E for All: Contra 4 hands-on

“No, no – don’t watch me! It messes me up!”

That’s what I said to a Konami rep at the E for All Expo while spending some time with WayForward’s revival of the classic Nintendo Entertainment System co-op shooter, Contra.

He giggled and told me that wasn’t using the grapling hook enough and jumping into bullets way too much. I glared at him and told him to stand further away from me. I knew I couldn’t face Destructoid’s readership if I couldn’t get far enough into Contra 4 for the Nintendo DS. I mean, come on, this is a DS game, right?

Hit the jump for more on Contra 4

Contra was never supposed to be an easy game — Konami would have never let you have 30 extra lives right off the bat if it wasn’t. But, let’s just get this out of the way now: even the later levels of the predecessors (well, not Hard Corps) seem like training levels for those of Contra 4. This is one difficult game, and my trusty Konami code doesn’t work!

Anyone who has seen or read anything about Contra 4 knows that developer WayForward stuck close to the original game’s roots. The game looks like a tall, more colorful Super C. This time around, things are less primary color-ish, and sizes are proportioned differently to work on small screens, but this is pretty much a faithful re-invention with some nifty upgrades. You’ll get no complaints from me… yet.

As we determined earlier, I’m not a grappling hook kind of guy. I want to run, shoot, jump (double jump), dodge and repeat. Although I’m not used to having the grappling ability, that had nothing to do with me sucking and dying and continuing over and over. Contra fans know that the games are quite busy, and much like a shoot ’em up, success involves careful dodging, though the difference here is that platform gameplay is added. There was so much flying at my character that I had to be on my toes at all times, in classic Contra style. With two screens, things seem to fall and come raining down on you, which adds to the madness. It really is an unforgiving attack from all directions.

Something about the control wasn’t jiving with me at first, though I couldn’t figure it out it was right away (I was too busy dying). I eventually realized that aiming in the down-forward or down-backward position didn’t “snap” as easily as it should, and I was being picked off (damn Contra’s one-hit kills) from below quicker than I could aim and take fire. The classic jump-and-aim-down maneuver worked, but it was still frustrating to know that I couldn’t always hit things at a down angle if I needed to. Others I talked to said similar things, and I decided to watch other players to see how they fared. It seemed they were having the same diagonal shooting problem.

Other than that, I was losing because the game was just plain hard. The good thing is that Contra 4 is a good kind of hard — the kind that brings you back and has you continuing the day away. I saw three levels on my own: the beginning Contra-looking stage, a painfully hard underground base, and a waterfall level that will bring back memories to any series fan. I did manage to watch and see more, letting the Konami rep play for me a bit while I enjoyed watching him die. 

One time after dying, he looked back at me to see if I was going to say anything. I didn’t, and opted for the silent nod and grin. It’s good to know that it isn’t just me.  

Dale North