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I love side scrolling run and gun shooters, especially if they’re done right. The Contra series has always been one of my favorites from the genre even though I suck at every game. Contra games are known for their fast-paced gameplay, high difficulty, and intense set pieces. Only from repeated playthroughs and memorization can one truly master a Contra game. Nobody knows what the hell Konami has been thinking lately but it doesn’t look like they have any future plans for another epic Contra release. And I guess some fans are fed up. Developed and published by Artur Games, Super Cyborg was released for PC in July, 2015 and is supposed to be a love letter to the Contra series. The one-hit kills, brutal difficulty, fast-paced gameplay, and intense action are all here. If anything, it resembles more of the Probotector titles. Probotector was the name given to Contra titles in the European region back in the day with robotic characters replacing the main human protagonists and even some enemies. From what I’ve researched it had to do with the censorship laws in Germany at the time. Regardless, in Super Cyborg you need to traverse through seven levels and eliminate a shit-ton of aliens.
According to the Steam page, a powerful alien known as the Xirxul life form has been awakened by scientists and now all humanity is in danger. That’s it. That’s the story. When you first start playing to you can choose from one of two cyborg types – one seems to have a form of shoulder armor, the other doesn’t – afterwards you choose the color scheme for your cyborg and then your off to save humanity. As soon as the first level begins, a drop ship lowers from the sky and out your character comes. If you’ve played any of the main Contra games, this should feel pretty familiar. There’s no voice acting, no cut scenes, and nothing that really interrupts gameplay. You need to kill aliens and just trying to survive. At the end of each level is a boss that you must defeat to progress to the next level. You start with four lives and no continues. Your game will save and you’re never forced to restart the game from the beginning. If you lose all of your lives you only need to restart the level. If you exit the game and come back later you can load up your saved game and start from the level you’re currently up to. This is the only thing Super Cyborg does to help you out. Super Cyborg is not for the faint of heart. It’s for those that like a challenge, that like to repeatedly get kicked in the nuts, that like to be the submissive partner in a BDSM session. Super Cyborg will make you its bitch.
I went into this game knowing I would lose but, honestly, I didn’t expect Super Cyborg to be as difficult as it is. When you first start playing there’s two difficulty modes to choose from – Easy and Normal – and I primarily played on Normal. I got raped every time. Super Cyborg is a brutal game. Just brutal. I think more so than any Contra title. I even teamed up with Jeremy for some two player action and even though it did make things a bit easier, the difficulty is still insane. There are cheats you can enter including a level select and more importantly, a cheat to give you forty lives. After several hours of playing we didn’t hesitate to use these cheats. Sadly, we couldn’t even complete the final level with forty lives. I can’t express enough how challenging this game is.
Choosing your cyborg’s appearance means nothing and is simply a cosmetic feature. Both cyborg types play exactly the same. You can run, jump, duck, and shoot in eight directions. You can lock yourself in position and aim in any direction but, unfortunately, you cannot lock your aim in one direction and move, otherwise known as strafing. A mechanic that would have been extremely helpful and beneficial. You’ll always have a basic machine gun with infinite ammo but you can acquire weapon power-ups by shooting the capsules that occasionally float by overhead. You can acquire the “R” power-up that increases your rate of fire. There’s also a rapid firing machine gun, a laser, some kind of energy weapon, and of course the spread shot. Every weapon has an alternate fire that enables you to charge it up for a more powerful attack. If you die, you lose the weapon you currently have equipped and will revert back to the basic machine gun. Some capsules include special power ups that are activated upon pickup like a bomb that clears the screen of enemies and invincibility. Because this game is so difficult, it was rare I was able to ever hold onto a weapon for more than a minute. There’s no weapon inventory system here like in Contra III or Hard Corps, so unless you memorize level layouts and enemy patterns and placements, you better get used to using the basic machine gun often.
All but one level consists of your typical side scrolling run and gun action. Level six is the unique one since you’ll be viewing the action from overhead. I was never a fan of the overhead levels in the Contra series but level six is the only level in Super Cyborg that lets you breath. It’s much slower paced than the side scrolling levels and I was actually able to make it pretty far into it without losing all of my lives. None of the levels are named so I really have no idea where they take place without guessing. The first level takes place on I think an archipelago. The second level is some form of laboratory and the third level is set on a mountain. Level four is very vertical and you’re in some kind of hive. I think level five is set inside a large alien creature. You traverse through some form of alien base or facility in level sex and I guess the final level is set in the alien headquarters. Since the game tells you nothing in terms of story, locations, or gives you any form of lore, I have no idea what anything really is. If there’s another level or boss after level seven, then I’ve never seen it and I just don’t have the patience to keep trying.
