Thursday, January 31, 2008


Role Playing Game - Nintendo DS
Battery Backup - 3 saves
1 player / Multi wifi

"Things you WON'T find in Contact: A dull moment. Normalcy. A guy with spikey hair and/or amnesia. Dramatic monologues. The same battles you've been fighting since the 16 bit era.

Things you WILL find in Contact: Monkeys. Cosmic terrorists. Powerful attack stickers. Fishing. Cooking. Humor. Fun with Nintendo Wi-Fi. Deeper meaning in life. (Results may vary.) Costumes that increase your power and make you more fun to be around."

That is the description on the back of the box. Although the assertions are not entirely incorrect, I'm not sure if I got what I wanted either.

Let's start with "the same battles you've been fighting since the 16 bit era". True to form, Contact isn't like Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy and the like. Instead, it mirrors old western style RPGs like MUDs or whatever where you simply initiate the attack, and every "turn" you'll automatically attack until you or the enemy dies. You could stop your attacking, but then the enemy would just pursue you and hit you all the while. You could bring up a menu screen and use items. Or you can use one of your special attacks/magic spells. That's the extent of the fighting. It's simple, but ... not particularly involving.

How about "Dramatic monologues"? There isn't much of that either, but instead, there's this hokey interaction between the on-screen characters and you, the player. While this has been done before in Panzer Dragoon Saga, it's a bit patronizing here because they constantly talk to you. It's very childish and won't let you forget you're playing a game.

And believe me, "dull moment"s are not in short supply. The overall plot is a simple one: collect all the crystals, so the Professor character can pilot his ship into space. The crystals are spread out on multiple areas, and are guarded by bosses. Shoe string plots don't bother me, but as I mentioned earlier, gameplay is not its strongest suit. The combat is so un-involving that you don't actually do a whole lot in the game. And that's the biggest weakness. You're just moving a character through the motions.

Combine lack of control with tedium and you get the rest of the game. Many of the systems the game has to offer: fishing, cooking, etc is just plain tedious. Leveling up happens in real time. As you get hit, you build up defense and vitality. As you cast water spells, you gain in that affinity. Each stat levels up individually so in a single attack, you could level up two different stats at once. But while often used stats are fairly fluid in their improvement, things like cooking are cumbersome. You can only level up your cooking stat by cooking. You can only use your cooking skill at designated locations. You only have cooking skill when you're in the Chef outfit. You can only change into your Chef outfit on your ship. There's so many limitations that unless you have the right costume at the right time, you end up having to go places twice. Or thrice.

Still, despite all its problems, Contact is not a complete wash. It does have charm in other ways. The presentation is very quirky. Some of it is meant to resemble old terminal stations. When you fire up the game, you interface menus with function keys! The top screen generally has the actions of the Professor and dog in an 8-bit style, while the bottom screen has what you'd expect of DS visuals. There is a later stage that is a tribute to the Famicom too. It's little details like this where you know the developers were having fun with it. Plus the battles weren't 100% mindless. The bigger bosses required some movement on your part, sometimes with a stylus. They are generally better designed than the usual "initiate attack, watch your HP, heal when needed, enemy dead". Plus the game has a TON of sidequests for all the OCD collectathon people.

When it comes right down to it, Contact is not a great game by anyone's standard. I don't even know if it's average. But somehow, I did not mind playing it. Is that success, then? Perhaps. I only know that I could never recommend it.