Latest and perhaps greatest entry in the series.
It's been a long time, a very long time since a Contra game came along that was truly worthy of the Contra name. The series had been in such a decline since the 32-bit era, it was hard to tell whether things would ever get back on track. But now with Contra 4, the developers have gone back to the basics and have finally gotten the Contra formula just right with action-packed gameplay that hearkens back to the good old days of Contra, Super Contra, Contra: Hard Corps, and Contra III: Alien Wars. And to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the long-running series, Konami unleashes a sequel that'll do fans of the series proud.
Contra 4 isn't for the weak of heart. When you load up the game be prepared for one of the most intense, and often-times frustrating gaming experiences you've encountered in quite some time. That's not to say that Contra 4 is needlessly difficult and can't be conquered. On the contrary, with tons, and I mean TONS of practice you'll eventually be able to see your mission all the way through to the bitter end - that is, if you haven't thrown your DS against the wall before then. But again, I'm not trying to scare you into thinking that Contra is needlessly hard, it's just going to require a whole lot of practice, patience, and even more practice. I should know.
Contra 4 isn't the type of game that's big on production values with a lot of the technical gee-wizardry you'll find in a lot of other games today. The game looks like an enhanced version of the 16-bit classics with colorfully detailed 2D backgrounds and cool boss designs, but nothing that really pushes the DS hardware. The audio fares a bit better with some cool sound effects, and an energetic and upbeat soundtrack reminiscent of the Contras of old. While the technical aspects of the game are solid, Contra has never been about fancy graphics. Gameplay has always been key, and Contra 4 delivers it in droves with pure, unadulterated, frenetically-paced gameplay that will test your twitch gaming mettle.
There's going to be a lot of shooting, lots of explosions, and a whole lot of dying while working your way through all 9 levels of the game and battling crazy end level bosses that'll have you jumping around frantically, dodging attacks while laying waste to the behemoths.
The gameplay of Contra 4 borrows heavily from the winning formula of the earlier Contra games in which players had to battle their way through seemingly endless hordes of alien baddies in a number of side-scrolling missions. The same applies here as you'll be launching a one-man assault on land, sea, and air in order to prevent the nefarious Black Viper from picking up where the Red Falcon left off in the Alien Wars before he was defeated two years ago.
While most of the action in Contra 4 takes place from a side-scrolling viewpoint, the game does a good job of mixing things up with platforming sections where you'll be doing a lot of jumping and climbing, and vehicle-based sections where you'll zip across the sea and land on your hover bike while battling some intense bosses. What's more, Contra fans are treated to 3D base levels similar to the pseudo 3D base levels found in the original Contra, except this time they're made up of polygons.
While Contra 4 plays a lot like its earlier predecessors with a good smattering of nostalgia thrown in, the game still manages to carve its own identity thanks to the DS spec. While touch screen functionality is kept to a bare minimum, the game utilizes the dual screen setup to display the top and bottom portions of the levels. It's a nifty setup that, unfortunately, takes some getting used to at first because of the way you'll often get struck down by enemies and stray bullets because your attention was focused on a single screen. However, with the fast-paced nature of the game, keeping track of the action on both screens is often times easier said than done as the varied level designs will throw lots of enemies and hazards your way. Memorization is definitely key in Contra 4, that and quick reaction times will make a world of difference as to how successful you are in the game.
Fortunately, the controls are tight and responsive, and the game allows you to play as the various characters that have appeared throughout the series. Additional characters can also be unlocked to further expand the playable character roster. Though, other than a few aesthetic differences, the characters basically all play the same and can run, jump, climb, duck, and perform 8-way shooting while running and locked in a stationary position. There's also a grappling hook you can use where ever necessary throughout the game.
The typical Contra power-up pods float fly at various points throughout the levels allowing players to shoot them down and acquire more powerful weapons like a machine gun, flamethrower, laser rifle, homing rockets, and the infamous spread shot among other things. What's also great is that all of the weapons are upgradeable and players can carry two weapons at a time and switch weapons on the fly by tapping the L button. Though, once you're hit you'll lose whichever weapon was active at the time.
While Contra 4 is a little on the short side, the highly addictive and challenging gameplay makes for a game with a lot of replay value. The arcade mode is the main mode of play where players can select one of three difficulty settings and are provided with a set number of lives and continues to get through the game with. And as tempting as the Easy mode may be, playing on the Normal or Hard mode is the only way you're going to experience the full game. Additionally, players looking for some wireless multiplayer action can team up in the arcade mode for some 2-player co-op action, though, the multiplayer mode is limited to multi-card play, there's no single-card/download option.
From the presentation alone it's obvious that the developers set out to make Contra 4 something special. Not only is it one of the most action-packed DS games on the market, but also one of the most feature rich as well with its impressive number of bonus content. There's the Contra Museum where players can take a look back at Contra's rich history through screenshots, box art, and fun facts for every Contra game ever made. There's also a Challenge mode where players can test their skills in a total of 40 special challenges.
If you thought the Arcade mode was tough, just wait until you get a taste of some of these challenges. Hunting down mutant man-faced mutts, testing your accuracy by completing certain challenges with the require shooting percentage, and clearing levels with limited or no ammo, are just some of the challenges you'll be faced with, and after completing a bunch of the challenges you'll be able to unlock additional goodies like, developer interviews, additional playable characters, and to top it all off, the NES versions of Contra and Super C, though, both games are limited to single-player only. But that's still better than nothing I say.
All in all, Contra 4 is an incredibly fun and frustrating game that will satisfy even the most hardcore Contra fans and provide a memorable twitch gaming experience.