Considering how difficult this game is, many of these levels go on for a bit too long. With only four lives, there’s no way in hell you’ll make through some of the later levels on your first, second, or maybe even thirtieth run through it. I think you can acquire extra lives by achieving a high enough score but I was rarely ever able to do that. You earn points by killing enemies but it’s hard to give a shit about your score when you can barely stay alive. It seems I would acquire lives for defeating bosses but just getting to them feels almost impossible. Most of the standard enemy types move faster than you and they’ll come at you from all directions. You can easily get overwhelmed and the game just likes to throw more and more enemies at you as you progress. Some levels contain monster generators that must be destroyed to stop them from spawning in enemies. But these feel like an unnecessary obstacle since several of the later levels have monsters coming for you from off screen or background locations. Most of level seven for example has constant enemies coming for you no matter how far you progress. You can’t stop them. It’s ridiculous.
Because of the insane difficulty, the game never feels fair. The developers clearly love the Contra games but it’s like they don’t know what makes them fun. Contra games are hard as fuck but at least they feel fair. Every death is clearly your fault. In Super Cyborg, I don’t know if I can really say that. Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t have jumped that way, or maybe I should have ducked instead, or moved here or there, but it’s impossible to predict anything. More often than not you’re going to get overwhelmed by enemies and there’s never enough weapon power-ups in the levels. The only way to obtain extra lives is from achieving a high enough score, and the bosses are just ridiculous. If you can manage to get to the boss, you’ll need to memorize their attack patterns to be successful. That’s nothing really new for this type of game. The bosses have multiple phases of attacks and, honestly, they’re attacks are just downright cheap. You need to be standing in the exact right spot, at the exact right time, and dodge at the precisely the right moment. There’s basically no room error. None. Even in the Contra games you had to be precise with your dodging and attacks but in Super Cyborg, it’s just too ridiculous. It feels like you have no breathing room whatsoever. With two players, bosses seem to alternate attacking each player which does make things a tad easier but even so, we had trouble just getting to most bosses without the forty lives cheat. The boss battles also drag on. The later bosses in particular just take too long to defeat. Every time you think you’ve defeated a boss you’ll realize that’s only one of several phases of attacks.
Not only did the developers attempt to replicate Contra’s gameplay but they went for the whole 8-bit visual presentation as well, resembling the Contra NES titles. I will admit the visuals are very well detailed. All of the alien creatures are grotesque, well animated, and everything is vibrant and full of color. I can honestly say the visuals do a fantastic job at representing the Contra-style while still remaining unique. I also want to point out the muzzle flashes from your gun. It’s a small thing but I just love the way they look here. Unfortunately, the visuals do conflict with the gameplay. Everything is so bright and colorful that it can be hard to see what’s going on. I would often lose track of bullets and projectiles because they can easily blend in with the surroundings. That’s really not a good thing in a game that requires quick reaction times. Everything should be clearly visible. It’s cool that you can change your character’s color but unless you’ve played through a level beforehand you won’t know what primary colors it uses for its theme. And it’s always better to choose a color scheme that contrasts with the background. However, you can’t change your character’s color once the game is saved. You’re better off entering the level select cheat and starting a new game just so you can choose the appropriate colors. The developers really should have toned down the backgrounds in both color and detail, as cool looking as they are.
Keeping in line with the whole “retro” feel of Super Cyborg, not only did the developers create an old school visual presentation but they decided it would be a good idea to make the entire game playable in only the 4:3 aspect ratio. No, you cannot play this in widescreen which is a real shame. It probably would have been helpful to be able to see further behind or in front of you, especially since enemies come from all directions all the time. Another issue I have is with one aspect of the hud. If you enable the option to toggle locking your chracter in position, the upper left area of the hud will indicate if the “lock” is on or off. If you enable the option to hold the lock button instead, that area of the hud is cut-off during gameplay and it just doesn’t look right. It doesn’t really affect anything but it’s just an odd design choice. The music in Super Cyborg is full of chiptunes that match the whole retro feel the game is going for and most of the songs are quite fantastic. The songs are really catchy and each boss has a unique song, some of which can get you really pumped up and into the action. But that feeling quickly goes away after they wipe the floor with your ass. The sound effects are fine. There’s really not much to say. It’s one of those “retro” titles so it just sounds like an NES game. And, yeah, it matches the rest of the presentation. When talking about the performance, the entire game ran fine with no hiccups or slowdown.
In the end, I don’t know if I can really recommend Super Cyborg unless you enjoy sadistic punishment. As a Contra fan, myself, I really applaud what the developers attempted to do here. I’m sure some players have been able to complete this game, but it’s just too difficult to recommend to most people. I don’t mind a challenge but Super Cyborg is just too much. The gameplay is solid but the developer’s idea of a challenge is to just throw an endless amount of enemies at you, include bosses with ludicrous attack patterns, and levels and boss battles that go on a bit too long for their own good. You’re never given enough weapon power-ups, extra lives are almost non-existent, and the only things the game does to ease your burden is eliminate continues and allow you to save your progress. The difficulty is just not balanced. There’s challenging and there’s unfair. Super Cyborg is unfair. I won’t say it’s impossible but if you’re going to play this I hope you have a lot of patience. With a little bit more work, this could have been the next great Contra title without actually being one. Unfortunately, there are too many things that Super Cyborg just doesn’t do right and it just ends up being a frustrating experience.