The days of the old arcade filled with flashing lights, big sounds, and arcade cabinets may be gone, but the games continue to live on. Case in point is Contra, which is another classic arcade title to come to iOS, and it’s based on the 1988 original. The Evolution aspect relates to the new touch controls, enhanced visual design, and a few extra levels. The base game is a side scrolling shooter that is high on challenge with one touch death, and a multitude of enemies and obstacles on screen at once. Bill “Mad Dog” Rizer and Lance “Scorpion” Bean are back battling in the jungles of South America, but redone for 2013.
Every level comes with a unique layout, and every other level shifts perspective from 2D side scrolling to 3D maze battle. Taking it a step further, there’s also a boss battle at the end of each level, so there are just so many ways to die. The iOS version provides five lives to help you make it through a given level, and it would be extremely hard without them. There are two game modes with the classic arcade style where you try to survive as long as possible, as well as a structured mission mode. In mission mode, you can play a single level trying to go for a three star score, and you can jump around between the levels. The modes give you a choice of the classic style, or the new piecemeal style, and it’s a nice choice to have. The main drawback with the gameplay is that it feels antiquated, slow moving, and a bit bland in the iOS form despite the high sense of nostalgia it can provide for some.
The gameplay is definitely familiar, so the question comes down to the iOS port in particular. At first glance, it’s easy to spot the enhanced retina graphics on the side scrolling levels and boss battles, but the 3D levels have a border around the gameplay screen. The controls are the main point though, and while they get the job done, you’re just given a virtual joystick and action buttons. There’s an auto-fire option which is quite handy, but the virtual controls pale in comparison to those found in League of Evil. The game also includes the ability to level up to access new mission levels, as well as weaponry. The special weapons can be essential, and yet the iOS version hides some of them behind a pay wall requiring in-app purchases. In any level, you can use in-app purchases to continue a run or equip a weapon upgrade, kind of like popping quarters in the old machine, but at a higher cost. These freemium extras are in addition to the purchase price of the game.
Contra: Evolution ($0.99, iPhone / $2.99, iPad) is based on the classic, but the “Evolution” enhancements aren’t necessarily good things. The entire experience feels muted kind of stuck in between the past and present, and failing to deliver the best parts of either. For that reason, Contra: Evolution is one to skip despite the well known name, and game style, as there are better independent iOS games out there.