultaneously wriggle free of your grasp and dig sharply into your palm. The D-pad is also horrific, with the mandatory diagonals not working all the time - Nintendo is simply too enamored of their instantly-recognizable, patented control cross to admit to themselves that it is an inferior game control. Unlike the NES, one can't simply Advantage their way to victory here, I'm afraid. I have the feeling I'm an odd duck here, but that - along with some of the little odd bits here and there - have been nearly a deal breaker for me, but don't let that stop you from getting the game. Chances are you'll really like it - and heck, it's only $30! (Probably less, now.)

    From a tactical standpoint, the DS was probably the only system with a chance - the PSP, while a decent platform for gaming, probably wasn't seen as having the sort of market penetration that the DS had (that hasn't stopped Konami of Japan from releasing decent compilations of many classic shooters for it, of course); common wisdom on an unspoken bias towards 2D graphics must've doomed the possibility of a big-console release. Could Konami have counted on hardcore gamers to have bought a system just for this game? Consider this: I went out and bought a DS Lite just for this game, but that was a great expense for me. I would have been much more happy to justify buying a current-gen console for the game, but could I have made the purchase? What about hardcore 2D gamers who don't even own a console? Ah, the pitfalls of being led by the hardcore gaming subgroup...and yet Konami explicitly marketed to them. Tactically speaking, it seems fairly evident that the DS was the correct choice of system - but from a gameplay standpoint, some fairly severe tradeoffs resulted from it - thankfully, Konami didn't alter the game to take them into account, so if you're able to deal with the controls - and indeed a bit of habit-altering will do the trick - then the game should be no problem for you. On Easy, at least.

    Breakdown of ratings:

    Gameplay and level design - outstanding, best of class
    Music - competent and stirring scoring
    Graphics - outstanding, best of class
    Wall-hugging with right shoulder ability - missing
    persistent character award systems - sadly lacking
    Blinged-out assault rifle - only available to one specific character

    Final score: Decide for yourself, but 80% seems rather low to me.

    Postscript:

    Konami's nod towards us in in the credits was nice, but frankly I think their scans were too nice to have been ours. In all seriousness, this has been a difficult piece of writing to cough up as I was fairly bent out of shape about the negatives, and bent out of shape about the fact that I was bent out of shape to begin with because clearly it's a good game. A good review needs time to percolate, and after a while the good became so blindingly obvious that even I can see it. There clearly are some issues with the game that should not be whitewashed, but far from coming off sounding negative, I'm happy to report that the game stands on its own merits after a thorough review. I also had wanted to say more about the subtle ways in which the team has reinvented the game, but that'll wait for another time. Thanks for reading on, and have fun with this excellent new game!
    Last edited by Ed Oscuro; 12-30-2007 at 08:05 AM.

  2. #2
    Alex (Level 15) boatofcar's Avatar
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    I'll make you a deal--fix the formatting and I'll read it.

  3. #3
    drowning in medals Ed Oscuro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by boatofcar View Post
    I'll make you a deal--fix the formatting and I'll read it.
    Wow, that only took me 10 seconds. Just had to copy & paste it in again. Dunno why Notepad (the editor of choice!) has to be such a pain in the arse like that.

    Okay, way's clear.

    By the way, I should add that I'll definitely add comments of merit. I don't know everything, and I want to give the game the best look possible...

    Edit: holy mackerel that is a long post. Definitely gotta trim it down some. It was pretty quick to write, amazing.
    Last edited by Ed Oscuro; 12-30-2007 at 08:14 AM.

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    Alex (Level 15) boatofcar's Avatar
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    It's good, Ed. Just a little long. If you cut it down by half it would be perfect. A lot of unnecessary stuff in its current version, imo. Add some captioned pictures to make your points more clearly and decrease wordcount.

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    Kirby (Level 13) Half Japanese's Avatar
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    Having just taken a writing class this past semester where we critiqued each others' work, I can notice one thing: you love the parentheses. It's rather ironic for me to be pointing this out, as my love for and use of both parentheses and commas goes well beyond what's considered acceptable. The main area I noticed this was the second paragraph, where there were three seperate instances of parentheses in one sentence alone.

  6. #6
    Link (Level 18) Sothy's Avatar
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    I dont think the word bling should be applied to an assault rifle.

    How about "Pimptastic"


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    Pac-Man (Level 10) RCM's Avatar
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    the review is too long and too late. Not sure who it's for but if you're targeting readers of your Contra fan website they probably own the game already.

    Also, you don't need to make a statement and inform us it's your opinion like in the opening para, that's implied as it's your review...unless you're referencing someone or something.

    You might want to read GameReviewGod's work or contact him directly, the gent is a pro and a review machine. Good luck!
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    Kirby (Level 13) ubersaurus's Avatar
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    Personally I dislike reviews that break down the game into categories so sharply. I prefer a more natural flow into each section; the sort that make you think "huh, they didn't come right out and say the music is rad and explain why...they just talked about it."
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