Contra 4
by Polly

Does there even need to be a fuckin' introduction? Besides Contra 4 being my most-anticipated game of 2007, there's nothing else I need to say that you probably don't already know. In fact, you know what? I'll fucking spoil it already.

I. Fucking. Love. Contra. 4.

I am not ashamed. It's not a gushing fangirl score, it's a "This game is that fucking good" score. Yes, indeed you better believe it.

To all you pussified next-gen graphics whores who would rather watch their games play themselves while you mash one button repeatedly to attack or advance text boxes, this game isn't for you. Run on back to your little Master Chief, your fuckin' emo metrosexuals in leather and buckles, your first-person shooter after first-person shooter, and your god damn stick waggling party games. Only the most hard-boiled of action gamers are welcome and we don't want your whiny asses in here pissing and moaning about cinematic presentations, deep stories and "casual gaming."

"What do you mean I don't get a regenerating health bar?" "Why do I die in one hit?" "Where are the save points?" "What do you mean I can only die a limited number of times and have to start over when I run out?" Get the fuck off my lawn and go die in a fire, pussies.

Could I possibly be ANY MORE condescending and prick-ish? Yes. Yes, I can, but I think I'm done for now.

Is Contra 4 a perfect game? No. "But, Polly! You gave it a perfect score!" Well, I don't try too often to dissect games on the technical level and score them that way. It's kinda boring. I judge games based on the amount of fun I have with them. Then tie in the technical shit to try and balance things a bit. If that makes sense. It doesn't.

Okay, You Ignorant Twat, What's Wrong With It, Then?
Let's go ahead and get all the things that are wrong with Contra 4 out of the way, shall we?

Konami must have spent all of 20 minutes playtesting the game before authorizing the release candidate, because there's all sorts of strange bugs that crop up and it seems people find a new one every other day. Some are beneficial such as glitching the life counter to give you 99 extra lives and the ability to fire in Challenges where your fire button has been locked. Others are completely game-breaking. For instance, I've run into times when after losing my last life the screen would fade black and the music would keep playing but wouldn't advance to the Continue screen. A lot of issues can crop up with beating bosses as some of them freeze your character as they play out the death animation. The problem here is that parts of the death animation can still kill you and you're helpless to do anything about it. Other times you can move, and in these situations try and stay as far away from exploding bosses as possible. Another oddity that's happened three times thus far also involved me dying but my character not respawning leaving me unable to advance or do anything for that matter.

Other than the occasional bugs, there's really nothing else to complain about. I know that probably sounds strange coming from me, because I can always find something to bitch about, but I've TRIED to find other things I don't like about the game and I just can't.

If Positive Reviews Aren't Your Thing, Then Stop Here!
You can tell that a lot of tender love and care went into making this game. The minds behind this project were clearly fans and knew what it took to make a satisfying and challenging Contra game. It looks, sounds, and feels like a Contra game that was lost in a vault somewhere back in 1993 and had only recently been unearthed. But that doesn't mean it's as stale as a game might be now if it hadn't aged well. WayForward hit just the right amount of old-school throwbacks while leaving their own mark on the series keeping everything from being a boring and predictable mess.

Shattered Soldier and Neo Contra on the PS2 both took a more 3D approach to Contra, which had proven disastrous on the PS1. Shattered Soldier mixed 3D effects and models on a 2D playing field to create one of the best 2D/3D hybrids ever. It was fantastic and completely revived a series that was probably as close to dead as you can get. It's amazing the series was even given another chance after the PSX. Neo Contra was a bit of a misstep, but was still good enough to be fairly enjoyable, if not completely fucking silly. (ANIMAL CONTRA ANIMAL CONTRA OH FUCKING CHRIST ANIMAL CONTRA!)

Contra 4 takes the old-school approach, bringing back the art of the sprite, but amping it up to a level the series hasn't seen. They're still not on the Metal Slug level, but they're damn close. Everyone gets great animation this time around, even little nobody fodder enemies. Needless to say the bosses are just as big and gruesome as one would expect in a Contra game. The backgrounds are filled with more than enough detail and a vibrant palette of colors, unlike the rest of the series which has leaned more toward dark and murky atmospheres. Contra fans may find themselves giggling with glee as they cruise through many of these stages. There are more than a few backgrounds from previous Contra games which have been chopped up and remixed to hell here. Though we've been to them before, they've never looked this damn good.

