Man, I have been finding a number of spiritual successors lately. Last time around we saw an excellent Metroid clone with a number of cool tweaks, and spins on the idea. This time I’m reviewing a really good Contra clone. With elements of Probotector. Because that game is the same game as Contra, just with the human characters replaced with robots.
In this game you play as a robot. Well, at first. More on that later. Super Cyborg nails down everything about the NES version of Contra, its sequels, and the rest of the series with pinpoint accuracy. If you’ve been stewing because of how Konami has been letting all of their franchises lie dormant, this is a game you’re going to adore.
PROS: Feels exactly like NES Contra. Added customization.
CONS: Limited number of controllers supported. May feel too derivative to some.
KONAMI CODE: Not here. Bur there is a NOT KONAMI code most of you will NEED.
I’m glad I found Super Cyborg. I stumbled upon it during the recent Steam Summer Sale. I had no prior knowledge of its existence. No buzz. No info on a board. Nothing. At least for me, this was a diamond in the rough. Upon looking at the quick little trailer, I thought it looked like an interesting Contra inspired game. I picked it up.
Well it isn’t just interesting. It’s phenomenal. In terms of how close the game play is to NES Contra it’s almost 1:1. You play a robot out to save the world from an alien invasion. Like the game it is cribbing from. You get three lives, and sent on an overwhelming seven stage mission of mayhem. The first stage has a few visual nods to Contra. It starts in the jungle, and though the stage layout is completely different the theme is there. It ends at a fortress as well. But with a completely different, and original boss.
From there, the game goes through different themed areas, and this is where it makes an attempt to differentiate itself from its inspiration. The inside of the base has its own distinct style. The third stage has more of a late game Ninja Gaiden look. There is a spider filled cavern stage. Throughout the campaign, the game does try to retain its own identity. In spite of just how much it feels like Contra. Of course, even some of that goes out the window when you get to the Super C inspired top down stage, and the final stage.
It really does feel like Contra too. As I said before, it feels almost 1:1. The movement is almost identical. The somersault jumping is almost identical. The shooting feels nearly identical. You can fire up. You can fire ahead, or at a diagonal slant. You can fire straight down so long as you’re in the air. One key difference is there is a “Lock” feature, where you can press a button to disable walking. In theory, some sections may be more manageable with it enabled. You can stay just outside the hit box of a projectile spewed out by a boss. Or you can keep yourself from walking off of a ledge. In practice, you’ll almost never use it because of just how much stuff is hitting you at any given moment. Super Cyborg also adds a secondary charge shot to every gun in the game. It does more damage. But because it’s so slow; again you’ll rarely use it with all of the chaos.
Because just like Contra, the attackers never cease. They keep re-spawning, charging, and coming from all directions. Sit in one place too long, they’ll appear from behind. Or jump from above. Or crop up from the background scenery when you least expect it. Even Contra’s weapons are heavily referenced here. Barrels float through the sky in weird patterns. Shooting them drops a letter. Each letter is a different weapon. The letters may be different in some cases, but the projectiles have the same properties. The machine gun bullets are here. The laser gun is here. The coveted spread gun is here. The clear screen is here. Even the rapid fire is here.
And like Probotector, you’ll play as a robot. At first. You see, once you complete the game you’ll be able to play as a Rambo knock off, giving the game an even closer resemblance to Contra. One cool thing here is you can customize the colors on your character sprites when you start the game. The enemies are pretty varied throughout the campaign with all sorts of aliens, mutants, and strange creatures. All of them share attack patterns with Contra’s many soldiers, and creatures.
Boss characters are original creations, and yet they could probably fit into a Contra game. There are some standouts here like the giant heart boss, the mechanical bee, and the game’s final boss. This thing has seven forms, and only gets more difficult as each form is introduced. Frankly, it goes from being a very difficult Run n’ Gun to a very difficult Bullet Hell. Think Toaplan difficult.
Honestly, the whole game is pretty difficult for many of the reasons outlined earlier. But again, so was Contra. It also has the simultaneous two player mode you know, and love. The game is fun, and hectic enough with one player. Two player mode makes this even more fun. On top of that, Super Cyborg includes Peer to Peer internet play. You can host a game, and let a friend or stranger connect through Steam, and away you go. Basically, it’s the same thing as the standard two player campaign. But now you don’t have to worry about your friend actually driving to your house.
Of course no NES Contra experience would be complete without the Konami code. Because, for the majority of us, getting through the game was almost impossible on three lives. Super Cyborg doesn’t have the Konami code, but it does have its own extra lives code that you’ll also have to input quickly on the title screen. It will give you 40 lives, and because the game has user files, you can actually save your progress between levels. Which is nice in case you find yourself getting too frustrated in your attempt to win. You can come back to where you left off. Moreover, Super Cyborg has three difficulty levels; Easy, Normal, and Hard which is unlocked after you complete the game once. Easy is about as hard as NES Contra. Until the last boss where it gets pretty difficult. Normal adds more enemies, and projectiles. The final boss gets much more health here. Hard difficulty is so over the top, it’s really recommended for those who love an almost masochistic challenge.
Super Cyborg isn’t terribly long, and it needn’t be. It isn’t very original. But that isn’t what it was going for. It’s a game trying to fill a void Konami left, by letting its franchise lie dormant. As a spiritual successor to that franchise Super Cyborg truly succeeds. It is a great game for anybody who loves Contra, as the entire game is a love letter to Contra. It’s also a pretty fun action game in its own right. Super Cyborg might not look quite as good as Contra. Some of the sprites can look a little rough around the edges. But it still manages to get a pretty good NES inspired look all around. You can also toggle a CRT blur effect, and sprite transparency effects on or off depending on how you like your retro-inspired games to look. The music is pretty great. Stage three’s up tempo chip tunes really stand out. But overall the music, and sound is really good.
Where the game falls short is in the options menu, and controller settings. First off, the options navigation takes some getting used to, as it isn’t mouse driven. It has a weird lay out, with pull-down menus. It isn’t difficult to use, but it isn’t very intuitive. But the biggest problem is that it doesn’t support a very large variety of controllers. You can play with the keyboard. You can play with the Xbox 360, or Xbox One controllers pretty seamlessly. Even third-party versions, as they use the same driver in Windows. But beyond that, it’s tough to say. My Steam controller didn’t work right away. After a day or two, it miraculously decided to. So I don’t know if that was just an issue with my configuration, or if it was a Steam client issue an update fixed. Chances are if you’re using a Steam controller you’re probably going to be able to play the game just fine.
But for some of the other controllers out there you’ll have to use a third-party program like Xpadder if you want to get them working with the game. Other than that speed bump though, it’s a pretty great game I can still highly recommend. It can be pretty difficult, and it might tread a little too closely to Contra for some. But it is also a lot of fun. I know I’ve repeated myself a lot in this review. But if you’ve longed for a proper Contra game for a while, you just might want to check this one out.
Final Score: 8 out of 10