A thoroughly engaging, insanely challenging run-and-gun shooter that earns its place amongst its legendary foundations.

User Rating: 9 | Contra 4 DS
I hope you're ready for a beating, because Contra 4's going to knock you stupid. It's every bit as challenging and fun to play as its forebearers, returning the franchise to its core roots while optimizing all the action on the Nintendo DS' dual-screens. It may not be for everybody, but for cocky gamers who have any shred of a masochistic attitude--Contra 4 is right up your tailpipe.

The game is composed of nine levels--ranging from familiar locales like the jungles to the more grotesque offerings like the harvest yard. The controls take some time to get used to on the Nintendo DS as they weren't necessarily built around high-octane, bullet hell run-and-gun shooters, but for the most part, they work well to your liking. You can shoot in eight directions and use the shoulder buttons to switch between two weapons or stand in one place for stationary aiming. (There's no strafing, unfortunately--seriously, they need to get with it) You can also throw a grappling hook to latch on to overhead monkey bars --a useful tool when navigating around stages that take up both of the DS' screens. The 3D stages from the first game make their return here as well--updated handsomely by the DS' impressive 3D capabilities.

Don't think for a second that Contra 4 will go easy on you just because it's on a family-friendly portable system--like all the Contras before it, it is a cruel and unforgiving exercise of endurance, acute awareness, dodging an ungodly amount of bullets and spamming that fire button until your thumb falls off. Because the action takes up both screens, you need to constantly be aware of enemies seen and unseen--which is about as easy as it sounds. Awareness heavily relies on watching both the top and bottom screens so as not to be stupidly killed by a wayward bullet you didn't see coming. Keep your eyes peeled as Lance Bean would say (hint: Super Contra's opening sequence) Boss fights also tend to be fairly huge in size and scope--even the familiar, multi-tiered fortress of Contras past has been given a not-so-welcoming update. And lest you forget--just as it was in earlier games, one hit and you're dead. Of course, seeing how you claim to be a Contra god and all, this sort of thing shouldn't bother you, yes?

The game also features a host of bonus content that are earned by completing as many as 40 challenges in Challenge Mode---unlocked after finishing the game once regardless of difficulty. They're a lot of fun and add enormously to the game. Some of the tasks are easy-peasy, some not so much, others built for the sadistic purpose of humiliation. They aren't impossible to beat by any means--practice is just as much key as is a sharp can-do attitude and unwillingness to give up. If at first you don't succeed, keep trying. Play the rest of your short life if you must. Trust me--the rewards you earn (i.e., playable characters like Probotector, Sheena, and Lucia--the original NES ports of Contra and Super C--bragging rights) are totally worth it!

I've loved Contra since I was a kid and, even though I'm nowhere near close to being a Contra god, I'm in it for the fun, and Contra 4 definitely delivers on that and so much more. The Nintendo DS needs games like this. That said, whether or not you're a Contra fan, give this game a shot, but come locked and loaded.