Destructoid review: Contra 4

Well, lo and behold, it looks like Dyson has finally decided to come out of writing retirement to make a post. It sure has been awhile folks, hasn’t it?

Since it’s been awhile, you may be asking yourself, “What could possibly draw the ever-elusive grumpy old gamer away from his reclusive retro hideaway?” Well folks, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that the only reason that I’m bearing the harsh light of the world of current-gen gaming, is to talk about something retro.

And that retro reason happens to be the release of Contra 4; Konami’s 20th anniversary tribute to the series that help spread the gospel of the Konami Code. And, between you and me, I’ll be damned if I’m going to let the review based of one the most eponymous retro games of all time slip through my fingers.

Read on children, read on.

Contra 4 (DS)
Developed by WayForward Tecnologies

Published by Konami
Released on November 13th, 2007

Right off the bat, I want to make one thing clear: Contra 4 is not merely a throwback or a “tribute” to the Contra of days gone by — it is Contra. A newer, better Contra. Not only that, but Contra 4 is, in every sense of the term, the game that all hardcore Contra fans have been waiting for.

But Dyson, is it really Contra? Yes. Contra 4 delivers the hardest challenge I’ve yet to deal with in any game since the original.  Everything that you loved about Contra is in place: huge bosses, high degree of difficulty, a slew of weapons and the sheer manic pace of the original game is all here. Honestly, this game is so Contra (and by that, I mean incredibly fucking hard) that an average player may shy away from the level of dexterity and skilled required to pass even the first level unscathed. It took me a good amount of time, lives, and a large amount of patience to do just that, and there were times in which I was so frustrated with the game’s unforgiving (read: retro) play mechanics, that I almost threw my DS out the window – twice.

This time around there’s a few new features to help you out and keep you from chucking your DS. Similar to what we’ve seen in Contra III: The Alien Wars, this version allows you to carry two weapons simultaneously with a new twist: Powering up each weapon by collecting more than one weapon icon (double Spread Gun = awesome!). Switching between these weapons is as simple as pressing the L button and the process and never once inhibits game play. Also, using the R button locks your character in place and allows for directional shooting without having to constantly run in the direction you’re aiming in; a feature that I would have loved to have in the original Contra.

Even with these new play mechanics the game is still hard, but not just because of the difficulty level. Contra 4 uses both of the DS’s screens in presenting the game, which gives the player a whole lot of viewing space as well as more room for more enemies looking to fill you full of lead. Enemies are constantly shooting at you and a stray bullet a screen away can get lost in the chaos of the game and take you out.

this game is harder than you can possibly imagine.

While Contra 4 offers beautifully detailed 2D level design that any fan will enjoy, the transition to the DS comes at a slight price. Between the two screens lies a visual “dead space” that blocks your view of the level instead of bullets, enemies and objects traveling seamlessly from one screen to the other. Most of the time the camera scrolls with the player and the space isn’t noticeable, but occasionally (and particularly in vertically-scrolling stages) the enemies on-screen and their volleys of gunfire are obscured by this disconnection in viewable stage space, and dying from threats you simply can’t see can be really frustrating.

While the difficulty is often brutal, it’s not without some inconsistencies. In the pseudo 3-D corridor levels (throwbacks to the original game), the difficulty level drops to almost zero when compared to the rest of the game. While I’m not going to complain about not getting my ass handed to me, the corridor levels do stand out as being strangely easy when compared to the high difficulty of the rest of the levels.

Regardless of these issues, Contra 4 is still a blast to play. Not only are you getting a completely new version of the series, but the title comes packed with little bonuses such as the original Contra, Super C, and other features. Unlocking this content isn’t going to be easy, though. The game comes with a challenge mode in which the player is given mission-like goals and completing these challenges is the only way to get the goods. 

So, along with an original game, Contra 4 is loaded with extra content which provides a whole lot of extras for your gaming dollar. Any fan of the series will be more than happy with their experience and I can easily say that as a fan myself, I’m quite pleased. The developers have done a wonderful job in providing a title that lives up to the Contra name.

Score: 8.0

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