Shattered Soldier is Konami’s answer to all us old school gamers who sit around and complain about games being “too easy” these days. Shattered Soldier will kick your butt. It’s a throw back to the original Contra days when men were men, aliens were aliens, one shot killed and patterns had to be memorized.
That being said, Shattered Soldier is fun… very fun. Due to its harking back to the nature of the beginning of the series, this is one game mostly reserved for fans. Contra: SS is done in the side-scroller fashion, although set it a full 3D world, and takes you through the game in a stages/levels fashion with plenty of things to blow up.
Being Contra, the game of course deals with aliens, powerful soldiers and lots of firepower. Of Alien Wars fame, Bill Rizer returns is this installment to stop the invading threat, along with a new partner Lucia. The game actually includes cutscenes furthering the story, although frankly, this is all very minor backdrop stuff to the game’s all consuming action.
So, what makes the game fun besides just “being Contra“? Well, SS as I said is done in a side-scrolling fashion, which is a nice throw back as opposed to everything being in 3D these days, although the game IS in a 3D world for graphical goodness. This side-scrolling approach makes the game simple to play and learn, although the intense action makes it VERY difficult to master.
The game presents you with four stages to begin with, each one taking place in a different location and having unique encounters and situations (although much has been seen in some Contra games before). For example, in one stage you’ll be running through a city, then crawling across some pipes, only to be thrust upon a snowboard and switched to a front perspective as a giant worm-thing attacks. Of course, other stages have you riding hover bikes, fighting large robots or aliens, or hanging onto missiles as you fight.
This constant switching of play styles really keeps the game intense and it is all paced well enough that it does not feel fragmented, although some of the parts feel out of place of the level. Enemies are constant throughout levels, and there is a great mix here as well. Enemies switch constantly from standard running ground troops, to grenade launching men, to alien creatures and even some unexpected, tough and large boss-ish creatures. Also in the mix are fun periods of fighting machines and vehicles and also the large and incredibly fun ending boss battles (I LOVE the train level ending!).
This is all standard Contra stuff for those that have played the series, but even despite this, it is still all very fresh feeling. However, there is some new stuff added to the series as well. The main issue is the use of weapons. No longer are there pickups, instead you have three weapons through the whole game, each with a main and alternate firing method.
At first this seemed like a bad approach, as I enjoyed the pickups and finding a favorite method of time gone past, but it has been well integrated into the game. At different points in the game, or with different enemies, you will find various weapons are best. This means that although you have six weapons to use always, you must figure out which to use. In fact, some areas are designed to favor some weapons, and some may in fact not be possible without a specific one. Combined into the intense pace of the game, this works well and adds a new element of strategy.
Also new in the game is how you can select stages, instead of just being ran through each in succession. The various difficulty settings are where the game takes on its true challenge as well. With easy mode, you are basically handed the game with 99 continues. Switch over to normal though, and you are down to 3… and this is where the true challenge begins. Of course, there’s also a hard mode, so it gets even more intense if you like. There harder modes are also where you want a second player with you, as it is great working together in this game, not to mention loads of fun like previous games in the series.
Sadly, even with the challenge, the game is rather short, very short in fact. No shorter than say old Contra titles, but I guess I was just hoping for some more. However, the challenge will keep you playing and practicing and the old-school style action has a way of constantly drawing me in for more. Its a game I and I think most Contra fans will no doubt pick up again and again. Also, things must be unlocked and there are some bonus things to unlock as well, so you will not get and see everything right away.
Being set in a 3D world works very well for the game and it really does look rather good. Stages are at times a little dark or muddled, but well detailed and full of life at other times. Effects are big and flashy, like they should be, although figuring out what hurts and what doesn’t can get annoying. And finally, animations are all very well done with some great, super-size enemies who really steal the show. I must say some 3D elements look at of place at times, although still look good, but for the most part, it all meshes very well (again, I LOVE the train level!).
The sound is also a nice bonus, as it far exceeds a simple shooter expectations. Full of plenty of booming action and a great pounding soundtrack, the game really draws you in audibly and this helps set the pace for the action.
I must say it again, because it’s worth repeating: This game is really mainly for fans of the series. However, I do not think the game distances itself from others, as shooter fans may really find the action to their liking. It plays like old Contra with new ideas, making it a new Contra, but still feels like old Contra, even though its new… well, you get the idea. Let’s just say this game is a new breed of a gaming goodness monster that will hopefully not only only see future Contratitles, but perhaps other Konami series redone like this as well.