While it may say "Contra 4" right on the front of the box, this is actually the eleventh game to bear the Contra name. Released in November 2007, the game was published by Konami and developed by a US-based studio called WayForward Technologies, making Contra 4 the first US-produced Contra game since C: The Contra Adventure was released in 1998. The game was released in Japan in March 2008 as Contra: Dual Spirits.
Contra 4 ignores most of the games to bear the Contra name and takes things back to basics with a difficult, action-packed side-scrolling shooter, similar to Contra III: The Alien Wars. Weapons are acquired by grabbing power-ups dropped during battle and weapons can be upgraded by collecting multiple power-ups of the same type. A grappling hook feature puts both DS screens into play by letting players grapple from one screen to the other.
Contra 4's story is set in the year 2638, two years after Contra III. In the game, an alien creature called Black Viper attacks Earth. As it continues attacking and killing Earth's inhabitants, four commandos are sent to the Galuga archipelago, where the Earth Federation has picked up strange readings that they believe are linked to Black Viper.
Contra 4 includes a number of unlockable characters from older entries in the series, including Jimbo, Sully, Lucia, Sheena Etranzi and even Probotector, who is the character that represents the series in Europe. Classics like Bill Rizer, Lance Bean, Mad Dog and Scorpion are all available without the need to unlock them.
Jimbo and Sully are easier to use than all other characters because of their smaller sprites, which makes them harder to hit.
Multiplayer allows two players to advance through arcade mode co-cop style. Two cards are required.
B - Jump
X - Grapple
A - Drop Current Weapon
Y - Shoot
R - Become stationary
L - Switch current weapon to secondary weapon
Quick Drop - Control Pad downwards and press the B button to drop to a lower level.
Climbing and running are both handled with the d-pad.
Start pauses the game at any time.
One of the reasons Contra is so noticeable is because of its insane level of difficulty. In Contra 4, the title has 3 difficulty modes as opposed to 1. They are:
- Easy (10 lives, 5 continues, 7 stages, slow bullets/enemies, weapons come upgraded. A button is obsolete).
- Normal (5 lives, 4 continues, 9 stages, moderately quick bullets/enemies).
- Hard (3 lives, 3 continues, 9 stages, quick bullets/enemies). This is what previous Contras were like, excluding new content like the drop weapons button (A).
There are 9 stages in Contra 4, each one unique from the rest. Some, like the jungle, were originally in previous games of the franchise.
- Jungle (level 1) (originally level 1 in Contra)
- Laboratory (level 2) (waterfall area originally level 2 in Contra)
- Base (level 3) (corridor level)
- Harbor (level 4)
- Ocean (level 5) (special controls, character is riding a water bike)
- Factory (level 6) (corridor level)
- City (level 7)
- Alien Hive ((level 8) (corridor level)
- Harvest Yard (level 9)
Corridor levels are in 3D, while all others are in 2D.
- Rapid - Standard pea shooter. Extremely weak, which is why one death can lead to another soon after (after death, players lose their selected weapon).
- Crush - Missiles with a very short range but ultimately deal heavy damage. Upgraded form is the same with a longer range and deals slightly more damage.
- Flame - While version one is a poor boomerang, the only redeeming quality of which is that its better than Rapid, the upgraded version deals heavy damage and even deals splash damage after hitting enemies.
- Homing - Relatively weak missiles that seek after opponents one at a time, allowing players to lazily avoid aiming. Its upgraded form has 3 missiles for ever shot.
- Laser - Relatively fast and relatively strong, the laser cuts past enemies, its only problem being its think range. The upgraded form is stronger, faster, and wider.
- Machine Guns - Fast and easily deals heavy damage in short amounts of time. Level 2 has an extremely wide range and deals double the fun.
- Spread shot - Three bullets that fire from the Contra's gun - five if upgraded to level 2. Good for having such a wide range.
- Barrier - Protects and destroys enemies on contact. Rare.
