Contra: Evolution is a revamped version of the NES/arcade original. First you choose your soldier, then you shoot your way through eight alien-infested levels, using a terrific variety of weapons to mow down hundreds of enemies along the way. In short, it’s like an ’80s action movie brought to life. All that’s missing are the one-liners.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the graphics have gotten a stylish overhaul. They look so good, I almost don’t miss the 8-bit graphics from the NES version. Despite the new coat of paint, the level layouts remain the same, including the enemy placement and the weird flying weapon upgrades. The level design in Contra is second to none, so it’s nice to see the developers leave every platform and pit alone.
They have done away with one thing, however. Gone is the Konami code, which on NES granted players a hefty 30 lives per continue. In its place is a system well known to freemium gamers: When you lose all of your lives, you can continue by spending coins or diamonds, the game’s two currencies. The further you get into the game, the more they costly the continues become.
Another economic layer has been added in the form of weapon purchases. You can spend currency to equip your favorite gun whether or not you find a pick-up in a given level. Since fancy weapons practically fall from the sky as you play, this isn’t a huge deal, but it feels slimy nevertheless.
They’ve also added a mission mode, where you can play through individual levels on easy, medium, or hard difficulty modes to earn eagle badges. These badges are awarded for beating the levels under certain time constraints, life limits, or point baselines. Earn enough badges, and you unlock one of the two new female playable characters. They’re both ridiculously sexualized, but they bring new weapons to the table. It’s actually pretty fun playing through a familiar game with unfamiliar weapons.
Aside from the occasional “paymium” ickiness, my biggest complaint about Contra: Evolution is the controls. Contra is one of the twitchiest games ever, and it relies heavily on your ability to maneuver your character with exactitude. The touchscreen controls are usable, but they’re no substitute for a real controller or arcade stick. The only concession they’ve included in the iOS game is an option to auto-fire your weapon– which is nice, but doesn’t make up for all the touchscreen-related deaths you’ll undoubtedly suffer.
You don’t have to dig too deep to find things to complain about in Contra: Evolution, but there’s a lot to love as well. While I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone (particularly younger gamers), most fans of the original will find enough here to give it another go.