The only blemish in the graphics department is the inclusion of updated homages to the original game's Base stages. The 3D is fairly unimpressive. The textures are boring and murky, clashing with the rest of the game's look. The stages themselves, other than serving as fanservice, generally are a low point in the game. They're over fast enough, but could have been reduced to one stage.

The tunes, composed by Jake "virt" Kaufman, are pure Contra. Done in the "old Konami style", the music just has a groove that'll remind you of NES tunes that just have more elaborate arrangements. Unlike the Shattered Soldier and Neo Contra soundtracks, Contra 4's tuneage is actual "game music". Music that sounds like it was made specifically for a videogame and not just composed all willy-nilly and slapped onto a stage like a lot of game OSTs seem these days. The tunes here are for the most part original, but feature so many replayed elements from classic Contra tunes that you'd have to never have played a Contra game before to not notice them. They're rockin' hard and suit the gameplay perfectly. Bonus points for the extra bad ass remixed Stage 1 theme when you play on Hard.

To Run, To Gun, To Curse A Whole Lot
WayForward could have come into this thing and just copied a little something from every Contra game before it and produced a competent sequel. Maybe a tad boring, but it would have been playable. Thankfully, they spiced things up by adding a couple of their own touches to the gameplay that keep things interesting throughout.

First is the ability to stack weapons to "level them up" and create a much more powerful version of that weapon. This adds a good bit of strategy to your weapon collecting as you'll find yourself holding onto an inferior weapon in an empty slot, like a normal flame gun, to wait out another F powerup so that you can get the bad as hell Super C flame gun with 4x the firepower. Same with the spread. Initially it's a 3-way spread, but grab another S and it'll spread 5 ways. Or if you end up grabbing 2 of the same weapon but in separate slots, you can drop the weapon from one of your slots, switch to the other, and stack it. There is no greater joy than running through stages with a fully-powered Machinegun and Flame gun. Fuck yes! And since you can now purposefully drop weapons, if you know you're about to take a dirt nap, you can drop the weapon before you die and pick it up again once you respawn. Fun shit.

Next is the grappling hook. It seemed gimmicky at first, but it turns out to be pretty damn useful for a lot of situations. You can only use the grappling hook to pull yourself up onto certain ceilings or hang bars vertically. You go straight up. No fancy Bionic Commando stuff here. It makes for a great last second escape tactic should you be right in the line of enemy fire, a great way to get from the bottom screen to the top if things are getting too hot to handle on the bottom, and it's used for a couple boss fights in some rather unique ways. Once again, really fun shit and I hope it makes its way into future installments.

Contra 4 is running and gunning bliss. The past few Contras have been more about huge-ass boss gauntlets than actual long, drawn-out, intricately planned stages. They weren't terrible, but it always felt like something was missing. Contra 4 fixes it and brings the true focus of the series back and does so with a vengeance.

Enemy placement can seem downright devious at times with snipers hiding out in some of the most obvious "SHIT WHY DIDN'T I LOOK THERE" places and other enemies rushing in from various sides of the screen to claim another victim. The DS' dual-screen functionality brings the aspect of level design to all-new heights (literally) as you're now forced to cover yourself from all sides and whatever the fuck is happening on the other screen. Even boss fights can span both screens. The Stage 7 boss fight is probably some of the coolest shit in Contra history, but I won't spoil it for those who haven't had the pleausre just yet.

I've heard a lot of bitching about how the dual screen setup is unfair, but actually the arcade Contras had the same vertical orientation and the dead space between screens isn't a problem as bullets are properly timed so that they don't exit one screen and immediately appear on the other. Yes, Contra 4 is fucking hard. Beating it on Easy might even seem like a crazy challenge for some, but those with patience will be rewarded as the game really does reward those who pay attention and can stick it out. You actually feel yourself getting better. That sense of accomplishment, no matter how small, has always kept Contra interesting. You really feel like you're doing awesome when you finally get shit right.

