Contact (DS) review
"The Professor is having a rough day. Just after getting his trans-dimensional communications machine to work and contacting you, his ship gets attacked by some roving band of intergalactic thugs. As his spaceship dodges a volley of laser beams, one of the ship’s fuel cells tumbles out at falls toward a nearby planet. The little bundle of energy happens to fall in front of Terry, an average teenager/silent protagonist extraordinaire. Before the young hero can comprehend what’s going on, the Profe..."
The Professor is having a rough day. Just after getting his trans-dimensional communications machine to work and contacting you, his ship gets attacked by some roving band of intergalactic thugs. As his spaceship dodges a volley of laser beams, one of the ship’s fuel cells tumbles out at falls toward a nearby planet. The little bundle of energy happens to fall in front of Terry, an average teenager/silent protagonist extraordinaire. Before the young hero can comprehend what’s going on, the Professor swoops down from the cosmos, nabs the fuel cell, and abducts the kid. Despite a valiant effort to escape, the ship is shot down and sent tumbling through the stratosphere. Upon awakening on some deserted island, the Professor discovers that the rest of the ship’s cells have been scattered across the land, rendering his transportation complete useless for his research.
That doesn’t mean that he’s ready to give up, however. Since the Professor lacks the physical abilities necessary for exploring mysterious lands, he’s volunteered both you and Terry to recover the missing energy cells and bring his ship back into working order. At least, that’s what he knows. While the Professor is aware that you’re looking at him on the top screen of your DS, Terry is completely oblivious to your existence. With a fourth wall-shattering plot twist, Contact does not let you play the role of the stoic RPG hero, but as an omnipotent being that can control the hero at will. Using a combination of buttons and Touch Screen menu controls, you’ll take control of Terry and guide him through the game’s various dungeons and perils.
Philosophical and moral issues aside, this idea is probably for the best; while you may have mad gaming skills and experience playing RPGs, Terry has the fighting prowess of a one-armed schoolyard bully. Upon encountering some unfriendly monster (or just about an NPC, for that matter), you can press the B Button, enter “Battle Mode” and watch in awe as the young hero bravely steps forward…and does almost nothing. Instead of busting out with fancy combos and devastating spells, Terry will stalk up next to the enemy, and start punching it every second or so. If the attack doesn’t take the foe out, it’ll strike back, resulting in tedious exchange of blows until someone finally collapses. It’s not like you’ll get to participate in these battles, either; once Terry is in his attack stance, the combat runs almost entirely on autopilot. All you’ve got to do is aim the kid in the right direction and pray he doesn’t get his ass handed to him.
Once five seconds of combat pass by and the fisticuffs go stale, you’ll likely be begging for some other way to defeat your enemies. Despite his utterly lacking hand-to-hand skills, Terry has the capacity to wield different forms of magic spells. He’ll get to throw fireballs, clods of dirt, gusts of wind, and a few other elemental attacks. The more he uses a specific type of spell, the more powerful he’ll become with its associated element. Eventually he’ll learn dozens of different spells with varying degrees of potency and magical energy usage. However, there is a catch: Terry can only perform an elemental spell if he’s wearing the specific costume attributed to it. For example, he can’t wield flames when he’s wearing the Flyboy wind outfit, nor can he blast water when he’s not wearing the Aqua Shot robe. The same goes with certain costumes for lock picking, fishing, and even cooking. Unfortunately, changing outfits/classes becomes increasingly tedious as the game wears on; since Terry can’t change clothes as soon as the situation calls for it, he’ll have to backtrack all the way to the Professor’s home base, switch into the appropriate outfit, and walk all the way back into the dungeon to complete whatever puzzle or obstacle that required the costume.
Magic aside, the game tries to make up for the horrible combat mechanics by providing dozens of weapons to choose from. Terry will get to wield a wide variety of knuckles, swords, staves, hammers, and blades as the adventure progresses. As with the elemental spells, our hero can gain affinities with the types of weapons he wields and gain special attacks to bolster his fighting abilities. These will usually involve automatically parrying enemy attacks, stronger hammer blows, and other subtle effects. Though nothing in this extensive arsenal seems impressive, the weapons’ stats ultimately determine your success or failure in combat. Each item comes with its own characteristics that can affect your speed, attack power, defensive capabilities, health boosts, higher intelligence ratings for more potent spells, elemental attributes, and all sorts of other tiny pros and cons. In order to survive the game’s frequently brutal battles, you’ll have to choose which weapons are better suited for any given situation.
Your arsenal isn’t the only thing that will affect your abilities, however. Contact boasts an unprecedented amount of stats for you to figure out. There are strength, defense, agility, stamina, and a slew of other characteristics that can be leveled up. If Terry walks far enough, his walking speed will level up and gradually increase from a slow-paced trot to a light jog. If he can’t take a hit, get him pummeled within an inch of his life and watch his defense stats increase. Do certain enemies dish out more damage on him? Let him take the punishment to toughen him up. Slaying tougher enemies can also do wonders for his fame, courage, good/evil karma stats; after a while, some foes will even start running away from him in utter terror. The game also allows you to augment Terry’s abilities by applying stat-boosting decals via the Touch Screen. Though such a feature feels more like a tacked-on concept, it can prove beneficial in the direst of situations.
It’s not like the game designers did much to make use of the DS’s capabilities, either; instead of incorporating some multiplayer action over Wifi, all you can do is exchange friend codes, and become NPCs in each other’s game. Even the graphics aren’t used to their fullest extent; for what visuals it offers, Contact could have passed as a higher-end GBA game. The game is reminiscent of titles like Golden Sun, complete with a wonderful soundtrack and 2D visuals depicting tropical beaches, walls covered with ancient hieroglyphs, the darkened corridors of a military base, and the biggest electronics store you could possibly imagine. Terry is shameless presented as an overly pixilated RPG hero with tiny dots for eyes and some fairly stiff movement animations. Meanwhile, the Professor dominates the top screen with his Earthbound-esque lab and his adorable dog/cat Mochi. That’s just the tip of the quirkiness, too; you’ll get to fight living cell phones, Solid Snake wannabes, space terrorists, ice-spewing refrigerators, and find plenty of pop culture references strewn all over the planet.
Contact has a lot of things going for it. It’s got a wonderful story that not only breaks the fourth wall from beginning to end, but strays far from the usual RPG plots that we’ve come to love or despise. What the characters lack in details, they make up for it with personality and witty dialogue. The emphasis on stats, leveling attributes, backtracking for sidequests, and item collecting ought to leave many a perfectionist drooling over their DS. Sadly, the game’s horribly tedious combat and magic mechanics ultimately deprive it of true greatness. That won’t stop Contact from becoming a cult classic for the handheld, however. With a mixed bag of quality, humor, and creativity to work with, gamers will likely find themselves split over the game’s appeal. It’s not a bad game; it simply lacks a decent execution.
Community review by disco (November 19, 2006)
Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.
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