REVIEW: Contra 4

By Shaun Hatton - December 14th, 2007

Developed by WayForward and published by Konami for Nintendo DS.

2007_12_14_contra4score.gifThe Contra series will always have a special place in my heart, despite my being unable to play through the original due to lack of skills. But what’s not to love about a game where you get to run around blasting aliens with ridiculous weapons.

Think about it for a moment. Seriously. A spread gun would never work in real life. First of all, it would kill everyone (though in the game, that’s the point) and secondly, there aren’t that many tomatoes in the world that can be used as ammo. If it’s not deadly tomatoes that thing shoots out, then I’m at a loss.

Contra games are notorious for their high level of difficulty. They’re basically like R-Type but with a lot of running. Thankfully Contra 4 contains Easy, Medium, and Hard difficulties to choose from. I’m not ashamed to admit I can only play through on the Easy setting. Medium is just too intense and Hard is, well, impossible. There are some key differences between the difficulty settings that make them progressively harder. For one, the weapons upgrades aren’t as powerful on the harder levels. Secondly, there are way more and faster enemies on the harder difficulty settings. For gamers who can actually make it through the entire game, yet another mode opens up: Challenge Mode.

Another key difference between the difficultly settings is the music. On Easy and Medium, the first stage’s music sounds a bit like a take on the theme from the first stage of the classic NES Contra title. But on the Hard difficulty, it basically is the NES theme, but an updated rendition.

Contra 4 is the spiritual successor to Contra 3: The Alien Wars, from the early Super Nintendo days. What’s changed this time around is that the action takes place on two screens. Yes, you will have to worry about being shot from twice as many places. You’ll also have to keep an eye on both screens because sometimes power-ups will fly by overhead and if you’re too busy watching what’s in front of you, you’re likely to miss them. The player character (you can choose from 4 characters that are palette-swaps of one another) has a new grappling hook device that can be used to reach higher platforms in the game.

The developers chose to not make use of the DS touch screen for this title and instead opted to focus on what makes Contra truly great: a tonne of run-and-gun action. The added real estate of the second screen proves to be both a fun and awkward dynamic. Because of the space between the two screens, it wouldn’t make sense to have objects such as projectiles and enemies appear instantly on one screen from the previous one. The alternative, which is what the game employs, is having the area between the two screens being an unseen part of the playing field. So that area exists in the world of the game but is unseen to the player. In most stages this isn’t a problem. But in stages that feature climbing, such as the waterfall stage, it can be quite the unnecessary obstacle to overcome. Too many lives are easily lost by accidentally jumping into bullets or enemies that are hidden between the screens.

Yes, one hit, be it from an projectile or from touching an enemy, still kills you. These aliens don’t mess around at all. They mean business. But then again, so do all the great power-ups in this game. As previously mentioned, the Spread gun is still a key component this time around. Other great power-ups include the Laser, Machinegun, and Homing missiles. Your character can switch between two different guns at anytime but once you’ve been killed, you can kiss that powered-up weapon goodbye.

As a bonus, the original NES Contra and Super C are included as unlockable content for completing challenges in Challenge mode.

Score Breakdown:

Graphics: 10
Sound: 10
Control: 10
Fun: 9
Replay Value: 9


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    4 responses so far:
  2. Posted on Dec 18, 2007

    Contra + Portable System that is Easily Thrown = One less DS that I own.

    In the 90 seconds that I played this game, I died 6 times! Thats 2 full sets of lives, burning a continue! It just don’t get more hardcore than Contra.

  3. Posted on Dec 19, 2007

    I like how you’re conveniently forgetting that the DS you dropped was not your own, but mine. Luckily the carpeted floor at least has one use: cushioning the fall of DSes.

    The game is sufficiently less frustrating on the Easy setting, though the enemies are perhaps too easy to defeat. We gotta hook up Contra III again some time. You know, when we feel like we hate ourselves again.

  4. Easily one of the hardest Contra games ever made, and one of the best! The graphics, sound which are updated throwbacks of the Original Contras are amazing!!

    And even though I’m happy with the main game, one of the best features on this game is unlocking the two original Contras!

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