Review: Contra – Shattered Soldier
A little over three years ago I played through and reviewed all of the console titles in the Contra Anniversary Collection. In case you’re unfamiliar with this compilation, it includes the first five console games in the Contra series as well as the original arcade Contra title. But if you think that collection encompasses every Contra game there is to play, you’d be wrong. There are several other Contra titles that were left out. The last game in that collection (and the last one I reviewed) was Contra: Hard Corps, an underrated classic originally released for the Sega Genesis. After Hard Corps, the series took a bit of a left turn. The next two games bearing the Contra title were released for the Sony Playstation, but only in the west. These two games were developed for Konami by a third party and they were a radical departure from all of the other games in the series. For starters, these two games (Contra: Legacy of War and C: The Contra Adventure) deviated from the standard sidescrolling action that the previous games in the series were famous for. On top of that, they just didn’t manage to capture the magic of the original games. In terms of official lore, the PS1 Contra titles are not considered to be part of Contra canon and exist as little more than oddities. Thankfully, Konami recognized this and decided to correct the course. That brings us to the game I want to discuss today, Contra: Shattered Soldier.
Shattered Soldier is the real successor to Hard Corps and it is also the official continuation of the Contra storyline. Shattered Soldier was released for the PS2 in 2002 and with the exception of a digital release as a “PS2 Classic on PS3”, it has never been made available on any other system.
The storyline for this game starts immediately after the events of Hard Corps. In the aftermath of the Alien Wars, humanity is struggling to rebuild. During this process, the construction of a planetary defense system malfunctions and a large portion of Earth’s population is killed as a result. Bill Rizer (one of the heroes from the original Contra games) is erroneously blamed for the incident and imprisoned. Flash forward five years – the Blood Falcon terrorist group is once again threatening Earth with alien technology. After much debate, the world government decides to release Bill on the condition that he once again takes action to save Earth from the alien threat. This time, he is accompanied by a new companion, Lucia, a cyborg soldier. Together, Bill and Lucia attempt to infiltrate the Blood Falcon fortress and put an end to their activity. But things are not as simple as they seem. As the game progresses, the true motive behind Blood Falcon becomes clear, causing Bill and Lucia to second guess their loyalties.
So here we have a Contra game that has an actual storyline! On top of that, the story only gets better as the game progresses. That in itself is a pretty massive change for the series. But, the changes don’t stop there. This game, while retaining a number of classic “Contra” elements, also has a few new tricks up its sleeve. But before I get into everything that’s new, let me discuss all of the things that remain unchanged from the previous games in the series.
For starters, this is Contra just like we’ve always known it. It is primarily a side-scrolling, run-and-gun action platformer. It still features two-player local multiplayer and yes, it’s still tough as nails. The game does take advantage of the PS2 hardware and as a result, is the best looking entry in the series thus far.
In terms of what’s new, the biggest change most players are likely to notice is that this game features a new weapon system. Instead of starting the game with just a basic gun and then finding upgrades as you progress through the game, you now start with three different weapons at your disposal. These weapons are as follows: a machine gun, a flame thrower, and a mine launcher. Players are able to cycle through the weapons as they desire. Each weapon can also be charged by holding down one of the buttons the controller. This will result in a more powerful/alternate attack.
The next thing players are likely to notice is the new “Hit Rate” that’s tabulated as you progress through the game. This measures the percentage of enemies on the screen that actually take damage via the players action. If players manage to make it to the end of the game, having a higher Hit Rate percentage will provide them with a better ending to the game’s storyline.
There’s a total of seven stages in Contra: Shattered Soldier and as you might expect, they are downright brutal. So yes, if you were wondering if this game continues the series’ reputation for challenging players with a high degree of difficulty – you now have the answer. Shattered Soldier does give players the option to select a difficulty level. But this doesn’t really seem to change to difficulty of the gameplay itself. Instead, it gives you a total of eight lives instead of the usual three and increases the number of times you can restart the stage if all lives are lost from three to ninety nine. Easy mode definitely makes the game possible for the average player to complete, especially if you’re playing alongside a friend. But, make no mistake, you’re still in for a pretty hardcore experience.
Even though the formula that makes up the gameplay is tried and true, the PS2 hardware really breathes new life into this genre. The combination of 2D action in a 3D environment works extremely well. Also, the lighting engine really makes the weapon effects pop. Out of all the Contra games thus far, this title has some of the best looking (and best designed) bosses I’ve ever encountered. Despite this game’s simplistic nature, I had a blast playing it. After spending the last few months grinding away at some pretty lengthy RPGs, this short, fast-paced two-hour game was exactly what I needed to decompress.
It’s a shame that this game is currently out of reach for most modern gamers. Technically, it’s still available to purchase on PSN. But doing so will require that you have a functional PS3. Hopefully, we’ll see this title made available as part of Playstation’s cloud streaming initiative or perhaps will be included in another compilation somewhere down the road. I say this because Contra: Shattered Soldier is a forgotten gem that more gamers should have a chance to experience.
Version Reviewed: PS2
Difficulty: Very Hard – Shattered Soldier continues the series’ reputation for being extremely difficult. The game does feature two levels of difficulty to choose from. But all this does is boost the number of lives and continues. I found this entry to be just as tough as Hard Corps. In fact, the only way I was able to actually finish the game was by playing on the Easy difficulty setting and even then, it took quite a few tries before I was able finish the game.
Story: While the last game in the series laid the groundwork for a serious storyline in the Contra universe, this game really brings that into maturity. The plot for Shattered Soldier is solid to begin with, but the various cutscenes that are scattered throughout the title really do an excellent job of making the storyline engaging and interesting.
Originality: Despite some slight tweaks to the gameplay itself, much of what is found here has been seen before. However, graphics engine of the PS2 work wonders to make this game feel new and exciting even if we’re following a pretty dated formula.
Soundtrack: This game is driven by a rocking, upbeat score. The music is fitting for this type of game and it does a great job of keeping the action going. Perfect for this style of game.
Fun: The difficulty of this game is likely to be a buzz kill for many. But at the same time, the special effects, level design, and badass bosses kept my jaw on the floor. I had loads of fun putting this game through its paces.
Graphics: This is the best looking entry in the series so far. The graphics and lighting engine of the PS2 make this game come to life. Simply beautiful.
Playcontrol: I have no issues whatsoever with the controls for this game. The default layouts are solid, the action is fluid and precise. This is how you do it.
Downloadable Content: No.
Mature Content: Gun violence.
Value: If you have a PS3, you can buy this game digitally for under $10. At this price, you’re getting a very good bargain. Physical copies of the game vary greatly but usually run anywhere from $20-$50. At this price, I’d really only be able to recommend this game to serious fans of the series.
Overall score (1-100): 90 – Contra: Shattered Solider is every bit as good as Hard Corps but with even better sound and graphics. If I set aside my nostalgia for the original NES game, I have to admit that this is probably the most fun I’ve had with a Contra title yet. It’s a sad shame that this game is not more accessible to gamers.
Original System: PS2
Available today on: PS3 (PSN) – (Updated as of Spring 2023)
Best Experience: PS3, – (Updated as of Spring 2023)
Other Reviews In This Series:
Contra – Super C – Contra III: Alien Wars – Operation C – Contra: Hard Corps – Contra: Shattered Solider – Neo Contra – Contra 4 – Hard Corps: Uprising – Contra: Rogue Corps
Contra: Legacy of War – C: The Contra Adventure –