Players: 1 to 2 Player Game | Genre: Action
It seems like ever since the Contra series went 3D, it just hasn’t been the same. The two PSOne games were horrible, and while Contra: Shattered Soldier proved to be a solid experience, there still seemed to be some element of the original NES games that was missing. Perhaps for that reason, many fans of the classic titles see Contra 4 as not just a return to form, but a return to grace.
In particular, the game’s title has not gone unnoticed by the gamer community, who interpret it as a way of dismissing all of the games bearing the Contra name since Contra 3. Putting a “4” in the title of this installment seems to say, “forget all of those other games, this is the real continuation of the series”. The folks at Konami balk at this insinuation, stating that the choice in title refers to the game’s story, which is a direct continuation of the first three games. Riiiiight, the story… because that’s why we all played these games on the NES, right?
Take it how you will, but the comparisons to the series’ first three installments are unavoidable – the graphics are comparable in style to Contra and its sequel, Super C (albeit prettier, more detailed and featuring occasional 3D enhancements here and there), the weapons and weapon system seem straight out of Contra 3, and players even grab onto railings overhead in a manner similar to Contra 3, albeit with an added twist – a new grappling hook.
While people immediately think of another 8-bit classic, Bionic Commando, the grappling hook doesn’t really function like it does in that title. Players can only grapple straight up, and only onto surfaces specifically meant to be grappled on – specifically, those aforementioned overhead bars. While this lack of versatility may seem like an oversight, the game’s designers assure me that it was very intentional, and it works into a very deliberate design philosophy that has been important in the game’s development.
The gameplay takes place on both screens, with players jumping back and forth between the two. However, titles that have done this in the past have often run into troubles caused by the gap between the DS’s screens, where you can’t see what’s going on. Because of this, the game’s levels are designed in a manner where you spend as little time as possible near that area of the screens, and the grappling hook was created as a tool to allow gamers to zip up to the top screen in specific places without dawdling in that “no man’s land” gap. Disallowing players to grapple on to any surface also allowed the developers to control the lines through the level, keeping players from zipping up to the top just to avoid a difficult spot they’re meant to get through on the bottom.
Don’t be fooled by all these changes – even with the grappling hook, the occasional 3D, and even the new development staff entirely situated in the US, this is still a Contra title very much in the vein of the classics, with favorite weapons making a return (including the beloved spread gun), and even the classic difficulty (life bars? Bah! Who needs em?). Also making a return are the overhead levels, 2-player co-op, and even a few of the classic bosses, like those big mechanical walls that players had to bust through in the NES games. In addition, the game’s designers have thrown in some inventive new bosses, including a sea snake that fights you as you ride on a sort of motorboat on the top screen, and then submerges as you watch it swim around on the bottom screen.
Is it safe to say that the disappointment in all those 3D Contra games is a thing of the past? Well, it’s not a done deal just yet, but what we played at E3 was very promising, and if it’s any indication, this game should please everyone that’s been waiting for a “true” sequel to the classic Contra games, as well as those that just want a great action platformer. You know, like they used to make in the good ol’ days.
The game looks pretty far along, and it's shaping up pretty well, so hopefully that bodes well for a bright future of alien-blasting.