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Review: Contra 4

Contra 4 is very much to its heritage what New Super Mario Bros. was — and that’s a good thing. Make no mistake, this shooter comes out with its fists flying, eager and willing to kick your butt. If you aren’t familiar with the Contra series, Contra 4 doesn’t really give a care — it’s going to beat you silly, anyway. This can’t be understated enough, as this shooter is loaded to the brim with difficulty. Regardless of its challenge, is it worth enduring the pain to experience? In a word, yes. Contra 4 is a love letter to fans of the franchise, serving up a delicious dish of hardcore goodness that some may find hard to swallow — but it’s very filling nevertheless.

Get to it, Soldier. 

Side-scrolling action shooting is what it’s all about here, and Contra doesn’t stray far from its predecessors in this regard. Players will blast through an old-school arcade adventure, taking out anything that moves. Get your Spread Shot ready, because it’s as crazy as you can expect — but this time, you better bring your A-Game, ‘cuz there’s no 30-lives code to cheat your way through. The Easy setting is manageable, but in order to play through the final level, Normal difficulty is the route to take, and it’s a considerable ramp up.

 The gameplay, while hard as nails, is also very refined and solid. The controls are fully functional, for the most part. Now and again it can feel a bit stiff, but it still works great given the circumstances and evokes memories of the oldies. Holding down the fire button is a lot better than mashing on it (though some guns fire pretty slow when the trigger is simply held) and being able to fire in any direction while jumping is handy. However, there is no sensitivity to jumps — one size fits all — which can be a bit odd at times. Furthermore, the dual screens are used to add verticality to the game, which works sometimes, but is a burden in others. For example, Contra 4 treats the space between the screens as just that: a space. As a result, bullets or enemies can be hiding inbetween the screens and cause unforseeable KOs. Speaking of cruddy deaths, be prepared for a lot. There will be many instance when you may attempt to jump over an enemy, only to have your toe clip his head — ARGH!! So much for all that commando training, because despite those hulking muscles, these behemoth men are somehow unable to do a thing when it comes to direct contact. What’s the point of all those push ups if you can’t smash a bloody soldier in the face with your fist? One-hit KOs are fine and good when they’re not quite so ridiculous to avoid.

As challenging as it can be, Contra 4 is rewarding and has some stellar action sequences that will keep hearts pounding and knuckles whitened throughout. The retro-inspired soundtrack (including some classic sound effects) aids the game’s mood, while slick animations inject some life into the battles at hand. The backgrounds are highly detailed but lack personality at times, however. Overall, it’s a sturdy presentation on Konami’s part. So we’ve got a tightly wound arcade mode, great presentation with gargantuan bosses, classic power ups, and a finger-melting difficulty. The Contra bases are covered, right? There’s more to it, though, and the extra features are perhaps what truly solidifies Contra 4 as a worthy purchase.

 After beating the Arcade Mode (even on Easy, thankfully), a chunky batch of gameplay is opened up in a Challenge Mode. These forty challenges are well put together and ramp up in difficulty nicely. Players will likely spend hours in this mode, as this is where the real meat of the game exists. Essentially, the Challenge mode tasks players with special objectives to accomplish within various sections of the main game — they are often altered to fit the challenge. Overcoming these tests of skill is more than worthwhile, as there’s a steady stream of unlockables, ranging from an interview with the series head honcho to some Contra comics and cameo characters to play as from Contra games of old. To top off these fun extras is something fans will likely find quite substantial: both the original Contra and Super C — the NES games that started the franchise — are the first two bonuses earned in the Challenge mode. So, essentially, Contra 4 is, in many ways, four arcade-styled games in one: Contra, Super C, Contra 4’s arcade mode, and the Challenge Mode. Considering the quality of level design, challenge factor, and refined gameplay, action fans have a lot to bite into. It’s unfortunate that the only way to experience the game in traditional co-op form is to have two copies. Why on earth players cannot enjoy co-operative play with a single copy in a game perfectly designed for it is beyond me, but it’s truly a shame, as it detracts from the classic arcade experience. Nevertheless, even taken as a single-player romp, Contra 4 is easily one of the year’s best portable action titles.

LOCK AND LOAD! 

 Awards:

Superb Soundtrack

Hardcore Difficulty

 

Steep Learning Curve

 

Deep Value (for its genre)

 

Sharp Gameplay

Score: 4.5/5

 

Final Verdict:
Contra 4’s main Arcade mode is a remixed classic and a treat in its own right, but what really makes Contra 4 stand out is how it pays tribute to its fans by using the slick gameplay of the main game to craft an excellent Challenge Mode and consequently reward players with two classic NES titles and a bunch of nostalgic extra features to boot. The only real hitch is the lack of single card multiplayer — truly a missed opportunity. Its minor blemishes are overshadowed by its wealth of content and fine-tweaked run-‘n-gun fun, and action-savvy gamers from the 80’s are sure to eat this one up. Contra 4 joins New Super Mario Bros. as a superb nod to the 8-bit roots of modern gaming. Unlike Mario, however, Contra 4’s barrier of entry is a steep wall of difficulty. Gamers who stray from frustration had best be cautious, while those who crave the drive to thrive under pressure should take up their rifle and become a one-man army all over again.
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