Half-toasted and barely alive...What a great day!
Where has all the time gone? It seems like just yesterday me and all my buddies were playing Contra on the original Nintendo 8-bit system, wrestling each other for the control pad, calling my Mom every half-hour and begging her to let me stay a little longer. A lot has changed in the last 12 years; Nintendo's gone downhill and all my high-school chums are either gone or married. The only two things that remain the same are the facts that Contra is still a blast to play and that I still have to call my mom if I'm staying at a friend's house past midnight (how sad. - Ed.).
Granted, I've burned about a zillion brain cells since I was introduced to Contra, but I still vividly remember playing Contra: Hard Corps on the Genesis. Great game, great choice of characters, and excellent graphics for a 2D scroller.
Assault: Retribution is the latest Contra clone to hit the Playstation. Although it's a polygonal 3D game, it plays very much like its 2D predecessors; there's a prescribed path you must follow to the end of the level. Player moves are also straight from Contra; aiming your weapon up and down, and hanging from the ceiling.
I found the old tried-and-true gameplay to be just as much of a blast as it ever was. However, Assault is just way too easy. On the easiest level, you could finish the whole game in less than three hours. A higher difficulty setting basically means that you have less "continues" to work with.
Most of Assault is just blasting your way through a level, but there are a few places where you do some platform-jumping or hanging from something. There's a good variety of blasting and jumping to keep you interested for a while, but like I said, just too easy.
There is some nice variety in the gameplay. On one level, you're trying to outrun a massive naplam blast all while shooting enemies and dodging obstacles (much like the first level of Brave Fencer Musashi). There's another really cool level where you're on a speeder-bike thing. These levels are a nice break from the regular gameplay.
However, the bosses leave much to be desired. All of them are really easy to beat and the graphics don't look especially inspired. I expected boss fights to be of the "find the weak spot" variety and while few of them are, they're still no match for your vast arsenal of special weapons. Most boss fights follow the pump-em-full-of-lead-until-they-flash-and-disappear plan.
The graphics in this game look dated, like a game that should've come out a few years ago. It gets very blocky in some places and the FMV, while decent, doesn't look as spectacular as other games I've seen.
True to the Contra series, Assault also supports two-player simultaneous action. Sounds good, but plays like crap. The engine gets so bogged down with all the movement on the screen that it's barely playable unless you like watching your game in slow-mo. This game should've stayed as a 1P offering, as the engine can barely handle places where bullets and monsters are flying all in directions.
Although I found Assault: Retribution to be at times a fun game to play with decent replay value, seasoned gamers are going to be left wanting more. It does a good job keeping the Contra tradition alive, though. But if you haven't checked out Apocalypse yet, do that and save Assault for a rental.