- Smart Bomb - Kills everything on screen. Extremely rare, but extremely useful.
It wouldn't be a 20 year anniversary without enough nostalgic bonuses, and in Contra 4 there are plenty.
Challenge Mode - Unlocked by beating the game on easy, Challenge Mode is made up of 40 different, short challenges, with mission goals from beating a boss to getting to a certain area on a short time limit. This is the only way to unlock the rest of Contra 4's unlockables.
Contra (Conquer 4 challenges) - This is the original Contra in every way, Konami code and all. Unfortunately, "multiplayer" is just one player mode with a brain-dead doppelganger following the player's every move.
Super C (Conquer 8 challenges) - Its Super C n every way — except for the broken multiplayer.
Probotector (Conquer 12 challenges) - Everyone in the UK loves Probotector; now Contra fans in the U.S. can too. He's no different from any of the 4 Contra guys, but he does have 3 different color palettes.
Lucia (Conquer 20 challenges) - This hottie cyborg isn't any different from anyone else unlockable thus far in, but fans looking for nostalgia will get what they ordered. 3 varying color palettes.
Contra III Comic (Conquer 24 challenges) - A promotional comic for Contra III, the last 'real' entry in the series before Contra 4. Again, nostalgia at its finest.
Sheena Etranzi (Conquer 28 challenges) - Best known for being the first female character in the franchise, Sheena is another notalgia machine with 3 different color palettes.
Contra IV Comic (Conquer 32 challenges) - A promotional comic for Contra 4, ending at the rocket launch in the harbor.
Jimbo and Sully (Conquer 36 challenges) - Smaller (hence better) than all of the other characters in the game, Jimbo and Sully sport two color palettes each, so that they can look like any of the 4 Contra guys available from the beginning — Bill, Lance, Mad Dog or Scorpion.
Extras Museum and Sound Gallery (Conquer all challenges) - The Extras museum is full of artwork and promotional posters, while the Sound gallery lives up to its name — every song from the game is available, along with sound effects.
In-Depth on Challenge Mode
There are a few different challenges to take in challenge mode. Initially, there's a small number of options, but more open up as others are completed. In each challenge the player starts out with one level one spread and one live. These are all of the challenges throughout challenge mode:
- Bad Guy Blitz (6) - Go through a small stage.
- Pacifism (4) - Go through a stage without the use of a weapon (0 ammo).
- Mutt Hunt (5) - Go through a stage and kill all man mutts in each one.
- Gunplay (4) - Go through a stage with an old-school weapon from the original Contra.
- Rematch (5) - Face a boss from the game.
- Speed Run (6) - Go through a small stage in an extremely small amount of time.
- Accuracy (3) - Go through a small stage and get at least __% accuracy or higher.
- Low Ammo (3) - Go through a stage with a small amount of ammo.
- Friendly Fire (4) - Go through a stage without harming the hostages.
Before conquering challenge mode and unlocking more of the museum, the Museum has quite a few descriptions and screenshots of past Contra titles. These are available from the beginning. The titles are Contra, Super Contra, Super C, Operation C, Contra Force, Contra III: The Alien Wars, Contra: Hard Corps, Contra: Legacy of War, C: The Contra Adventure, Contra: Shattered Soldier and Neo Soldier.
Contra 4's soundtrack was handled by Virt, a freelance game music composer best known for work on titles like Scurge: Hive and GBA titles. Some of the soundtracks were completely original, while others were remixed tunes of tracks from older Contras. The soundtrack is made up of 27 songs and 135 sound effects, all unlockable in 'Sound Test' mode.
Contra 4 was generally well received. It has a 83% on Metacritic and 84% on Gamerankings. Sources generally found that its sole problem (other than difficulty, which some thought was refreshing while others felt it was unnecessary) was the area between the two screens, which was treated as though there was actually space the player could see. Overall, it was received as a good way to revive a franchise, even if others felt the system was outdated.