Reviving the original hard-as-nails 2D shooter Contra on touchscreen devices is either a very brave or very foolish move, depending on your perspective. CocoaChina is the developer behind Contra: Evolution, and it is confident that it has made the game work on iOS devices. Foolhardy or brave? Let’s find out… To do so, we talk to CocoaChina CEO Haozhi Chen about Contra’s legacy; the work that has gone into getting the touchscreen controls just right; and the challenge of making sure newcomers and long-term fans of the series are happy with the title.
Resurrecting a gaming legend isn’t a task that many game developers would would envy. It would be all too easy to just port the original and change nothing lest you anger die-hard Contra fans. That is not the case here, however. Instead, Contra: Evolution for iPhone and iPad is a modernized version of the original, built from the ground up for Apple’s mobile devices. ”We built Contra: Evolution to be a genuine recreation of the original Contrasmash hit – level design, gameplay, sound direction, even the original game’s notorious difficulty were fundamental to Evolution’s development,” Haozhi says. An admirable undertaking, sure. But to do the original justice, one particular element had to be absolutely perfect. Yep, the controls. Haozhi and his team say they knew this all too well: “We understood early on that highly responsive controls were a must for the game to work, and we set ourselves the task of designing the best controls we could.”
”It’s no secret that virtual controls have a history of being poor implemented in games for mobile devices. And we knew that we had to do better, particularly for a title of this stature.” Haozhi says that many mistakes had to be made during development of the game in order to get the controls just as his team wanted them. ”For us, overcoming those problems was a question of trial and error. We tweaked the controls, extensively tested them, tweaked again, tested again, over and over,” Haozhi says. ”While virtual controls may never feel as solid as a physical controller, we think that ours are some of the best, and more than fit the needs of the game.”
Even with the controls given due care and attention, many dedicated Contrafans might worry the original’s high difficulty level might be somewhat watered down, anyway. Haozhi promises that those concerns are unfounded. ”It wouldn’t be Contra if it wasn’t hard,” he says. “Part of the challenge of adjusting the difficulty level of the game for new players was trying not to take anything away from the original game. Back in 1988, getting through the first level of Contra was a minor achievement in of itself,” he continues. “Contra: Evolution starts off easier than the original, but still hits that classic difficulty quickly. The result is that veteran Contra players may find their way fairly easily through the first couple of stages before they run into a real challenge, while new players can pick up and play the game with ease”. It’s not just the difficulty level that’s been tweaked for this new iOS version of the game, though.
CocoaChina has made sure it contains all of the extras you expect from modern smartphone titles. “We updated the graphics to take advantage of the substantially higher graphical capability of smartphones, and have added things like unlockable content to reward repeat players,” Haozhi says. “In short, the changes we’ve made are meant to bring Contra to a new audience, while staying true to the original. Old school fans can play the game they grew up knowing and loving, while new players will find a very familiar experience.” With CocoaChina evidently walking a tightrope by attempting to please long-term Contra fans and newcomers to the franchise at the same time, there is the risk that it will end up satisfying no one.
Haozhi firmly believes, however, that this new version of the classic shooter can truly be enjoyed by anyone. “Over time, people have forgotten how much fun a great side-scrolling shooter can be. Mainly because there hasn’t been a great one in far too long,” he explains. “I think more than anything else, younger gamers are looking for great games, whether there is a legacy behind them or not, and we think thatContra: Evolution is a great game.” Ultimately, CocoaChina has tried to make sure this resurrected classic fits in neatly alongside recent mobile releases. This is something Haozhi and his design team are particularly pleased about. “We’re most proud of the balance we have struck between the original game and the demands of a modern audience,” Haozhi says. ”The expectations when you’re re-booting a classic franchise are insanely high, and rightly so. Contra’s legacy simply cannot be ignored. And while lots of veteran fans would have been happy with a simple port of the 1988 title, that wouldn’t match the expectations of the modern mobile audience.”
You can rest assured that improving and expanding on the current version is in the developer’s plans, too. “We have all kinds of plans to continue supporting the game after launch,” Haozhi confirms. “Right now, we can’t share any details, but rest assured that Contra: Evolution will receive all of the support that it deserves. “ You can download Contra: Evolution as a Universal app now, priced $0.99. You can also pick up the optimized iPad version for $2.99.
Haozhi told us that Android and Windows Phone versions of the game are in the works, too. They should be available in their respective app marketplaces soon.
Excited for the game? Grab yourself a copy and enter the Contra competition. Simply head on over to the Contra: Evolution Facebook Fan Page, post a screenshot on the wall there of you getting a Three Medal rating in Mission Mode on Stage 1: Jungle, on normal difficulty, and include a favourite Contra memory, along with the #ContraEvolution hashtag, to enter and win awesome prizes. Click here for more info.