Contact

There's a reason why American publisher, Atlus, and the now sadly defunct Working Designs, remain revered pieces of the gaming industry year in and year out. Their continued adoration doesn't spawn from big budget game releases, or unfathomable marketing expenditures. We've never seen them dabble around with publishing licensed titles, and they've likewise shied away from most of the popular industry trends. Now ask yourself; how many games in your library have actually appreciated in value, instead of ending up in the budget rack a mere six months after their release? If you've owned titles from either of these publishers over the years, you know that their games don't decrease in value, they increase. Just what is it that makes their games so special? To answer that question, we'll examine Atlus USA's latest American publishing acquisition, the Nintendo DS-bound action-RPG, Contact.

If your nostalgic chords were strummed when viewing scans from the Japanese version of the game, or the recently-released screens from the work-in-progress American translation, you're not alone. Contact reeks of the simplistic 2D art-style established by the now legendary Famicom and Super Famicom adventures featured in Nintendo's Mother series. Fortunately for our noses, we don't envision Atlus torturing us with a stinky marketing campaign, similar to what Nintendo of America did with Earthbound (the American version of Mother 2). But smelly scratch-and-sniff promo interstitials or not, there's no doubting that Contact is a classic looking, hand-drawn beauty of a game. With character design being handled by Atsuko Fukushima, of Akira and Popolocrois fame, it's a look that is guaranteed to make you reminisce, and maybe even shed a tear -- for the good ol' days, when 2D ruled all, and 16-bit was king.

When it comes to RPGs, gamers know that everything else takes a backburner to producing a riveting and engaging story. Enter Suda 51 and his small Japanese development house, Grasshopper Manufacturer Inc. Best known in the States for their American debut, Killer 7 -- the psychotic action thriller both praised and shunned for many of the same reasons; extreme violence, unabashed profanity, uninhibited sex, you know, things we can see every day on mainstream television... Needless to say, it didn't come as a surprise to us when it was revealed that Grasshopper's Kou Ueda, and not the lucha libre wearing-Suda 51, is the one grasping Contact's directorial reigns. In other words, expect a lighthearted style, devoid of the crazy, mind altering story elements that Mr. 51 is known throughout the industry for.

Contact's storyline is none too farfetched - that is if you live in a video game world of course. The game starts off with The Professor - and yes that appears to be his full name - blasting off into space via a spaceship powered by items called "cells." After crash-landing on a mysterious planet, the cells are scattered about, leaving The Professor stranded without any means of power to get his ship off the ground. To help get back home, The Professor calls upon local resident Terry, and you, the person controlling the DS, to assist him with locating the scattered cells.

Along your journey, you'll encounter a crazy cast of quirky characters, and venture through a barrel full of whacked out environments. While the game looks like it'll feature lots of action-RPG oriented dungeon crawling, there's plenty more to distract you from the main task at hand. Various gameplay elements include animal-training, item-collecting, old-school mini-games, and even monster-hunting. You'll earn new gear, those of cooks, pilots, fishermen, etc. and equipping them enables you to learn new skills associated with each. Just like weapons, the costumes can be leveled up, adding additional power to your already multitude of skills.

Grasshopper Manufacturer is making crafty use of the DS's dual screen functionality, with such cool features as simultaneous interior and exterior viewpoints, detailed mission maps, and more. Contact also takes the claim of being the first online RPG available on the DS, courtesy of Nintendo's Wi-Fi connection service. Right now, we're still a bit unclear on how the online gameplay mechanics incorporate into the game as a whole, but here's hoping some form of co-op play makes it into the game, ala Secret of Mana.

Barring any unforeseen delays, the Japanese version of Contact is scheduled for release later this month, while the American version is due out this summer. It's safe to say that this RPG is in stark contrast to the majority of releases coming out from the big boys these days. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what continues to make companies such as Atlus a beloved entity in this industry, and a staple for hardcore gamers. Stay tuned to Modojo for the latest information concerning this highly anticipated title. Oh, and in the meantime, pour out a little liquor for Working Designs.