Boom alert! Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A is in full effect. It has been more than 30 years since Konami released the first Contra game. Originally debuting in 1987 as a coin-operated arcade game, Contra soon made its way to the first Nintendo Entertainment System among other systems over the years. In the original, the 2 commandos shared a screen in a non-stop running and side-scrolling shots firing them into a frenzy of killing aliens. A pseudo-3D perspective allowed players to feel like they were in a 3D environment by forcing movement towards the back of the stage. Konami is now aiming to capture the flavor of the original release with some modern updates to Contra Returns, which is free to download with in-app purchases.

Before we get into the game itself, let’s talk about the price of free. Konami and Tencent have made the game download free, but is it a pay-to-win? The Contra Returns user interface bears a striking resemblance to most of Tencent’s other mobile games. You will also notice similar menu options like the shop and of course a large number of mini-games that have the opportunity to generate rewards in the game. While this may give you the impression of a pay-to-win, I don’t think it’s as drastic as it sounds. Diamonds are the in-game currency used for microtransactions. Firepower is the system that measures your progress and level. In PVE each stage has a recommended firepower level that determines its difficulty. In PVE you can play at your own pace, you can earn diamonds with the different farming systems available and make your way. I don’t really see a major reason to buy Diamonds in PvE unless you’re stuck in something and need firepower on demand. In PvP, yes, you can pay to increase your firepower and become much stronger than people. But I think the gap between raw skill and high firepower is small and even lower firepower players could kill those who pay to win accounts.

Is this the same Contra that we knew and loved in the past? The short answer is no. Why would we want to play such a primitive game today anyway? Obviously the graphics are better, the story element has been updated with voiceovers and cutscenes, and of course we now have online PVP! Contra Returns is anything but content hungry, and you can’t buy your way through the initial progression system. Progression reduces your fun a bit by locking everything behind a level gate system. To play these new modern modes like boss battles, daily challenges, online co-op or PvP, you will need to unlock them. Be prepared to put in a few hours before everything opens. You can buy Diamonds to improve your Firepower and get through levels faster, but you will still have to clear the levels to unlock modes. Contra Returns content is fun and engaging so any true Contra gamer or fan will have no problem during the initial grind. Even with all the modern additions, I think Konami and Tencent did a great job of preserving the original gameplay. The combat is fun and you will get a chance to see some throwback bosses from the original games. The only thing I dislike when it comes to gameplay is that they kept the Rogue Corps weapon cooling system and the stages are way too short.

As you would expect from companies like Konami, TIMI, and Tencent, the game is a developed quality. We were able to play on a Google Pixel 3 XL that is a few years old with no glitches or slowdowns. The controls felt pretty solid and easy to use for the most part, but swapping weapons felt a bit shaky. The movement joystick on the left can sit in a fixed position or follow our thumb. On the right side, you will find the fire button and 2 special ability buttons. Weapon swap by default is placed in the upper right corner of the screen, but can be moved in settings. A solid production with legitimate sound equipment, quality voiceovers, and crisp cinematics. The gameplay is super addictive, I found myself sinking into my phone in restaurants and other public places. In my experience with Contra Returns, the developers did not give me an in-game currency, upgrades, or any type of upgrade.