Saturday, April 18, 2015

Contact review

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Contact was written for the Gameboy DS by Grasshopper Manufacture and published by Marvelous Entertainment in Japan, and Altus in the U.S., in 2006. According to the wiki entry, the game was intended to be a non-fantasy RPG that would use the touch screen in non-obvious ways, take advantage of the sound design offered only by video games, and make the Gameboy's features work specifically to advance the story. The fonts were inspired by the Apple IIe, and the two screens had contrasting graphics, with the upper screen looking 8-bit, and the lower screen being pre-rendered.

(The Professor in his lab, along with his cat.)

The basic story is that the Professor has been flying around in his saucer, and he gets into an accident that causes him to lose a bunch of energy crystals. You act as an operator controlling Terry, an Earthling that is tasked with recovering the crystals. Terry then shuttles back and forth between the ship (designed to look like an old sailing ship) and various locations identified as having one or more crystals. He finds weapons along the way, fights various animals, creatures and other enemies, picks up objects used for solving later tasks, finds recipes for cooking up other healing items, gets extra changes of clothes, and takes occasional breaks to play with the cat on the ship. At the beginning, it is easy to be defeated in battle, but if this happens the Professor just messes with his computer and causes Terry to wake up fully recovered back on the ship. I think there's a fair amount of similarity with the old King's Quest game that came out for the PC in 1998 from Sierra.

(Terry battling an octopus. First one to go to 0 HP loses.)

Also according to the wiki entry, Contact had abysmal sales, with only 8,000 copies sold in the first week in Japan and 26,000 for the year in 2006. Altus, the company that carried it in the U.S., speculated that part of the problem was that customers were more interested in the release of Mother 3, which came out at about the same time. I'm not sure that that's all that relevant. In my opinion, Contact was an attempt to be "retro 80's" at a time when the market was looking at "bigger, better, faster" games with the impending release of the Playstation 3 console in Nov., 2006. Just about everything in Contact screams "primitive", from the limited sprite animation and fonts, to the game play itself. Battles are automated; all the player does is move Terry close to the enemy, press the "A" button, and wait a minute or two for the swinging to stop. Terry and the enemy trade blows until one or the other dies. Most of the game just consists of running around the field looking for things to attack or pick up, although I admit that I've only bothered trying to get the first crystal. My biggest complaint so far is that when you enter the ship to save the game, you have to crawl into the bed to sleep, and it takes at least a full minute for Terry to wake back up so you can keep playing. The game is already slow and dragged out enough, making me sit and watch someone sleeping every time I save doesn't help matters.

(Terry in his room on the ship. Climbing into the bathtub causes him to heal back to full HP. The closet lets him change uniforms. The bed is the save point, and the blue globe at the far right is how you set coordinates for the ship to visit new locations.)

I bought Contact as one of the batch of 6 games because it was cheap and I just wanted to see what it was like. At 250 yen ($2.20 USD), it's not a complete waste of money, but it's not something I want to play that much. I never did care for King's Quest, and there are other things I want to do with my time. Still, Contact is not an absolutely horrid game. I may go back to it at some point to play with the cat some more. I can understand, though, why it didn't sell well in the first year of its release in Japan. It's just "too 80's".

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