|By Zach Patterson||Saturday, 5 Apr 2008|
So I figured the worst person to extol the virtues of a Contra game of any sort would be myself. I’ve never been a big fan of the series in general, and I’m not of the mindset that when a game is difficult, I absolutely need to conquer it. No, I’d rather sigh and resign myself to slightly easier fare, or perhaps just crank down the difficulty a bit. I am not this “hard-core” gamer that my game collection and general interests would lead you to believe. And essentially, the Contra series doesn’t take it easy on you. It’s fucking hard, and it never apologizes for it. However, when I received Contra 4 as a Christmas gift, I took a deep breath and told myself I would get my money’s worth from it.
The game certainly keeps the tone and the spirit of the series alive and well. Beautifully animated 2D sprites, familiar settings from the first 3 games, great music evoking the spirit of the past games, tight controls, and of course, punishing difficulty. Even on Easy, it took me quite awhile to beat this game. In a way, the game is really like a father who is never satisfied with the accomplishments of his son, the player. Sure, I tried real hard and I finally beat Easy, but guess what? Contra 4 says “IT’S EASY. YOU DON’T GET TO SEE THE ENDING! TOO BAD. TRY NORMAL.” So I try Normal. And I try it again. And again. Well suffice to say as of this writing, I still haven’t beaten Normal. I get better at the game each time, and yet, the end result is Contra 4 telling me it wasn’t good enough. Thanks Dad!
But this isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. The game isn’t unfairly hard, and to its credit, the game is hard, but rewards you for finding patterns and exploiting them. The game is about memorization and split second reflexes, no doubt about it, but it certainly isn’t a cheap game. Additionally, perhaps the greatest inclusion in the game is the Challenges. These are short level based objectives that range from speed attacks to killing “man-faced mutts” to low ammo runs. Most of them are quite challenging (and frustrating at times), but the great thing about them is that they are an easy way to practice certain levels and become better at them. And because they are reasonably short challenges, you never feel like its a huge time investment to play the game. You can pick it up and try a challenge for a few minutes and then come back to it later. As you unlock more challenges, they get harder and harder, but they also yield some nice goodies. The bonus content in the game is spectacular, including extra characters, comics, and even extra games. Adding this stuff is a nice bonus, but also a great incentive to keep playing, and much appreciated that WayForward went the extra mile to include all this stuff.
The actual game itself plays very similar to the original Contra, with cues from both Super C and Contra III. You get your traditional side scrolling levels, and then the psuedo-3D base levels. Many of the bosses are direct references to old ones or take cues from others, and are simply big, bad, and entertaining. The characters, from the hero to the baddies to the bosses, are all very well animated as well, and it is refreshing to have such a wonderful-looking 2D sprite based game. It’s very faithful to where Contra III’s graphic style left off.
The music is done by your friend and ours, Jake Kaufman, aka virt. For those that know him and his music, it pretty much means that it’s the best thing ever. All the music sounds incredibly faithful to the original games while creating largely its own identity. It’s energetic, moody, metal, epic…everything that Contra music should be. The game itself is great, but the music (and by extension, the sound effects and macho norg-voiced voice-overs) really gives the game an identity.
Contra 4 is really a case of me not particularly being great at a game, but at the same time recognizing that it is a fantastic product that has had a lot of time and care put into it. It’s fun and frustrating, it’s gripping and angering…it’s Contra. The developers nailed the feel of a series that is known for its diehard fans and has successfully given them a sequel to live up to the name. If you want a great action game that is sure to give you a lot of replay and extras, you can’t go wrong here.