Contra, Konami’s classic run ‘n’ gun, cheat code lionizing classic, has been weirdly present lately. Aside from the recent classics collection, we’ve also seen an absolutely bizarre (but lowkey fun) top-down shooter on consoles. There’s also been a lot of movement on Contra in China, including potential multimedia projects and a… mobile game? That mobile game showed up in global markets this week, and it’s a doozy to say the least.
I grabbed Contra Returns this week, not out of any sort of hype or loyalty to the Contra brand. I mean, Contra is rad and all, and I have beaten the first game (only the first game, and only with The Code). But no, this one was all about morbid curiosity. From the game’s hilariously grotesque art direction to the sheer strangeness of the premise, I had to see what this thing was. How does Contra have a battle pass? Who are all these characters? Wait, why did I buy the battle pass? Who am I?
Most of these questions are unanswerable, but I’ll do my best.
Contra Returns is a very Chinese mobile market game through and through. It has all the bright, metallic UI strangeness you see in similar games, the confusing menus and multifaceted demands of real life money. But it’s also full of content, including an impressive reverence for the source material alongside a totally unhinged roster of original characters. There’s a polar bear with a strange European accent?
The game itself is surprisingly fun, though! It even has super customizable controls and native gamepad support, making playing Contra Returns with my Backbone a blast. And while there are certain caveats, the run ‘n’ gun style is totally present here, even if it is necessarily chunkier compared to “real” Contra games.
You have the running, jumping, ducking, shooting and dodging of any Contra game, alongside various powerups and cooldown-governed skills you’d expect from a mobile game. Powerups show up during levels in classic Contra fashion, but there’s also a buttload of weapons you get through the gacha. It is what it is, and there are also tons of characters you get through various means.
You get Bill and Lance for free through, which is what’s important. Especially since Bill is characterized like a less problematic Duke Nukem, which kinda rules. He’s really proud of his pants, loves to fight aliens with his friends, and hates zombies. There are layers to this man, Bill. For real though, the dialogue in this game is hilarious, whether it’s trying to be or not, and that lack of clarity works in its favor big time.
If you play mobile games, you’ll be familiar with all the different ways to play. There’s the story missions gated by overall power, PVP and PVE co-op modes, various individual challenges, so on and so forth. The PVP is kinda janky, but it is what it is. Co-op is a lot of fun though, because hey, it’s Contra. And the challenges are traditional fare like boss rush, to hilarious adaptations of things like the original game’s waterfall level, in which you have to see how high you can jump before the scrolling catches up with you.
And speaking of hilarious adaptations, the best and cheesiest aspect of Contra Returns is how shamelessly it points at all the old games. The whole thing is full of new buttrock arrangement of classic Contra tunes, and every time you fight a boss that’s a revamped version of something from a previous game you get to see a little screenshot of what it looked like before this game’s unhinged art team got a hold of it. There are all kinds of other little visual gags and references strewn throughout.
Despite being a predatory gacha mobile game designed to eat away at your personal finances, Contra Returns also seems to be a totally competent game that was made by people who know their Contra. It isn’t afraid to have a sense of humor about itself, and there’s a ton of crap to unlock that can have an actual impact on your playstyle. And yes, I did buy into the battle pass, because the character on it right now is a pop singer that plays a bubblegum-flavored remix of the Contra theme on the select screen.