|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: WayForward||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Konami||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Nov. 13, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Matt Cabral
It's too bad Contra 4 wasn't backed by the kind of marketing muscle that puts super-expensive, hyped-to-the-hilt next-gen titles on bottles of Mountain Dew.
Not only is it a great game for the DS platform, but it's an overflowing-with-content, brimming-with-fan-service package paying tribute to the frenetic franchise's twentieth year; it would've been great if they could've exploited the anniversary angle, ensuring that any gamer brought up on side-scrolling NES/SNES titles would be aware the series that put "up, up, down, down, left, right, b, a, start" on the map is back in all its spread-gunning, bullet-dodging, boss-battlin' glory.
Whether you remember it greedily gulping your quarters in the original arcade version or kicking your ass in Contra 3: Alien Wars on the SNES, make no mistake, this is the Contra you were raised on. Developer Way Forward Technologies, whose previous DS efforts include mostly kiddie licensed fair (Barbie, SpongeBob, Looney Tunes), has smartly stayed away from the 3-D design of the PS1 and PS2's previous not-quite-Contra efforts, and delivered a classic entry really bringing the series back to its roots. This isn't to say Contra 4 is entirely NES-era; the visual presentation, while dripping with 2D, pixel-over-polygon charm, is excellent, and most closely resembles a highly-polished 16-bit-era entry. Lush jungles, bright blue water and intricately detailed bosses offer an eye-pleasing pop on the DS's dual screens. Audio touches will also be familiar to anyone who's ever been dropped a Contra jungle before; synth-heavy soundtracks drive the action, and projectiles "ping" through the DS's tiny speakers.
Animations are also top-notch; your tiny Rambo-like soldiers bounce about with fast, fluid motions. Of course, Contra 4's old-school difficulty necessitates this quick maneuvering as you'll spend much of your time dodging and ducking bullets and explosions coming from all angles. The inclusion of the second screen further ups this ass-whupping ante; just when you've got the lower screen's challenges licked, look up top, and the frantic fighting continues. Thankfully, this new Contra borrows some gear from a fellow 8-bit super-soldier, Bionic Commando, utilizing a slick grappling hook device players can quickly navigate between the two screens. But the grappling gear isn't just for climbing, as quick-reflexed gamers will also find it invaluable for speedily dodging projectiles. This new mechanic, along with the two-screen-tall action, evolves the series a bit while still sticking to the core gameplay and appeal of the classic side-scroller. The DS obviously has some blank space between its double display, so you may fall victim to some cheap kills when bullets and bad guys transition from one screen to the other. But you'll soon learn to anticipate this and, overall, appreciate the innovation offered by the double-dose fun, especially when a breathless boss battle unfolds on both screens.
These chaotic encounters and some other intense moments--dangling from a speeding nuclear warhead come to mind--keep the pace moving from fast to faster to "holy sh*t, I can't take this anymore". In fact, the sometimes frustrating difficulty--complete with limited lives and continues--will actually have you swearing like the adult offspring of a truck-driving mother and high-seas sailing father, and might actually be a bit much for folks who weren't brought up on this type of gaming. If the extent of your DS gaming is training your Nintendog to fetch a stick, then this might not be your game. It can be brutal, so even seasoned soldiers shouldn't be ashamed of selecting the easy mode for their first playthrough. The nostalgic design choice also has its benefits though; the enemies tactics never change, so memorization of level layouts make for a good strategy that'll ease some of the DS-tossing frustration.
Those who can stomach the endless bullet barrages, rampaging soldiers, projectile-spewing turrets, and boss battles that'll have you crying "uncle!," are in for a real treat. Not only does Contra 4 pack an impressive single player campaign--that's even better when played with a buddy in co-op mode--, but it's also stuffed with unlockable goodies that'll get fans of the franchise arming their powered-up weapons until each bonus is unlocked. Challenge mode offers tons of mini-levels to conquer, each one with a specific goal--like running through it unarmed. Completing these quick-action challenges eventually unlocks the original NES versions of Contra and Super C, a nice little bonus for faithful fans. Additionally, you can access a neat little time-line retrospective highlighting the franchise's history with box art and screens from previous entries. All the bonus materials are worth, quite literally, fighting for. Again, it's too bad Konami hasn't been more vocal in promoting this package, as many classic Contra fans will likely be too busy finishing Master Chief's fight to notice their old pals Bill Rizer and Lance Bean have returned to finish their own fight.
If you're a Contra fan--especially of the classic side-scrolling action of the series' early offerings-- picking this title up is a no-brainer. The fast action, upgradeable weapons, platforming level design, and awesome bosses are all back and joined by two-screen presentation, a nifty grappling hook, and enough extras to make those next-gen "Collector's Editions" envious. If you're a Contra noob, but seeking a solid shooter, this one also fits that bill. Just be warned, the level of difficulty is like nothing you've ever experienced on the DS, so be prepared for some hardcore gaming. A brilliant blend of old-school charm and tight gameplay make Contra 4 a fantastic addition to the DS's mini-game-heavy library. Here's hoping those that swore by the Contra code back in the day discover this title among all the hype-hogging offerings stealing the spotlight this season.
CCC Freelance Writer