Contact is a curious game. I remember seeing it in every used game store for years and years at bargain bin prices. I’m not sure when its price escalated, nor am I sure why. I figured that something special was hidden behind its odd cover art featuring a spiky headed youth with a green and yellow track jacket. There isn’t. In fact, the most enjoyment I got from Contact was when I read the instruction manual; it was written like a blog by one of the game’s characters.
Writing is probably the only positive aspect of Contact. A scientist, known as the Professor (the “author” of the instruction manual), crash lands on an alien planet after fleeing an attack from hostile extraterrestrials. With his ship out of commission, he enlists the help of a young boy named Terry. With Terry’s help, the Professor hopes to recover power cells for his ship so he can return home and return to his studies. The Professor actually asks you, the player, to use your DS to control Terry from afar. Its concept and story will get a few chuckles here or there. Humor is a subjective thing, but it’s clear that Atlus tried to sneak in as many jokes as possible during the publishing. Aside from the Professor and Terry, there are a few other characters that help with the recovery of the power cells. My favorite is the Professor’s dog: Mochi. Mochi is an adorable little thing that yearns to become a cat. The story itself is barebones, but the writing helps it move forward. There are times it can be too quirky for its own good, but I give it props for trying.
Even a quick glance at the game’s look or a quick listen to the game’s sounds will let you know that Contact’s biggest appeal would be its “quirkiness.” Contact has the look of an 8-bit game with a touch of modernism. Character sprites have a simple look, but they can do more than just walk and run. Backgrounds are sparse, but they have a varied color palette in each area. Monster designs are basic, but they move well. Similar to the writing, there was a lot of care put into the game’s look. The music may as well not exist. While the chiptunes are fun for a second, they don’t last long. The rest of the music is just forgettable. The sounds are amusing. Terry makes an interesting noise when he attacks. Mochi sounds adorable. There are lots of “bleeps” and “bloops” that get thrown around that sound like something from an old-school game with an outer space setting.
The problem with Contact is that all of its silliness lacks substance. Just like the Earthbounds and Undertales of the world, Contact seems to be relying on its quirks to overcompensate for poor game play. Players move Terry through various regions, many filled with hostile beasts, to recover the Professor’s missing power cells. Terry can equip a large variety of weapons and will discover an abundance of items. Many of the items he finds are types of food. These need to be cooked by Terry in order to eat them. Eating food is what lets Terry recover his lost hit points. The problem with cooking is that you have to change Terry into his chef outfit at the home base, then go to the stove, then mix the ingredients, and then get the result. It’s a tedious process that will likely be ignored since you can buy premade foods at shops. Terry can change into a other types of costumes that give him different looks and skills. But, again, you need to be at your home base to do it. No matter which costume you pick, you’ll want to always have a healthy supply of recovery items on hand. You’ll be needing to use them since Contact’s combat is a poorly designed, autopiloted piece of rubbish.
With the push of a button, Terry enters combat mode. He’ll begin attacking an enemy when he’s in range. Enemies and Terry will attack, cooldown, attack, cooldown ad nauseum until either Terry or the enemy perish. Well, scratch that. If Terry loses all of his hit points, he just gets transported back to the base. There’s no “game over” in Contact. That doesn’t make the experience any less tedious. This hands off approach to combat is as dull as it sounds. You can press a button to use special skills, or you can use decal items to inflict more damage than a standard attack, but these don’t help the tedium. As the gameplay both in and out of combat continues, Terry will gain experience with individual stats. Dodging attacks will increase his agility. Hitting stronger targets increases his strength. It’s an interesting idea that isn’t handled well. Terry’s most important stat is his hit point count. Regular enemies don’t hit enough times for it to be on par with the game’s bosses/spikes in difficulty. Inevitably, you’ll end up with frequent restarts since Terry will continue to get clobbered. Since your options are so limited, overcoming these spikes is a real test of patience that just isn’t fun. If combat was enjoyable, or if Terry could gain stats normally, then I’d buckle down and grind things out. Neither of the two “ifs” are in Contact. I’d be surprised if anyone finished the game.
Interestingly, Contact is a short game ranging from 10 to 15 hours. I’m not sure if that time comes with stat building because I couldn’t be bothered to finish it. In many ways, Contact’s NES look is tantamount to the NES era. It was a time when game developers fancied throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what stuck. Early DS games were the same way; this fantastic new handheld with two screens and stylus controls was a playground for developers. It’s a shame that a game with such a quirky concept didn’t have fun gameplay to match. If anything, Contact taught me a lesson. I’m fully aware that games like it just aren’t for me.
Overall, 4/10: Attempting to use humor and charming visuals as a coverup for poor gameplay never worked before, and it continues to not work in Contact.