Contra 4 was developed by WayForward Technologies and published by Konami for the Nintendo DS in 2007. It is a direct sequel to Contra III on the SNES, made in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Contra series.
The main game unfolds in Arcade Mode, which can be played at three different difficulty settings (easy, normal, and hard). In easy mode you don’t get access to the final two stages or the ending. In hard mode the ending and musical scores are different to those in normal mode. A second play mode, called Challenge Mode, unlocks after completing Arcade Mode on any difficulty setting. It features forty different challenges where the player must complete various tasks within Arcade Mode levels. There’s also a multiplayer mode where you can play cooperatively with friends over wifi (although I’m not sure if this still works or not).
There’s a character select, where you can choose between four playable characters: Bill Rizer, Lance Bean, Mad Dog, and Scorpion, and there’s also a Bonus Content menu which features a brief visual history of the Contra series.
The storyline is simple: you must defeat “Black Viper“, which has begun launching attacks against the human race, by blasting the hell out of everything and avoiding the multitude of hazards thrown at you.
Contra 4 features side-scrolling run-and-gun gameplay similar to Contra III, with each character able to jump and shoot, and also with a new grapple hook ability that allows them to latch onto railings, so that they can move from one screen to another. You pick up power-ups to change weapons, and can collect the same power-up twice to further enhance their destructive power. There are also tunnel stages, similar to those in the original Contra, where the characters shoot into the screen and the camera is placed behind them.
Contra 4 has gorgeous graphics and compulsive gameplay, although it wouldn’t be unfair to say that the game is pretty damn tough on normal difficulty. The addition of the grapple hook also gives it an added dimension, although it doesn’t appear that you can throw it diagonally – only upwards – and you can’t swing on it like in Bionic Commando, which is a little disappointing.
The way the DS‘s dual screens have been used is also commendable, giving Contra 4 the feel of a vertical screen shooter (like the original, and the first sequel, Super Contra).
If there are any downsides I would say that the soundtrack is not really my cup of tea, being too jaunty for my liking (I would’ve preferred something a bit more atmospheric and threatening), and the game isn’t as spectacular, gritty and hard-hitting as Contra III, in my opinion. Another disappointment is that – although the game does show you your current score during intermissions – it doesn’t display it on-screen during the game, and there doesn’t appear to be a high score table, which I found to be quite puzzling. A game like this should make more of the highest scores and at least show your current score on-screen during play. That said: Contra 4 is well worth a play if you can find a copy – especially if you’re a fan of the Contra series.
More: Contra 4 on Wikipedia