RetroWare Sit-Downs: Contra Returns Modernizes The Series For Mobile

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By Chris Penwell on September 23rd, 2021

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Contra has returned with another 2D sidescroller like the good ol’ days, but most retro gamers wouldn’t expect it to be on a mobile device. Despite not supporting a controller, Contra Returns surprisingly plays well with some excellent visual effects and remastered tracks from the series. It is also packed with over 200 levels in the game. However, mobile games often come with microtransactions, so we asked TiMi Studio for more details on how they work and how Contra Returns came to be.

RetroWare: Can you give us a quick elevator pitch on Contra Returns?

TiMi Studio: Contra Returns reimagines the classic fixed screen, pseudo-3D Contra and Super Contra from the late 80s and early 90s for the mobile experience. In Contra Returns, players can enjoy the classic side-scrolling gameplay, two-person teams, alien bosses, and signature settings and soundtrack from the original series. On top of that, the game features 200 levels based on the original series, added HD upgrades, new features and designs, and new game modes that all players can enjoy.

Image via TiMi Studio and Konami

RW: Why do you think the Contra series is still beloved to this very day? What does it mean to you? 

TS: Contra is a classic game series and its worldwide popularity has persisted throughout the years. Many players grew up playing the game, and we hope to evoke this childhood nostalgia with Contra Returns. This became one of the major challenges on the project: balancing the classic Contra elements players fondly remember with new features unlocked by mobile gaming. Our hope is that players will tap into their memories of the classic series while enjoying a new and engaging game experience.

RW: How did the project come to be? Did you reach out to Konami or was it the other way around?

TS: Tencent’s TiMi Studio and Konami first jointly released Contra Returns in China in 2017. In the beginning, they wanted to try making an arcade shooter game to see how players reacted to such a genre. Since a lot of the devs from the Contra Returns team actually grew up playing previous Contra games on other platforms, they felt like Contra IP is the way to go with this project.

RW: How does the game differ from the classic game series on the NES and beyond? How did you improve the classic formula? 

TS: Nostalgia for the classic game is a large part of the draw of Contra Returns. However, we found players aren’t looking for the exact game experience but are looking for the feeling that they had playing this game in their childhood. We made sure to keep the classic elements of the original game and improved on the classic formula by adding MOBA elements such as PVP, PUBG-style play modes, roguelike, and other new modes. Another way we updated the game in order to keep players engaged is that we upgraded the battle experience with added Hero specific skills, teams, vocational skills, and other battle skills.

RW: The Contra series is all about the weapons! What sort of arsenal can we expect in Contra Returns?

TS: Contra has always been about big guns and lots of explosions and Contra Returns definitely delivers. There are many weapons players can choose from in Contra Returns. The game features Assault rifles, Sniper Rifles, Machine Guns, Thrower Cannon, even Bow-Type weapons for players to choose from.

RW: What bosses can we expect while playing Contra Returns?

TS: Players will be able to expect to take on both classic and new bosses such as Gava, Java, Big Fuzz, Gomeramos King, Gromaides, Defense Wall, Taka, and Metal Alien.

RW: How do PvP battles work in Contra Returns? Is that a series first? 

TS: PvP battles in Contra Returns are entirely new to the classic series and a unique twist on the core gameplay. Players will be able to play a variety of PvP battles online with Ranked Match, 1v1 Warm up, 1v2 Hero Battlefield, 3v3 Fort Battle, and 2v2 Ultra Rapid Fire. In Ranked Match, players will be able to play in fast-paced, electrifying battles against each other with no level or power limits. In a 1v1 Warm Up Match, players can choose from a wide variety of heroes, each with different skills to suit various playstyles. In Hero Battlefield, players experiment with different tactics and weapons to find their favorite playstyle. In 3v3 Fort Battle, players can show off their skills and PVP ranking to other players in this game mode. In 2v2 Ultra Rapid Fire, players play short matches anytime, anywhere.

Image via TiMi Studio and Konami

RW: How do you make sure that the microtransactions in the game are fair to the player? 

TS: The majority of in-game items in Contra Returns are free. As players progress through the game, they will be able to enjoy all the classic characters, weapons, level design, and more without having to pay for them. The free content alone gives players far more experiences than the original Contra games. Microtransactions are available for players who seek an even better in-game experience. New weapons, new characters, new skins, and new barrages are all available to unlock through in-game purchases but are not necessary to complete the game.

RW: How many classic characters from the franchise have been brought back for Contra Returns? Who are your favorites to play as and why?

TS: Everyone starts the game playing as Bill Rizer and unlocks other classic characters as they progress through the game. In total, there are 45 characters with unique abilities for all playstyles.

RW: Are there any references to the classic games that fans might notice?

TS: Contra Returns ties together elements from the entire Contra franchise, across different time periods and alternate universes. Fans of the classic Contra series can recognize the classic side-scrolling gameplay, two-person teams, alien bosses, and signature settings and soundtrack from the original series.

RW: Was it a challenge to design Contra around a touch based control method? It surprisingly works in Contra Returns. 

TS: It was definitely a challenge. In the early developing stages, the dev team wanted to recreate the classic positioning, dodging and shooting experience, but found out it was too challenging for mobile gamers. After extensive user research and data analysis, they decided to shoot for a low-entry-barrier control set, where you could auto-aim your enemies and have the simple control layout on mobile devices to accomodate more mobile gamers. Eventually it turns out great.

RW: Does Contra Returns continue the story from the original games? 

TS: Contra Returns unites elements from all previous Contra games with many stages based on earlier games. However, Contra Returns provides a unique storyline in the same universe by rehauling support characters to be more powerful, introducing new characters, and implementing new gameplay elements into the game.

RW: Did you use the original music from the games? Have you arranged any tracks for the new game and did you create new songs for Returns specifically? 

TS: The music in Contra Returns is almost entirely composed of rearranged tracks from the classic Contra games. However, Contra Returns features new melodies in the main menu and new game modes, such as underwater levels, PvP, and other events.

RW: Can you use a controller with Contra Returns? If not, are you planning any functionality like that?

TS: In other versions (China & SEA), the game is compatible with controllers. We have not made it compatible with the global version but it’s definitely something we are considering adding in the future.

RW: Why do you think classic Contra fans should check out Contra Returns?

TS: Fans of the classic Contra series will be able to enjoy an enhanced and reimagined version of the game with more than 200 levels based on previous games. Players will be able to stay engaged for years to come with the addition of HD upgrades, upgraded features, special designs, new weapons, new playstyles, new game modes, and both rehauled and new characters.

Disclaimer: The writer was sent in the mail a shirt and Contra My Arcade by the publisher.

The British “Canadian” Chris Penwell has been a video game journalist since 2013 and now has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from MacEwan University. He loves to play JRPGs and games with a narrative. You can check out his podcasts Active Quest every Tuesday and Go Beyond: A My Hero Academia Podcast on Wednesdays.

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