Contact is a quirky RPG developed by Grasshopper, the house who brought us Killer 7. It was translated by Atlus for a US audience and held a lot of promise. Initial speculation about the game indicated a sense of humor and style akin to the beloved EarthBound for the SNES. The box itself touts things like no dull moments or melodrama. So does this game live up to its promised potential? The answer is a resounding “no.” Contact is not the “EarthBound 2” that many gamers were hoping it was going to be.
Things you WON’T find in Contact: A guy with spikey hair and/or amnesia. Dramatic monologues
This claim on the box is very true. A spikey haired amnesiac who spouts soliloquies does not star in Contact. However, what we do get is even worse. All we get is some generic silent kid with zero personality named Terry. Even the spikey haired, soliloquy-spouting amnesiac would actually have a personality. A dull protagonist is strike one against Contact’s plot. However, most of the supporting cast is amusing, if lacking in any sort of depth or development.
But the events in the story are interesting, right? Well, the story starts off with promise, but ultimately does not deliver. It all starts with a professor in a spaceship trying to make contact with intelligent life via his supercomputer. By tapping him with the stylus of your DS, you the gamer make contact with him. He interviews you a bit, but then his ship gets attacked by an alien organization called the CosmoNOTs.
Cut to a trippy dream sequence where a boy is chasing a giggling girl. The person dreaming this is Terry, who is asleep on a park bench. He is woken up by a shiny object that fell nearby. The professor swoops down in his ship to reclaim the shiny object from Terry, but his pursuers are so close that he pulls the boy into the spaceship for safety. The ship gets attacked again and crashes on a deserted island. It seems in the attack, the power cells needed to make the ship function have been scattered all over the world. The professor then makes some emergency repairs by grafting the remains of his spaceship to a pirate ship he recovered from the ocean floor. He then recruits Terry (and you) to help him find the rest of the power cells before the CosmoNOTs do.
The rest of the game is your basic town, dungeon, boss, get cell, lather, rinse, repeat, the villains get the upper hand, and you have to foil their evil plot before it’s too late. There really isn’t anything here that hasn’t been done before in RPG plots. There is some amusing dialogue here and there and many fun video game and internet references, but dialogue is generally minimal in this game. This game is mostly a dungeon crawler with a rudimentary storyline, and oftentimes you have to spend copious amounts of time doing monotonous and frustrating tasks to get to your next objective.
Things you WON’T find in Contact: A dull moment. The same battles you’ve been fighting since the 16-bit era.
I’ll be completely honest, I found the game to be a mostly dull and repetitive dungeon crawler. Dungeons are fairly linear, reasonably lengthy, and filled with tough enemies and even tougher bosses. You have to battle a lot in this game, because only sheer, repetitive level grinding can get you past some of the game’s merciless bosses. You also have to battle a lot for money, because necessary items are expensive and money doesn’t come readily. And though the battle system is unconventional for a console RPG, it’s a pretty standard fare PC RPG battle system. Pressing the B button puts Terry in battle stance and the L trigger (or stylus) targets enemies. Terry then hacks away with his weapon at his own pace. The action stops when you press the button to utilize a magic spell or battle technique. In other words, it’s not quite as interactive as traditional turn-based or action-RPG battle mechanics, but more resembles the realtime point and click combat of PC RPGs. I personally did not find battling fun at all and would have preferred a more traditional action-RPG interface. What is fun, though, is that Terry can pick a fight with almost any living thing, including most NPCs and townspeople. It’s not very helpful, though, because the few times I thought I could kill an innocent to obtain an objective the “easy” way, I was unable to.
Character growth isn’t done in terms of traditional levels, but occurs more naturally. The more Terry moves, the faster his running speed becomes. The more he gets pounded on, the higher his defense becomes. The more he wields certain types of weapons, the better his proficiency with them becomes. Terry can also find costumes to wear that can either grant him useful powers in combat or allow him to do “jobs” such as cooking, fishing, or thievery. There are certain weapons that can only be wielded when Terry’s wearing a certain costume. Besides cooking, fishing, and thievery, Terry can do all kinds of other things in the game like wooing girls in various towns with the kinds of collectibles they like. One likes flowers, one likes bugs, one likes games, one even likes video games. There are a few mini-games in Contact, but none that really do anything beyond the regular play mechanics in the game proper. Exploration is highly encouraged in Contact and there is a lot to find, but I found it all very monotonous and not all that much fun or rewarding.
