I've noticed a trend in both my and Brad's reviews, something I'd characterize as a "glass half-full versus glass half-empty" pattern. If you disregard the scores and go by the reviews themselves, our thoughts on games are often similar, the only difference being that one of us likes or dislikes a game for or in spite of the qualities we both agree it has. That's been the case more than a few times on this site. For example, we both agreed that Headhunter was a decent game; I just had to be honest in admitting that I didn't enjoy it enough to recommend it. In the case of Contra: Shattered Soldier, it looks like the reverse is true. This time I get to be the "glass half-full" guy. In spite of the fact that I agree with nearly all of Brad's observations on the game, I have to admit that I enjoyed it a lot more than he did.
I admit that Contra: Shattered Soldier is in many ways a "greatest hits" collection of past Contra moments. It's true that most the levels are directly lifted from earlier games of the series—the driving and flying levels in particular. The plot, while virtually non-existent, is basically identical to the past games, and the gameplay has gone through no changes whatsoever, save the fact that all the weapons are "fixed" to the player and not collected throughout the level. I agree, all this is true. It's exactly what the other Contras were. It's 2D gameplay with 3D graphics, and there's nothing to do except run around, shoot stuff, die, try again, finish the level, and repeat until there are no more levels.
Why, then, did I enjoy it so much?
The answers are a little subtler, and here's where some of my disagreements with Brad creep up. Brad complained that Shattered Soldier doesn't shake up the formula like other updates of 2D actions games have, Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night being the most obvious example. While I do sympathize with Brad's assertion that he would have liked to see more innovation in the basic format of simply marching through levels in a linear fashion, I think there are other aspects that balance out this drawback. Symphony Of The Night may have been wonderfully non-linear and pregnant with gameplay possibilities that Shattered Soldier doesn't even try for, but the trade-off is that Contra is far superior in terms of providing a compelling challenge. With almost a decade to perfect things, Konami has taken the formula and polished into a near-perfect experience of nail-biting intensity. Contra: Shattered Soldier is actually a game that rewards strategy and provides a unique sense of accomplishment when a level is mastered. The player must know every enemy, every jump, every beat of the level by the time it's done. In the end, it feels more like performing a dance than blindly shooting everything in sight.
This brings up another issue I have with Brad's critique. Contra: Shattered Soldier actually has a lot more in common with other types of games than its own predecessors. One game I couldn't stop thinking of while playing this game was Squaresoft's Einhander, one of the better side-scrolling shooters ever made in my opinion. People who remember that game's uniquely refined difficulty curve and stylish 2D/3D aesthetic would no doubt find Contra: Shattered Solider an almost identical experience. Since I've been waiting for a sequel to Einhander for years, I was quite happy that Contra: Shattered Soldier managed to uphold its legacy in style.
And it's not just the aesthetics and the challenge. I did sort of get a kick out of the stupid plot. For people who remember the original Contra on NES it's kinda funny to see the designers try to make something interesting out of it. Of course, they end up with utterly silliness, but in a game where the story isn't even pretending to be important a little fan service is always nice.
Like I said, I don't think Brad is "wrong" about Contra: Shattered Soldier at all. It's just about everything he says it is. I suppose it's up to the player to decide whether that's interesting or not. Speaking for myself, I found it very interesting, and I was happy to help myself to even a glass half full of what this game had to offer.
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