Sunday, March 06, 2011

Tech: Konami's ReBirth Series

The success of Capcom's "Mega Man 9" proved there was an untapped market for retro-styled sequels of classic games. Companies have finally figured out that the average 18-34 year old gamer grew up on Nintendo and Sega, and will readily excuse simple graphics and stripped-down story for nostalgia's sake. Today, we'll take a look at Konami's ReBirth series, a trio of retro games available for the Nintendo Wii's WiiWare service. Each title is $10 and can be played with the Wii Remote, the Classic Controller, or the GameCube controller.

Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth

For me, the 2D linear Castlevania games hit their peak with 'Vania III on the NES and the PC Engine's "Rondo of Blood." These two games refined the formula of the original "Castlevania" with hidden secrets, branching paths, and multiple playable characters.

In comparison, "Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth" seems like a step backwards. There's only one character, the whip-wielding Christopher Belmont, and he plays exactly like every other 'Vania protagonist. The level design is similarly uninspiring - while you can sometimes find alternate paths within a level, all of these paths eventually merge and dump you into the same place. In short, this iteration of the series won't win any awards for originality.

If you don't mind retreading familiar ground, however, you'll find plenty of heart-collecting, axe-throwing classic Castlevania gameplay here. The first three levels are sort of a tease, with boring, simple layouts and weak enemies. Things get much more interesting in the massive fifth level, a lengthy trek through Dracula's clock tower and a fight against Death; it's as challenging as any Castlevania level I've ever played. For a certain kind of gamer, that alone is worth the $10.

Rating: 79/100

Contra ReBirth

Even in the golden age of gaming, action games revolved around setpieces. Who can forget April's burning apartment in "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," or the zero-G mine cart stage in "Gunstar Heroes"? I'm happy to report that for those of you who like over-the-top scenarios, "Contra ReBirth" is chock full of 'em.

In the first level, for instance, you fight a giant centipede monster on pieces of a space station entering Earth's atmosphere. In the third level, from the top of a speeding army truck, you fight soldiers riding robotic camels. On every stage, there is something exploding, moving, or collapsing - it's wacky, it's silly, it's Contra.

"Contra ReBirth" also shares one other major characteristic from Contra games of yore - rock-hard difficulty. Touch something dangerous - whether it's an enemy, a tiny enemy bullet, or a stage hazard - and you instantly lose a life and your current weapon. The game becomes much easier if you wuss out and up the number of lives per continue to 7...but beware, there's no Konami Code.

Rating: 83/100

Gradius ReBirth

Shoot 'em ups tend to follow set conventions: "R-Type" games usually have a battle against a giant battleship, "Raiden Fighters" games have a convoluted scoring system, etc. In my opinion, though, no shooter series is as formulaic as Gradius (heck, even Konami made fun of the set-in-stone rules with the Parodius series).

In most respects, "Gradius ReBirth" isn't so much a game as an outline of the Gradius design document. The stages are all well-crafted, well-executed...and utterly predictable. By the time you're dodging Moai heads, you'll wonder why no one's tweaked the whole "powerup-main stage-panic segment-boss fight" structure of a Gradius level.

Standard Gradius rules apply, too - if you die once, you lose all your powerups, so the easiest way to win the game is to not die. Should you get skilled at not dying, "Gradius ReBirth" features an online score attack ranking system, so you can see how you compare with everyone else. It's a good reminder that you aren't the only one reliving your childhood.

Rating: 73/100


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