Contra: Evolution is a brand new iOS title that all fans of the 8-bit NES Contra game should immediately play. Developed by CocoaChina/Chukong for Konami, this HD remake of the classic Contra experience brings everything you loved about the original into the modern era of mobile touch-based gaming, and manages to make the experience even better than before. The tried and true formula of this run and gun juggernaut remains intact in Evolution, but now the gameplay has been enhanced with new weapon power-ups, HD visuals, and two unlockable characters to make the game feel somewhat new and fresh.
The most obvious difference between Evolution and the NES Contra is its visuals. The development team did a fantastic job maintaining the familiar look of all seven levels while bringing them into the 21st century graphics wise. The new HD backgrounds and character models look great, but not at the expense of familiarity. Bill still sports his iconic wife beater and blue cargo pants, while Lance still chooses to go Rambo-style (shirtless) with his red pair of pants. Each stage will instantly cause you to recall fond memories from playing the original, but the new level of detail in the textures and background images are stark enough to make all of them feel new and modern. Simply put, the HD overhaul is reason enough alone to download this remake to your compatible iOS devices (iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.
Although, Contra: Evolution isn’t just about its new looks. The gameplay is just as solid and entertaining as you may remember, but there are a few new twists that make the experience feel different than the original. The most obvious change is the transition from a physical controller to touchscreen controls. Far too often touch-based joysticks and buttons don’t do mobile games justice, but they actually work quite well in Contra: Evolution.
Three control modes are available to choose from (static joystick, floating joystick, d-pad, and auto-fire mode), but the static joystick setup with auto-fire turned on seems to work the best. Lifting your thumb off of the virtual joystick and placing it back down for a quick jump sometimes leads to cheap deaths, but overall the touch-based controls provide a similar feeling to holding an old school NES controller in your hand, which is a bonus for a mobile title.
The other major change to the Contra formula in Evolution is the inclusion of XP, coins, diamonds, enhanced weapon pickups, and two unlockable female characters (Ricci and Sally). The first three of those gameplay alterations are purely based on the fact that this is a mobile title. Coins and diamonds can be earned to pay for special weapon buffs (can also be bought as an in-game purchase), and can be used for extra lives or continues, but they’re not really needed, so don’t worry about being tricked into paying for in-app purchases to fully enjoy the C:E experience.
The enhanced weapon pickups are a great new feature that allow you to store upgraded weapons for later use. For example, if you have a Spread weapon in your inventory and get tired of using the standard rifle, you can fast-switch to it without having to shoot down one of the flying footballs containing a new weapon. This comes in handy during the later levels where the difficulty ramps up, and enables you to always have a special weapon on hand for sticky situations. The ability to have a stock of super weapons to use at any given time really added a new level of strategy to this otherwise straight forward side-scrolling shooter, and helps to make some of the later levels more forgiving.
There isn’t much to not like about Contra: Evolution. The controls are touchy on smaller devices like the iPod Touch and iPhone, but that issue is non-existent on the iPad due to the larger screen size. The biggest bummer about this remake is the fact that it’s not a single app for all devices. The iPhone/iPod version looks pretty solid when playing in iPad mode, but if you want the full HD experience you have to pay $2.99 to get the special iPad only version. It would have been nice if the app came in one flavor that looked marvelous on all devices rather than requiring two separate purchases, but it’s ultimately a minor complaint. If money is tight the $.99 iPhone version will look just fine if you need to play it on your iPad, but it does lose some of its overhauled graphical charm.
If you grew up in the Nintendo era and have the Konami code memorized, then you must pick up Contra: Evolution. It’s a faithful remake of the original with wonderfully pimped out visuals, and just enough gameplay tweaks to make it feel like a new, yet familiar gaming experience. The touch controls work surprisingly well, and the pick up and play gameplay works perfectly on mobile devices. There’s no better way to waste 10 minutes of your life than playing through a level of Contra before you have to get back to reality, and Evolution perfectly provides this respite. Quit thinking about it and just go and download this remade classic here. You won’t be disappointed.
The reviewer received a review copy of the game from the publisher for review purposes on the iOS platform.
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