Of clones named Snake, healing tubs and Suda51: Contact (DS)

Just to be clear: this blog is separate from by BA research journal. I wanted to use that to finally get my blogging going and while the BA journal will be an on-going series of blog posts, I plan on writing about random stuff in between. So here we go...

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Sometime last year, I was browsing to my multi-tab (read: friends list) on my backloggery page (backloggery is a place where you can keep track of your gaming collection and how many games you actually finish and how many end up on your pile of shame) and I came across an update about a DS game called Contact. I don't remember what it said that intrigued me, but I ... contacted (gosh, I'm hilarious...) the person who played it and asked what it was about. Turns out Contact is an RPG by Goichi "Suda51" Suda's studio Grasshopper Manufacture that came out on the Nintendo DS in 2007 and does not at all resemble your traditional Japanese RPG with spikey-haired protagonists who summon dragons to save the world from an regime of sorcerers or whatnot. Remember those? They made a few like that, I hear.

A spaceship hidden inside a ship. Pretty cunning, don't ya think?
A spaceship hidden inside a ship. Pretty cunning, don't ya think?

So what is the game like? Actually, it is quite reminiscent of our beloved EarthBound! You play as a boy called Terry ... well, no - actually you play as yourself who controls/helps a boy called Terry according to the instructions from some old Einstein-looking professor on a spaceship. You think that's weird already? See, the game loves to break the Fourth Wall a lot. The professor who shall not be named or was named and I simply forgot his name ... contacts (ha, yea ...twice now - still funny, right? ...right?) you via the device he identifies as a DS and asks you to help Terry help him get some energy cells back so he can fly back home with his spaceship that he hid in an actual sailing ship. Just like in EarhBound, the professor asks you personal stuff (where you live, favorite food, your special secret) that may or may not be relevant later on in the game. Also, he has a cat. Suda apparently loves cats. You can even summon the cat called Moichi by applying a sticker onto the screen to help Terry when he's in trouble. Moichi gets stronger if you play with her while Terry sleeps in a bed (= saving the game). Really, can't they think of something new? All JPRGs are the same these days. *cough*

Making "contact" with Terry. Moichi chillin' in the cockpit.

Your journey starts on a deserted island and takes you to other islands with different vegetation and different types of civilized life on these islands. The lower screen is where all the action happens and the areas are all beautiful pre-rendered backdrops including some front layers. On the top screen, you'll always have a very graphically different looking view of the professor and Moichi in the cockpit. It actually looks more cartoony and provides a stark contrast to the more "real" looking action on the lower screen. I'm currently in the third major area, a forest area with a military base on it. All the soldiers look like chibi versions of Solid Snake for some reason and they even manage to throw in some more not-so-subtle MGS references. That same area also created a moment that made me laugh out loud due to its utter ridiculousness. See, the military spent all their budget building the runway for an airfield and they have no money left for actual planes or jets. What are the pilots supposed to do now? How are they supposed to hone their skills without aircrafts to fly in? I won't spoil that here but I guarantee it's hilarious.

Let's hope R. Kelly isn't trapped in that closet.
Let's hope R. Kelly isn't trapped in that closet.

In the actual gameplay department, it's a bit more inside the box but still manages to throw in a few cool twists. You don't find armor pieces to equip but Terry can find a number of "suits" that enhance his elemental abilities and open up special moves to make combat a bit easier. There's a chef's suit that allows you to cook at fireplaces, for example. By cooking, you can basically prepare health items and depending on the recipe (which you can find or buy), they might also add various temporary status bonuses. There's also a thief's outfit that allows you to pick locks. Leveling works much like an Elder Scrolls game where you don't distribute attribute points but instead gain upgrades by using skills. Want to improve armor? Keep getting hit. To upgrade stamina - keep running, etc.

So far, I have only come across melee weapons like swords and clubs (and magic staffs?!) but there is a great amount of variety among them with some of them proving effective in different situations. Further customization and skill bonuses come with the decal system. Personal decals are applied to Terry himself and enhance certain stats. Trick decals transform enemies into harmless animals or transport you back to your ship or summon Moichi to help out. There are tons of things to collect, modify or cook that influence your game directly.

Contact is one of the most refreshing RPGs I have played. Not enough of them stray from the fantasy formula and branch out into completely different settings and scenarios like EarthBound, Alpha Protocol, the upcoming South Park RPG or the Persona games. Contact oozes with charm and weirdness and I'm excited to play more of it (I'm guessing I'm about somewhere close to the end of the first third of the game) and I highly recommend everyone who owns a DS and loves RPGs to check this out. It's dirt cheap on eBay so there's no excuse. Maybe I'll write more about it once I've finish the game.