In terms of saving, the game uses save points. The use of save points isn’t a big deal, especially since there’s an HP recovery function at them, but I think portable RPGs should also have some kind of quick-save system because sometimes the battery may go dead before you get to the next save point. In addition, once you save, you have to spend a minute or two playing with the Professor’s pet space dog Mochi by touching him or one of four accessories with the stylus. These play segments are monotonous and repetitive because you can’t really do much with Mochi. Thankfully, by clicking the alarm clock with your stylus, you could cut a play session short. Still, the effectiveness of the Mochi summon during combat is dependent on how much time you’ve spent playing with him.
In terms of control, moving Terry was fine, though sometimes the auto-targeter wouldn’t initially target the enemy I wanted it to in battle mode. However, during some menu segments requiring the stylus, sometimes the stylus wouldn’t respond readily. This often happened when I had to peel off the various decals from the menu screen to help Terry out. The Professor entrusts you with interactive decals to aid Terry in rough times. There are decals that can do various things like heal Terry, bring Terry back to the ship, summon Mochi…another even provides a balloon that you blow up by blowing into the DS microphone and its popping will damage enemies. Terry can also find “?” decals from slain foes that alter his personal statistics when equipped. I did not use the decals very often. The menu interface was generally easy to use, if a bit cluttered, and highlighting an item always gave an amusing description. One thing I really liked in the game was that if an NPC was blocking the way, Terry could push him or her out of the way. I prefer that to having to wait for the NPC to get out of the doorway so I can get out.
In a nutshell, Contact’s often monotonous and repetitive gameplay (especially the need to grind) made the game feel longer and more laborious than it really was. Seriously, this game is actually really short; as in under 20 hours short. There is Wi-Fi compatibility and you can contact your friends and have their Terrys live on Wi-Fisland. I could not get my Wi-Fi to work properly, so I did not have a chance to explore that feature.
Things you WILL find in Contact: Costumes that make you more fun to be around
Contact has very varied visuals. The Professor’s room has an almost 8-bit look reminiscent of EarthBound. The mini-games have a retro 8-bit look too. The pirate ship’s interior has some great looking polygon support arches and when you’re sailing, the moving water looks terrific. The overland map is polygonal too. The rest of the environments look hand drawn with lush and vibrant colors. There is no mistaking these for anything less than 32-bit 2D visuals. The sprites are somewhat small and don’t have much in terms of animation or detailing, but they get the job done and are a good aesthetic fit to the game’s world. The melding of 8, 16, and 32-bit visuals was terrific. The creators wanted to impart a feeling of nostalgia with a modern touch and they succeeded well in the visuals.
The band Mute.4.Life sent you a message:
The best part of Contact is easily its musical score. As with the visuals, there is a melding of 8, 16, and 32-bit musical styles. There are some compositions that sound like smoothed out 8-bit Nintendo PCM, some that sound like 16-bit MIDI, and others with the kind of instrumentation and digitized vocals that can only be done in 32-bit. The Nintendo DS’ sound chip is by no means a powerhouse, but even through the small speakers, Contact’s music sounds great. The developers did a great job utilizing the DS’ sound chip to its fullest potential. The only downside to the music is that the “playing with Mochi” music gets really annoying really fast. However, its use of smooth digitized vocals do show the capabilities of the sound chip. The sound effects, on the other hand, sound very 8-bit, especially weapon hits. I would have preferred crisper, more modern sound effects.
Psst! Buy the game- I [Professor] need your help!
Contact is a classic case of A for effort, C for execution. It is easy to tell that a lot of love was put into this game and it had the potential to be a classic of EarthBound proportions. Unfortunately, despite the game’s merits, I ultimately found it too mundane, boring, repetitive, monotonous, and dull to recommend. However, that is just my own reviewer’s tilt. Those with more esoteric tastes may find much to enjoy in Contact and thus think I’m completely nuts for not enjoying the game and/or failing to “truly understand” it. I will end my review with four words of wisdom: Rent before you buy.