Friday, September 18, 2009

GameFAQs Review - Contra 4 (Nintendo DS)

Contra is known for its simplistic gameplay and intensely difficult challenge. Originally released as an arcade game, it was soon ported over to the NES where it gained legendary status and had become synonymous with one of the most famous video game codes of all time (even the code began in Gradius, but I digress). Contra had spawn a number of sequels and spin-offs for the NES, Super NES, Game Boy, and Sega Genesis and they were all good games. However, many fans feel that the series had gone on a downward spiral the moment it hit the Sony Playstation. And despite some decent entries on the PS2, the series never did get that feel of fun and frustration that the old school games always presented.

And then came this beauty... and it's Contra-riffic!

Known for its GBC sleeper hit Shantae, Wayforward Technologies were also the geniuses behind the GBC mistake known as WWF Betrayal, which was a horrible wrestling-related game on the same system. In any case, these guys were given the task of developing a Contra game worthy of the number 4... and they have succeeded.

STORY: Taking place two years after Contra III: The Alien Wars, an alien threat known as Black Viper (last seen on Operation C for the original Game Boy) arrives and takes a crack at taking control of the world. As always, it's up to our usual buff heroes to take them on... yeah, great storytelling here, guys. On the bright side, the instruction manual is funny and a throwback to the old Konami manuals from the eighties when it seemed like the people putting the instructions together were on crack or something. Actually, who cares? It's not a great story, but you don't play Contra for great storytelling. You play it to get your butt kicked and love it. 9/10

GRAPHICS: Contra 4 looks like a Super NES game and you know what? It should. As part of Konami's way of wanting you to forget all the other Contra mistakes after Contra III, the game looks about as good as any 16-bit game out there and could very well have been an excellent SNES title back in the day. 10/10

SOUND: In a way, the soundtrack for this game is fairly impressive and actually well done. While there aren't that many "classic" tunes to be found (aside from a couple familiar tunes from the original Contra), the new tracks are somewhat considered to be tributes to the works that come before it. Also, the sound effects and some of the voicework are fairly nice too. Top notch props for including the classic Konami pause sound that has appeared many of their old-school NES titles. 9/10

GAMEPLAY: The concept behind Contra 4 is painfully simple and can be summed up in three points: shoot whatever moves, one hit kills you, and keep moving. There're no secrets to discover in-level (they're all unlocked through the game's Challenge Mode - more on that later) and there're no alternate routes. When they say Stage 1, it's referring to the current area you're in and not a statistic to be raised by earning more points. And there's no save system in place - every game starts from Stage 1 until the last level. Yeah, there's a limited save system that allows you to continue where you left off if you quit mid-game, but the process costs you one of your precious continues. Fine for Easy skill, maybe Normal skill, but at Hard skill where lives and continues are at a premium, you'd be best to duke it out in one sitting... which is the ideal method of play and the intended way Contra should be played.

Controls in the game are fairly top-notch and responsive. I do have some trouble aiming diagonally at times, but I fault the D-pad for this flaw and not necessarily the controls. The levels are fairly reminiscent of previous 2D Contra entries, almost to the point of being a tribute. Nothing wrong with that, though. If it works, why change it? That seems to be what killed everything that came between Contra III and 4 anyway. 9/10

CHALLENGE: Make no mistake about it; while there are three skill levels deceptively titled Easy, Normal, and Hard, the reality is that Contra 4 is hard, harder, and hardest. It wouldn't be a Contra game without near-impossible difficulty bumped on steroids and this game fits the bill perfectly. Easy is fairly beatable (but doesn't show the whole game), Normal is on par with classic Contra difficulty, and Hard is... well, hard. 9/10

REPLAY VALUE: Contra IV offers very little replay value on its own. As much as it's fun to blast aliens at near-bone crushing difficulties, once the game is beat in Hard mode, there's little incentive to play again... so Konami wisely added in Challenge Mode for those who have beaten the game at once at any difficulty setting. Challenge Mode offers the would-be masters of the game several missions to complete. As missions are completed, more missions will be made available and after a set of missions completed, you'll unlock hidden extras, including extra characters, comics, and even emulated versions of the NES Contra and Super C games. So yeah, you definitely got plenty to do here even when the main game is long done. 8 /10

OVERALL: There's something old and familiar about a 2D Contra game that harkens back to an age of video games long gone and yet it is something fresh and exhilarating. I'm going to admit that I'm not a huge Contra fan. In fact, outside of Super C, the series didn't really hold much interest for me, but I found Contra 4 to be very solid and a fun experience despite its great challenge. And in a way, it is rather sad that this 20th anniversary offering celebrates the best aspects of the Contra series, while Konami's other big classic franchise celebrated its 20th anniversary with another handheld released featuring the same repetitive nonsense with extra gimmicks added and a hackneyed 2.5D remake of an ancient game that never hit our shores... but I digress. If you are a diehard Contra fan or enjoy challenging old-school games in general, this entry in the Contra saga is a worthy addition to your collection. 9/10

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