Contact DS Review

I’ve been playing Contact since I arrived in Spain about 5 months ago, but only clocked in a total of 20hrs playtime. There is a simple answer for that, it’s completely psychotic, swinging alarmingly from dangerously addictive to stupefying and boring. Not that it’s a bad game, because it’s not, it’s just that it has so many things wrong with it that finding the good bits becomes a real challenge in itself.

Contact has an interesting gameplay angle which you could liken to The Nomad Soul, you play yourself, and the DS is effectively a control device. The Professor has contacted you and needs your help. He wants you to use your device to control a kid, with the goal of finding powerful energy cells which The Prof requires. The Kid (default name Terry) is not aware of you, and from the off the whole thing stinks to high heaven, but there you go, that’s the situation.

Terry can be controlled with the stylus on the touch screen with a minimal HUD, but you can also use the D-Pad and other buttons if you wish. As the game progressed I found that using the buttons was better for battles, but different players will have their own preferences. Various menus can be moved between to access your stats, inventory (which has an auto separation of weapons, food and special items), special skills and your Decals, more on these different sections later.

Contact has some interesting game mechanics. Rather than random encounters (popular with Japanese RPGs) the monsters can be seen on screen. This changes the pace of the game somewhat, as avoiding monsters can be just as effective as fighting them. Fighting is, well, interesting in some respects. To start combat you must select it, then Terry will attack any target you select, be it monster, cow, child or crazy sheep. You can change weapons on the fly during combat, with the weapon skill defined by the one in use. The attack styles are Slashing (swords, katanas, knives etc), Striking (clubs, hammers, staves etc) and Punching (a wide selection of knuckle dusters). There are many weapons to collect throughout the game with different bonuses and nerfs but I didn’t see any need to select anything other than the most powerful weapon that I currently had. So with a weapon selected, you return to the game, and the slug fest ensues. You can do little more than sit back and watch. You can move Terry with the D-Pad to try and put some distance between you and the enemy between hits, but often they move quicker than you.

There are special skills which you need EP points for, which you build up as a separate meter next to you health. You have a maximum of 5 points, with the number of EP points needed for each skill reflecting the level of the skill. Most of these are quite potent, but you must kill 2 enemies without using EP to gain 1 EP, making it tactical but also very annoying.

Other combat related skills are Trick Decals, which you collect through the game. You basically select them from a menu by “peeling” them off (it’s pretty cool) and then pasting them on your target. Some of these use the DS in nifty ways such as the Balloon Decal: blowing into the DS mic will inflate the balloon increasing the damage you do with it. Unfortunately, even with all of these options, combat is a dull and soulless exercise. The frame work for good combat is there but it just doesn’t deliver, mainly because of the lack of interaction within the fights. You can’t block, some of the skills you get later increase blocking but the damage is done by then. More often than not, the outcome of a fight is determined by the amount of food and potions you have, which is lame to say the least. There is little skill involved other than in some of the boss battles later in the game where the attack pattern must be learned and dodged. Yawn.

As well as the 3 types of damage that can be done with weapons, you also have 4 elemental attacks but you must be wearing the right clothes to do this. Having said that, I never really found that exploiting an enemy’s weakness with the correct attack did much difference, which was a shame. However, once you’ve realized how dull combat is, you can just run away. You don’t really need to do any grinding in the game if you don’t want to but instead you’ll have to invest some time in cooking.

Yup, cooking. The game has another interesting element which is that your clothes change your abilities (similar to some of the Final Fantasy games). There are 6 in total and most must be found by exploring thoroughly. The Fireman’s outfit allows water attacks, Fisher King gives fishing, Shadow Thief gives lock picking and stealing etc. The most interesting one for me was the Chief outfit, which you get from a naked chief on a beach………don’t ask. While you have it on you can gut enemies for food items and use the various cooking areas in the game. Cooking is a simple affair and amounts to nothing other than selecting items to put in the pan, and cooking it up. Your cooking skill determines the likeliness of success (failures create nice lumps of carbon, yummy) and your level limits what you can cook. So, for example combining steamed rice with carp, will create sushi, two different meat types creates burger meat, tomatoes and lettuce makes a salad and so on. It’s all fairly logical and is actually pretty fun with my only gripe being making potions, you need a lot of them and need to make them separately. This goes for all food but when you need 30 potions, it gets pretty tedious selecting everything 30 times. There are only 15 recipes to find in the game which are generally more obscure, Croquette anyone? The others you can work out for yourself through logic and experimentation.

Fishing becomes an important part of the game later on not just for fish but for finding items (you can catch jewels to try and win one of the potential girlfriends) but unfortunately it’s incredibly boring. Terry casts his line, and you sit and watch a box displaying the float, hitting the screen with the stylus when it disappears. I don’t know how they could have made this more interesting without turning it into a proper mini-game but it doesn’t stop it from being painfully dull. Needless to say, I stopped fishing pretty quick.

Your stats can also be boosted by using Decals dropped by enemies, you can apply up to four at a time. These effect one or more of your stats but if you want to replace one, you’ll have to throw one away permanently. It’s a good system but I didn’t find it made much of a difference through the game.

So far, I admit I’ve been fairly damming and with good reason, however, Contact does have some good points. For a start it looks great, with a nice play angle, menus and backgrounds. Each of the areas that you go to investigate are distinctive with only the labyrinth like dungeons being a bit repetitive in design. The bottom half of the screen which you play on has a modern take on 8-bit style pixel graphics with lovely drawn backgrounds. The top screen really is 8-bit looking though which is used to display The Prof in his ship with Mochi (a space dog that wants to become a space cat).

The clean, solid filled vector graphics of the lab will be familiar to people that have played games from the late 80’s and 90’s and that’s not where the pop gaming and modern lifestyle cultural references stop. The games style is one post-modern amalgamation of references and homage’s which I’m sure I didn’t pick up on all of. Sure it’s being clever and a bit of a smart ass but it works. Most of it comes through The Prof but also talking to the inhabitants of the various islands will reveal more, and often put a smile on your face. One of my personal favourites was a boss where the key to defeating it was to “change the channel” of the TV. The researchers (including the woman) controlling the attacks on you could be distracted if you managed to flick it to a soft-porn channel called TV Pink (all in good taste mind!).

Another interesting part of the game is Mochi, The Profs friend and travelling companion. When you save the game, Terry goes to bed, during which time The Profs lab is on your touch screen instead. You can play with Mochi during this time, letting him play the computer, have a snooze, eat or give him a good power scratch. This funny little Tamagotchi mini game has its benefits which are that Mochi’s power increases when you summon him in battles. Bizarre but fun. The music is also very good and draws a lot from its retro themed roots. Sound is also pretty good and fits in well with the rest of the presentation of the game. Weapon hits sound right, Mochi’s little meow is endlessly cute and the funny noises people make instead of talking is quite cool.

As I said before I took about 20hrs to finish, but that was only the story. The story and ending was very interesting and quite unexpected, certainly different. Despite parts of the game feeling like a chore the ending really made up for it. However, once you finish the game you can reload your last save game and you’ll be back on the ship. You can now continue the game with a whole bunch of side-quests now open, as well as other stuff to do.

I have mixed feelings for Contact. On one hand it’s a cute, clever little game with a lot of good ideas and on the other it’s really dull, stupid and drove me away time and time again. However, something kept me coming back and indeed once I started avoiding combat, I started to enjoy it more. As it stands I can only really recommend this game to a very small group of players. If you own a DS, like weird RPG’s, and don’t mind enduring faults to get at the juicy bits tucked away in a game, go for it, but for the rest of you, give it a miss.