A Deeper Challenge
As if the game's original 9 stages and three difficulty levels aren't challenging enough, once you complete the game on any difficulty you open up the ridiculously addictive and appropriately named Challenge Mode. A mode that doesn't play well with others because it's constantly beating their asses into submission. Challenge Mode is a series of 40 specialized missions that have you playing through the game's 9 stages again, but with oftentimes insane objectives to complete. There is no life counter in Challenge mode, you either do it in one go or you start the fucker over and try again. Challenge Mode could easily be considered training wheels for the tougher areas of Normal and Hard modes as you'll learn valuable techniques here that can easily be brought over into the main game.

Here's a rundown of the different Challenge types you'll face while working your way through Challenge Mode:

Bad Guy Blitz - The most basic of the Challenges and probably the easiest set to complete. They play pretty much like the main game, only a lot of the time you'll be facing different enemies in different stages where their behavior might be quite different.

Rematch - The second most basic. These involve you fighting the bosses from the main game where the main challenge is to survive the fight without losing a life at all. These sometimes also feature the toughest part of a stage leading up to the boss to spice things up and some are automatically set to Hard mode.

Gunplay - These missions involve you playing through stages that are laid out quite normally, but you have new toys to play with that aren't in the regular game such as the old Contra 1 laser and a gun that shoots bursts of homing Vic Vipers. FUCKING VIC VIPER GUN FUCK YES YOU ARE THE COOLEST SHIT EVER!

Mutt Hunt - The Man-Faced Mutts from Contra III return and are stragecally placed in stages forcing you to play the stage a way you typically wouldn't since you have to dilly-dally around to make the mutts chase you. You have to eliminate them all or you fail, even if you make it to the end alive.

Time Attack - These challenges have you either defeating a certain number of enemies before time runs out or racing to the end of a section of a level under a strict time limit. Some of the more maddening challenges, no doubt, but intense as hell.

Accuracy - Using restraint in Contra might seem crazy at first, but becomes unbelievably fun with these challenges. Make it to the end making every shot possible count.

Low Ammo - You're given a pre-determined amount of shots that you can fire to clear a given area. Really forces you to think creatively on how you spend those precious few shots you're given.

Pacifism - No ammo for you. You can't fire in these challenges at all (you can glitch it though you fucking pillow-biting, mouth breathing pussies). It's all up to your dodging skill to make it through these.

Friendly Fire - These can prove to be the most maddening of the bunch. Idiot hostages idiotically running around like the idiots they are in the middle of an alien invasion. It's your job to find your way to the end eliminating only the targets necessary to advance without any of your shots damaging a civillian.

They're all seriously fun as hell. Just try them and I guarantee by the end of failing your third or fourth try, you'll be mashing the button to try again to try out some new tactics.

Challenge Mode isn't just some pretty dressing to add cheap replay value though. All of the game's content is unlocked by beating Challenges. For every 4 Challenges you beat, you get one new unlockable which can include NES Contra and Super C, new characters to play around with, interviews, and comics. This isn't cheap replay value, folks. There's a whole hell of a lot in this tiny package to keep you busy for quite a while. The emulation of the NES Contra games may be a bit of a turn-off for some as most of the sound got completely butchered and bullets are a bit hard to see no matter how you choose to fit the game to the screen, but they still play beautifully as they ever did. My only gripe is that they didn't use the Famicom version of Contra for the upgraded graphics and other small cosmetic bells and whistles.

Fucking Wrap It Up Already, God Damn!
Exhaustive review, ain't it? The bottom line is that though the game may be flawed by a lack of play testing, it's still one hell of a Contra experience. It may lack a little ambition and go a tad overboard in places with all the homages and throwbacks to the original games, but they're still done in excellent taste. WayForward has truly left their mark on a legendary series and I hope that next time around, whoever takes the helm has the sense to look at what these guys did and not gloss over their ideas.

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