Starting up the game it’s clear that Contra ReBirth is an homage to both the original Contra arcade games and games from the consoles of the 8- and 16-bit eras. Contra ReBirth is presented in 4:3 aspect — which is framed for widescreen displays, though it has black pillars rather than flat-panel friendly grey — and has only three menu options: 1 Player Start, 2 Player Start and Options, all in English text just like many classic Japanese console games.
Available options include switchable difficulty and number of lives as well as audio controls and the ability to fully re-map the button actions. You’ll definitely want to adjust the difficulty and number of lives; just like the arcade originals this is an extremely challenging game and despite unlimited continues all but the most seasoned Contra player will need some extra help.
After an intro which shows our hero(es) are on some kind of spacecraft controlled by the evil Kontora organisation/army, you can choose your character from either the American Bill (“Let’s Party!”) or the Japanese Yagyu (“Something in Japanese!”) dressed in blue and red trousers, respectively, but both sporting the signature red headbands Contra heroes are known for. The game is entirely played in a side-scrolling manner with a couple of vertical areas; dispensing with the overhead and over-the-shoulder segments of previous instalments. Run, jump and shoot your way through five stages using either the wiimote, Classic or Gamecube controllers.
An important strategic change from the arcade is the ability to hold two weapons (though this is not the dual-wielding of Contra III on the SNES). The default control for switching between them with wiimote controls is a wiimote shake, but this can be changed to a button press if desired. Special weapons won’t survive a player death in any but the Easy difficulty and there are three besides the stock machine gun: homing missiles, blue lasers and the ever-popular spreader.
All levels of difficulty provide some challenge with more enemies and additional boss attack types being added as difficulty is increased. All stages have at least one sub-boss and then an additional boss. The first two stages aren’t too bad, but the difficulty curve takes a noticeable upward turn at the 3rd stage, which saw me upping my stock of lives from 3 to 7 just to ensure I could clear the Stage 3 boss!
Although five stages may not feel like much content there are two playable characters to unlock as well as a further difficulty level, meaning playthrough of all three difficulty levels at a minimum. The arcade game similarities mean players who like to pursue scores will have their work cut out for them: in the best arcade tradition scores are zeroed out by continuing, though you’re unable to sign initials and there are no WiFi leaderboards to post your scores to. There’s also a 2-player mode that supports simultaneous play to further extend gameplay for people with friends.
The presentation is excellent graphically. As with Gradius ReBirth there is a mix of nicely detailed sprites and 3D rendered objects with sprite-like textures, all of which create the feeling of a late 80s-early 90s arcade game or 16-bit home console game. Music and sound are also complementary with techno-rock tracks that feel perfectly suited to the action.
It really is a nice tribute to a classic gaming franchise which will undoubtedly show up in PAL and NA Wii Shops. Fans of the Contra series and classic arcade gaming generally should be sure to check it out!