It’s a pretty good time to be a fan of gaming both new and old. The proliferation of downloadable titles has proven to be a rich soil for the resurgence of classics with less invested risk, giving us those dream sequels that would have been doomed to an unfitting 3D demise in an alternate universe, or rather, a mid-to-late-90s universe that actually happened. Capcom did it earlier this year with Mega Man 9, and Konami continues its Rebirth series (Gradius Rebirth preceding) with Contra Rebirth, putting us all back on the alien battlefield once more.
In many ways, Rebirth feels like a direct follow-up to 1992’s Contra III: The Alien Wars. It’s not just the very Super Nintendo graphics, either, but some of the set-pieces and music remixes, as well (though they do span other entries throughout the soundtrack). That’s certainly not a bad thing, Contra III is by far my favorite entry in the series, so I was more than happy to add an appendix to that experience.
Bill Rizer and Genbei Yagyu are up against the Salamander army this time, which is much more menacing than it sounds. It also has to be one of the strangest armies of all time, sending everything from purple lizards to giant, ball-jointed mecha after our valiant heroes. You know the drill, though; grab the spread gun early and lay waste to everything on the 2D plane, and grab a friend for the same I-love-this-but-I-keep-confusing-our-two-character-sprites fun as always.
As with any great action game, Rebirth is all about those big set-pieces, and the major moments depicted here are as “Contra” as it gets. It all starts in space, appropriately, but it’s not long before you’re battling a massive alien bug while plummeting on debris in red-hot atmospheric reentry. The most creativity comes from the third and fourth stages, the former a wild ride atop a supply truck through an inexplicable purple-robo-camel rush hour. At their best, the action sets off the player’s white knuckle survival instincts, and that rush is what makes a game like this so replayable.
If the difficulty of WayForward’s Contra 4 was off-putting to newcomers, Contra Rebirth is actually much more accessible in that regard. (It probably helps that the danger in this one is all confined to a single screen.) It’s not going to be easy for most, but it’s pretty short and memory-based overall, and is all the more doable with a partner at hand, even with the default stock of three lives. Besides, a little challenge never hurt anyone. Aside from unlocking two more playable characters, there’s not much to speak of in the extras department, so enjoy that initial climb toward victory while it lasts.
Despite the lack of features, Contra Rebirth is still a great buy at ten bucks. It’s a game I will likely continue to revisit in all of its bite-sized, enemy-exploding glory, and I can only hope this trend expands and evolves further down the road. It may not come in a cardboard box with an enemy-highlighting instruction manual, but it’s got the right spirit, that’s for sure.