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I love Contra. I have not beaten a single game in the series. And that’s because they are extremely difficult games. The Contra series is known for its brutal difficulty and Contra: Shattered Soldier is no exception. Developed and published by Konami, Contra: Shattered Soldier was released for the PlayStation 2 in October, 2002. It retains the same core gameplay as previous entries with a few changes that really mix up what Contra fans may be used to. I could be wrong but I don’t believe this entry is canon to the overarching Contra story line but it’s not like anybody plays these games for the narrative. People play Contra games because they like fast-paced, side-scrolling action shooters and having their patience pushed to the limits. Contra games aren’t necessarily long, in fact they’re quite short, but they may take you an extremely long time to complete due to their sheer difficulty. Memorizing enemy and boss patterns is the key to success and that is especially true in Contra: Shattered Soldier.
Shattered Soldier does have a story but the cut scenes don’t really make it interesting and there’s no voice acting. It’s the year 2647 and you play as Bill Rizer, the hero of the Alien Wars, and apparently he is responsible for murdering his partner, Lance Bean. As you play through the game you find out Lance is actually still alive and is the leader of the terrorist organization known as Blood Falcon. Considering Lance was one of the heroes in previous games, I don’t like how they made him a bad guy here. But if the story isn’t canon, and I’m pretty sure it’s not, then I’m not too bothered by it. Shattered Soldier also marks the first appearance of Lucia, a female Cyborg, created by using alien DNA. By default, she will be playable in the two player mode as the second character but you can switch her and Bill in the options menu, making her the player one character. They both play exactly the same. There are multiple endings that require specific overall scores so there is plenty of replay value here. There are a few extras that can be unlocked and unlocking them normally depends on your overall score. These include a gallery with artwork of the game, a theater to view cut scenes, and a database with information about the series and its story line.
I said it before and I’ll say it again – I have never fully completed a Contra game and that’s still true. Even after entering the famous Konami code to obtain thirty lives, I can barely make it through the second mission. Jeremy and I did actually team up for some two player action, and the game still managed to destroy us. After admitting defeat, we decided to find a fully completed save file online which allows us to play each mission in the training mode. I’m not ashamed, I just don’t have the time to spend days, months, or even years of my life glued to the game at the risk of breaking my controller in anger.
By default, you start the game with five lives and four continues. If you get hit, you die and lose a life. This is a Contra game after all, so that is to be expected. Depending on where you are in a mission, if you lose all your lives you have the choice of re-spawning in the middle or beginning of that mission. There’s six missions and a final boss battle and the game only saves after you successfully complete a mission during the campaign. You must complete the campaign in one run but can start from any of the first four missions available. To unlock missions five, six, and the final boss battle, you must achieve a specific score or higher in the missions preceding them, and that depends on a few factors – hit rate and how many times you died or used continues. Ideally, your goal is to achieve a one hundred percent hit rate which means killing all of the enemies and unique targets in a mission. Honestly, if you can make it to the end of the second mission on your first playthrough, you should be patting yourself on the back. If you manage to complete missions, you will unlock them in the training mode where you can replay them at any time. Each time you play a mission the training mode you’re given thirty lives but no continues.
Contra: Shattered Soldier is an intense and fast-paced side scrolling shooter. There are some sections where the camera shifts so your character is moving towards the screen but it doesn’t really change how the game is played. You run through missions shooting all of the enemies in your path while you jump, climb, and dodge attacks and just try to survive. There’s no ammo or health pickups and no hand holding whatsoever. Shattered Soldier is a difficult game and it lets you know that right from the start. An enemy shoots you, you’re dead. You touch an enemy, you’re dead. You fall off a ledge, dead. You get the idea. You can hold a button to lock your character in position and shoot in any direction or hold another button to lock your aim in one direction allowing you to still move around. One thing that makes Shattered Soldier different from its predecessors is the fact that there’s no weapon pickups. And I was very sad to learn that this means there’s no more spread shot. Instead, you’re equipped with three weapons that can be switched out at any time – the machinegun, flamethrower, and a grenade launcher. Each weapon can be charged and fired for a special, more powerful attack. One of the bigger keys to success in this game is knowing what weapon to use and when. You might think this sounds simple – running, gunning, and switching weapons but it’s not that easy. You really do need to master the controls because if you don’t you will frequently find yourself fumbling with the controller and getting yourself killed. Knowing when to lock positions, jump, and move is important because most of the time you need to react quickly and failure to do so will result in your death.
One could say Contra: Shattered Soldier is a boss rush and I would have to agree. You still run through levels and shoot bad guys but most of the time you’re fighting bosses. They’re usually large robotic or alien-like creatures that can kick your ass in a matter of seconds. There’s a good chance you’ll be killed quickly from attacks you couldn’t possibly see coming but that’s what Contra is all about. It’s a learning experience and you’re going to learn the hard way. Memorizing boss patterns is absolutely crucial to winning but to get to a boss you need to make your way through the mission without losing all your lives, but to do that you need to avoid getting hit, and to do that you need to memorize enemy placements. Like I said before, to beat the game you need to do it in one run so you better get used to replaying missions repeatedly. There’s no saving your progress and coming back to it later. You either beat it or die or simply start over.
When talking about the presentation, I wouldn’t say Shattered Soldier is a great looking game but if you’re focused on the visuals then that means you’re not focuing on the gameplay and you’re going to die. Animations can look a bit stiff and the game is not particularly colorful. Everything just looks kind of dark and muddy. When there’s a ton of shit happening on-screen I would frequently lose sight of my character, and usually die, because they can easily blend in with the backgrounds, especially in the two player mode. I think making at least the playable characters brighter or more colorful would have been a good idea. The music is a mix of metal and electronic and it gets the job done. There’s even some familiar Contra music, among other homages to the classics, and the sound effects are loud and explosive.
Contra: Shattered Soldier has some excellent set pieces that may feel familiar if you’ve played the previous games. In one mission you’ll be speeding down the road on a hover bike dodging fire from an attacking gunship. Another mission has you hanging from a speeding missile as you battle it out with a giant robotic boss. The second half of the first mission has you speeding down a snowy mountain on a hover board while being chased by a giant snake thing. I could go on and on but what I’m trying to tell you is there’s plenty of action and fast-paced gameplay packed into every mission. Enemies and bosses come in different varieties. One minute you’ll be battling what looks like an egg and the next thing you know you’re battling… sperm. You’ll see other cool and crazy shit like a helicopter that can transform into a mech, you’ll fight a giant snail, flying drone, and a robotic spider thing. There’s no shortage of creative ideas when it comes to the creature designs and this actually makes for an interesting experience all the way through.
If you’ve never played a Contra game and you came to me asking if you should play Shattered Soldier, I would tell you this; think of going into a Contra game as if you’re going into a casino. If you go in expecting and prepared to lose, you’ll have a good time. What you take away from that is entirely up to you but if you think you’re going to blast your way through Contra: Shattered Soldier and be bragging about it an hour later, you’ll be in for quite a surprise. Contra: Shattered Soldier is a game that’s going to challenge you at every turn. It requires your complete attention, memorization, and most importantly, patience. You will not be forgiven for any mistakes so all you can do is try again. Shattered Soldier is a short game only made up for by it’s high difficulty so if you don’t like the idea of repeatedly playing through the same missions, this may not be the game for you. But if you’re looking for an action-packed side-scrolling experience on the PS2, I would definitely recommend you give it a shot.