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For: DS

Don't call us, we'll call you

Product: Contact | Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture | Publisher: Rising Star Games Limited | Format: DS | Genre: RPG | Players: 1 | Networking: wireless (network) | Version: US
by Ed Fear
Contact DS, thumbnail 1
Back in the early days, the sort of people who won Big Brother were normal, or at least as close to normal as TV people can get. These days, though, it's all about oddities. Transsexual/ disabled/ Geordie person enters house, overcomes their transsexuality/ disability/ Geordie-ness to eventually win and ushers in a supposed societal shift in the public's understanding of transsexuals/ disabled people/ Geordies.

If there was a video game version of Big Brother, plenty of people would be rushing to the bookies to place a bet on Contact. There are loads of angles – a quirky plot, knowing characters, and different graphic styles on the top and bottom DS screens are all wrapped up to promise a neat twist on the role-playing genre.

You start the game in control of Terry, a boy roped into finding the scattered power cells of a crazy professor whose spacecraft has crashed due to the influence of some nasty 'Cosmonots'.

In an interesting shift, however, the professor knows that you, the player, is controlling Terry, and so he send you direct messages from his top screen laboratory, telling you want to do with Terry.

He's also pretty nosey and will ask you loads of personal questions, as well as providing loose attempts at humour.

So far so strange. But as you get into the game, you'll find that behind Contact's kooky veil lies a surprisingly complex character development system that takes the mantra 'practice makes perfect' as literally as possible. In short, you get better at doing things by doing them repeatedly.

Successfully dodging increases your evasion skill, for example. It may sound boring, but with some 20 statistics bars filling up as you play, the upgrades come swiftly enough to make battles seem worthwhile – a rare feeling for Japanese RPGs.

During the adventure you'll occasionally also come across outfits for Terry. These enable access to different elemental skills, and even some crafting. Of these additional jobs, cooking pleased us most, the results being food that (like potions in other more traditional role-playing games) are used to heal Terry and give him temporary bonuses. Trying new recipies is fun, and the food system adds depth to something as simple as healing.

No matter how charming or how fresh Contact feels though, truly exciting moments are few and far between. The worst thing is the combat, which consists of little more than selecting a target and watching Terry repeatedly stab it, thanks to the game's auto attack system. The only way you the player can get directly involved is by placing a decal on the enemy with your stylus, but as these are fairly ineffective it doesn't improve the grind much.

Indeed, for every thing Contact does well, it drops the ball somewhere else. For example, the lack of save points will have you backtracking miles and miles, but you'll keep any accumulated experience points, which sweetens the bitter pill somewhat. More damming is the lack of a map where one is desperately needed, while the use of Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection service (for community features, not multiplayer – this is a single-player game) is so difficult to get working it's rendered near-useless.

Perhaps most depressingly, you're never really motivated to continue the quest. Finishing Contact is more an exercise in persistence than enjoyment.

It would be unfair to overlook the positives. Contact will be a rewarding experience for RPG fans with the persistence to battle through its foibles (and battles), or for someone looking for a novel, if flawed, gaming experience.

For the rest of us though, there are just too many basic faults for it to be recommended, let alone praised as heralding a new dawn of role-playing games. Superficially charming, Contact ends up as dull as an insurance salesman from Hull. Just like Kate Lawler.
Reviewer photo
Ed Fear | 15 December 2006
Something of a disappointment considering our expectations, uncovering Contact's charms demands significant patience
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