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Contra has never been easy. Like many of Konami’s old-school ‘80s arcade games, the punishment in this run-and-gun series is designed to come quickly and often, as you attempt to break through endless hordes of enemies using only your reflexes and aim. Death is only a hit away, so winning means memorizing every attack pattern the game throws at you. If and when you screw up – losing one of the few precious lives given from a finite supply of continues – the loss really hurts. Strip that necessary roughness from Contra’s bones and all that’s left is a sad husk trading on a venerable name. This is essentially what Contra: Evolution does.
Technically, Contra: Evolution is a remake of the original Contra, but it’s a poor tribute. New experience points and in-game currency mean you can buy upgrades on the fly. Or you can take Konami’s lead in further trampling the series’ memory by using in-app purchases to keep a selection of new bullet types and bonuses, making the game even easier (though you already get a whopping six lives per play). The difficulty has also been ratcheted down with much slower enemies and projectiles, particularly with bosses; Evolution seems to have "evolved" strictly for the casual market, which is frankly a disservice to a series known for tough-as-nails gameplay. You certainly won't need the famous Konami code here, since the 30 lives it would net you can just be acquired as an in-app purchase.
Though the idea of a casual Contra game is ridiculous, where Evolution really drops the ball is with its controls. Despite offering a directional pad and both stationary and thumb-following digital arcade sticks, you’ll die often because your hand is blocking the screen or the d-pad read your input as a crouch instead of running to one side. Sadly, there are no alternate screen options, either. The fire button is also placed right next to the overly large jump input, so chances are high that you might leap into an enemy instead of shooting it. Evolution may resemble Contra, but it simply has no soul.
The bottom line. Want to play Contra the way it's meant to be played? Get an original Nintendo.
iPhone or iPod touch running iOS 4.3 or later
Looks nice. It's a remake of a much better game.
Poor controls result in lots of deaths. Microtransactions and in-game currency are a disservice to the series. Dumbed-down difficulty feels disingenuous.