Contra 4

The year is now 2638, two years have passed since Red Falcon launched a strike that nearly wiped out all human life. The world has barely recovered from the devastating events when a new enemy emerges - Black Viper.

Military intelligence quickly manages to locate a signal coming from the Galuga archipelago off the coast of New Zealand, the very same place where Bill Rizer and Lance Bean first fought Red Falcon. The "Contras" are joined by two new soldiers, "Mad Dog" and "Scorpion", as they make their way to Galuga.

Editor's review

After "Neo Contra", which was producer Nobuya Nakazato's attempt to reinvent the series formula, a lot of fans were wondering what the future held for Contra. The game was received with mixed opinions, with some people saying it was either too easy or that it strayed too much from Contra's 2D roots. Personally I thought Neo Contra was ok, but I guess some people just can't stand change. The announcement of Contra 4 came as a surprise in more than one way. First of all; it was a Nintendo DS game. Second; it was being developed by a western team (god forbid!), and third; the title was... "Contra 4"? Up until then, most fans had assumed that Contra: Hard Corps was the fourth game in the series. But apparently, WayForward Technologies either chose to ignore that game, or saw an opportunity to sneak in the title between "Contra 3" and "Hard Corps" since the former didn't have a number in its title. Anyway, I'm just nitpicking now, so let's move on.

Being a Nintendo DS game, the opportunity of using both screens was definitely not wasted. In this game, the player is equipped with a grappling hook that enables them to quickly latch on to platforms and railings above them, which can be handy for getting to places on the upper screen or just dodging enemies. Thanks to this mechanic, you have a huge area to move around on, but it also means you have to be more observant as there will often be enemies and projectiles coming from both screens. It's a very neat feature and doesn't feel as gimmicky as it first seems once you start noticing that the levels are carefully designed to make good use of it most of the time.

The graphics are nicely done, with vivid colors and attention to detail. The animations are quite smooth as well and not as choppy as some of the sprites you've seen in previous Contra games, which makes Contra 4 feel retro yet modern and fresh at the same time. There's even some subtle use of 3D in the "base" levels, which are designed to look and feel like the levels from the original Contra, the ones with guarded doors that need to be destroyed in order to progress.

As far as sound goes, Contra 4 doesn't disappoint at all. Thanks to the awesome work done by Jake Kaufman, or "virt" as he is mostly known as online, you are convinced that this is infact a Contra you're playing. Jake takes several notes from songs featured in earlier games, but isn't afraid to explore new territory as well. The soundtrack ranges from the classic metal style to electronic sounds and even some orchestral pieces in the more dramatic parts. What I like most about the music is that he seems to have captured the trademark sound of old-school Konami games. In fact, if you pause the game you'll hear the familiar four notes that were played in a lot of classic Konami titles such as Castlevania, Gradius and of course, Contra.

As you may have noticed, I'm having a hard time finding anything wrong with this game. The controls are solid, the difficulty is what you'd expect from a Contra game, and there's a good amount of content in the game. Actually, I'd like to talk a bit about the content, because unlike most Contra games where you just plow through 8-6 levels and that's it, here you have lots of unlockable stuff as well as a challenge mode. This makes Contra 4 well worth its price, since you not only get the main story mode, but you can also test your skills in various short segments that require you to do things like kill a certain amount of enemies before the time runs out or simply get through a level without actually killing anything (appropriately called "pacifist mode"). I'm not going to give you a list of all the unlockables, because that would take up too much space in this review. Besides, finding that out by yourself is half the fun!

If you miss the good old sprite-based 2D gameplay from the 8-bit and 16-bit titles, then Contra 4 is your game. You may have been mentally scarred from previous installments that were developed by studios outside of Japan, but make no mistake, this is not one of those instances. If anything, this is a well-made game that has a lot of respect for both the creators and fans. It wouldn't surprise me if previous japanese developers felt very flattered when they saw it. So to sum things up, this one's a keeper.

Released North America  November 13, 2007
Japan  March 13, 2008
Other titles Contra: Dual Spirits (Japan)
Platform Nintendo DS
Ports Mobile phone
Developer(s) WayForward Technologies
Publisher(s) Konami
Staff Tomm Hulett (producer)
Simon Lai (producer)
Jake Kaufman (composer)
Players 1-2 players

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