Contra's back, and this time it's on the Nintendo DS. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the original Contra game, Konami has commissioned the developer Way Forward to create an entirely new adventure in the Contra universe. As an appropriate way to celebrate the milestone, though, the game is heading back to the 2D, side-scrolling action that made it famous in the first place.
If you've ever played a classic NES Contra game--perhaps on the Xbox Live Marketplace, where the original game was recently rereleased--you'll be instantly familiar with the action in Contra 4. There's not much of a story to relate: you're dropped into a hostile action zone and expected to fight your way through wave upon wave of enemies, including aliens, robots, and the occasional boss monster, until you finally manage to defeat the end boss.
Purists will enjoy the classic action on hand here, as your movements and the action are spot-on recreations of the classic eight-way shooting that was on hand in the original game. They'll also love the fact that the game is shaping up to be rather difficult. We were warned that the game's default difficulty is going to be tweaked so that it's a bit easier than what was on display here--which is probably a good thing, since we managed to blow through our initial four lives in less than a minute, even after we had been practicing a bit. Neither we nor the Konami employee giving us the demo were able to proceed far enough to fight the first boss, so players looking for a challenge will be pleased by Contra 4, although, again, players of less than godly skills will hopefully still be able to compete due to a difficulty readjustment that will occur before the game ships. (And yes, we tried the Konami code, which did nothing--at least not in this early build of the game.)
The more advanced features of the DS are somewhat purposely not supported in Contra 4. There's no touch-screen elements to the game at all, for instance, which Konami describes as a rather obvious choice, given their desire to create an homage to the original games. Everything is controlled with the directional pad and the face buttons, with the shoulder pads controlling some optional abilities. One of the small upgrades to the game's battle system is the ability to hold two weapons at the same time and flip between them depending on which one you'd rather use, so you no longer have to make that tough choice between the lasers and the spread weapon.
The dual screens do come into play during the game, however, as it's possible to jump up onto platforms on the upper screen, or use the new grappling hook to latch onto metal grilles above you and move around. You can also shoot between screens, as well, which makes for some interesting choices, as you're able to drop down to the lower screen and fire upward at a tough enemy that isn't able to fire back at you. With two screens of enemies, though, it's much tougher to keep track of everything that's happening, so you have to be fully aware of your surroundings at all times if you want to live.
In addition to a challenging single-player mode, aspiring alien fighters will be able to team up in two-player local co-op. We didn't get a chance to play around with that, although the advent of dual-screen gaming would seem to make this an even more expansive feature than it's been in past Contra games. We won't have to wait long to find out, however, as Contra 4 should be hitting a Nintendo DS near you this fall.