Coming off the back of Hard Corps Contra enjoyed a new wave of popularity and quality. That game was one of the best action games of that era and raised the bar for its genre. Going into the 32-bit era expectations were high for a follow-up. Can you imagine what a 2d Contra on the Saturn and PlayStation would have looked like? We would have to continue using our imaginations as that is not what we would receive. Contra: Legacy of War went 3d and completely fails at a fundamental level. This is possibly the worst game in the series and would send it down a dark path before it would get better.
Legacy of War was not developed internally at Konami but by European developer Appaloosa. Aside from that first it was also the first to go multiplatform and in 3d. In fact the game has an optional 3d mode and came with those ridiculous “3d” glasses popular in the 80s. Too bad all of that effort is wasted on a bad game.
Like Contra Hard Corps you have a choice between four characters. Ray Powered returns from that game and is joined by Tasha, Bubba, and CD-288, a robot. Each differs in terms of movement speed and jumping height although it largely doesn’t matter. The unique weapon load outs also return although here the machine gun and flamethrower are shared between all characters. Once again as cool as it sounds your choice is superfluous as the game has problems.
Where do I begin? Legacy of War uses the same top down viewpoint as Super C and Contra III in their overhead levels. That should have been easy enough; titles like Loaded and Project Overkill more or less did the same. But nothing is ever that simple. Surprisingly enough the camera is the source of most of the game’s issues. It isn’t completely overhead; it is more of a hybrid top down/third person shooter. The camera is constantly zooming in and out and seems to revel in providing the worst angle at all times. At its best it offers a wide view of the playing field. Most of the time it is extremely close; limiting your view and leaving you open to off-screen fire. It also doesn’t follow your movements fast enough and fails to change perspective when necessary. This completely ruins most of the end game levels.
The level design is a complete mess. Despite following a linear path the level design still somehow manages to be confusing. While you fumble about enemies with the accuracy of trained snipers pelt you off-screen. Contra is known for its fast paced action and frequent boss encounters. The game at least gets that part right although your enjoyment of the boss battles will be mixed. There weak spots are never clearly defined and often require jumping around like an idiot to hit if you don’t have the necessary weapons.
This encapsulates everything wrong with the game.
The absolute worst has to be the extensive amount of platforming. Remember what I said about the camera giving a sub optimal view of the area? Now imagine dealing with platforming sequences along the lines of a Super Mario Bros. It’s like Landstalker but worse. It doesn’t work and unfortunately the second half of the game relies on it heavily. Prepare to lose a considerable number of lives trying to navigate even the simplest sequence of three platforms. God I can’t believe I managed to tolerate it all the way to the end.
I’m struggling to find anything positive to say. I suppose if you like relentless action the game has that in spades. Enemies spawn infinitely and attack from all sides. If the aiming controls were better realized as in Neo Contra this could have been decent. It certainly has the intensity the series is known for. I actually like one or two of the levels in spite of their flaws. Stage three features a nonlinear segment in a speedboat as you take out scuba diving enemies and mines. There are a few miniboss battles that prove challenging without being frustrating as well. These moments are rare and you’ll have to suffer through hours of painfully gameplay to even see them. It’s not worth it in my opinion, not when truly awesome games like Silent Bomber exist on the same platform.
With all of the problems I’ve run down it should come as no surprise that Legacy of War is unflinchingly difficult. Between the shifting camera, infinite enemy spawns and their lethal accuracy you’ll be hard pressed to live more than a few minutes. If you can believe it there is no death animation; the only indication you’ve died is a brief scream! But more than anything else the ill-conceived platforming segments completely ruin the game. They become progressively longer and ultimately climax in the game’s final level. This abomination takes place on a transparent playing field obscured by the final boss’s face and is near incomprehensible. I’m going to stop because I’m getting mad all over again but you get my point.
Words cannot express how disappointed I am with Contra Legacy of War. As all of the 16-bit hits made their way to the new consoles I was ecstatic. Mario 64, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and Mega Man 8 were all great games. Sadly Legacy of War tarnishes the series good name and is best left forgotten.