While the numerical designation of "4" might not exactly be true, Contra 4 feels like more of an honest to god sequel to the classic Contra games as anything in recent memory. Part of that is thanks to developer WayForward's apparent deep, deep love of all things Contra. If you remember the classic arcade and NES games, you'll remember a lot of what goes on here. From the reuse of notable Contra heroes Bill and Lance (or Scorpion and Mad Dog, if you prefer), to the healthy smattering of classic Contra weaponry (the machine gun, the flamethrower, the ever-popular spread gun), and the subtle (and occasionally not-so-subtle) references to levels and bosses of Contra yesteryear, Contra 4 feels like a celebration of the franchise's heyday, a return to what made the series so fantastic in the first place.
Intensity is really the name of the game here, and it's likely that it's going to be too much for some. More than perhaps any Contra game before it, Contra 4 is hard. Almost excruciatingly so. Normal difficulty is like some kind of cruel joke. Enemies and bullets appear from every which direction, often hanging out in the exact spot you're about to jump to or the area you'd most likely run to in order to duck certain death. Keeping yourself alive is as much about memorization of enemy attack patterns as it is about any measure of quantifiable skill. You get multiple continues if you happen to run out of lives on a given stage, but once you're out of continues, you start the game anew. Granted, this isn't an especially long game, but the odds of players blowing through this thing on their first, second, or even third sittings hover somewhere around the zero mark. To be fair, the game is extremely up front about its toughness, frequently mentioning the challenges you'll face and even making it abundantly clear that easy mode doesn't include the last two levels of the game. The difficulty itself feels almost like an in-joke for the fans. While it's bound to frustrate a number of people, those who can stomach it will persevere and enjoy themselves a great deal.
The only real bummer about those unlockable titles is that they don't come with multiplayer functionality. Contra was always a better game when you had both a blue and a red guy onscreen shooting at once. Without that, these older titles lose a bit of their appeal--not all of it, of course, but some. Contra 4, fortunately, does include multiplayer for two players, and that is, in fact, awesome. The only disappointment is that it's only for multicard play--no download option.
Contra 4 might not be one of the more immediately striking DS games you'll ever see, but while the game might mostly just look like a 16-bit game on heavy doses of performance-enhancing drugs, there's a lot of eye candy to be found the deeper you go into it. Whether it's the cool-looking backgrounds or the absolutely crazy-looking bosses, at nearly every turn, there is one impressive visual moment or another. The only real bummer is that periodically, the separation between the two screens causes some issues, like bullets you can't really see popping onto whichever screen you happen to be occupying. Audio is also quite enjoyable, from the "inspired by the classics" soundtrack to the goofily fantastic voice samples from the various heroes, such as "Lock and load!" or "Let's party!"
It's possible that Contra 4 might have benefited from a few updates to the design formula and maybe a drop in the difficulty by a half-notch or so, but those quibbles aside, the fact remains that Contra 4 is great at being a Contra game. There is no pretense here about the game being anything but an intensely difficult shooter, as well as a great piece of fan service, and it delivers on that promise. Contra fans and shooter fans in general would do well to pick this one up. It's a blast.
Mirrol (Chinese Version)