One of the hugely anticipated Nintendo DS games is finally ready for its debut: Contra 4, what Konami's considering the "true" follow-up to the 8 and 16-bit designs, is prepping for its November release. The publisher sent us an early version of the game so we can get our thumbs ready for the fight when it ships in just a few week's time.
It's pretty obvious that the Nintendo DS is the only current generation system that can get away with the presentation and design that Way Forward created for Contra: it's strictly a 2D affair that harkens back to the days of the arcade, NES, and Super NES Contra games. Put Contra on the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 and gamers would expect mindblowing 3D gameplay and effects, extensive voice acting, and anything else that budgets would allow. But for Nintendo DS, back to basics actually works.
Contra 4 is, literally, a true-to-life follow-up to Super NES. It's an over-adrenalized shooter platformer with tons of bad guys to blast and even more bullets to avoid. It's as if the game really does pick up where the Super Nintendo version left off. Apart from the increased color depth Contra 4 looks and sounds like it was lifted right out of the 16-bit era, with tremendously difficult, challenging, almost unforgiving gameplay to match.
The Super NES design has been updated with a few key elements. Weapons now have a multitier system: snag a power-up that's the same that you're currently wielding and it'll upgrade it to a more powerful version. Already have a cool weapon in-hand? Tap the shoulder button and switch over to the second weapon slot. You can switch back and forth between the two weapons on-the-fly, but you lose the current weapon if you take a hit; the other weapon stays in your inventory until it's brought to the surface and you lose that life as well.
On top of all this, your character now has a limited grapple system. It's not as versatile an item as the one that Bionic Commando utilizes, but it's enough to grasp onto platforms high above and pull yourself up out of the fire and onto higher ground. The first level shows off how the level designers utilize the mechanic to snag some really powerful weapons: a Homing Missile power-up is down below a ledge with a bottomless, instant death pit below it
but a grappleable ledge above. You'll need to shoot the power-up, leap down to snag it, and before you disappear off the bottom of the screen, throw the grapple up to jump back up out of harm's way. Pretty brilliant way to try players' skills.
The final game promises tons of unlockables, including Contra and its sequel Super C fully emulated and playable on the Nintendo DS. Our version of the game already has a "Museum" opened where you can check out release dates and box art of all the games released in the Contra series.
The thing is, even on Normal difficulty, Contra 4 is brutal. It'll take a dozen tries at least to get through the first level and defeat the boss, and by then you'll be down too many continues to get through the rest of the insanely difficult challenges. Don't think for a second that this game will be a cakewalk to plow through - it took us an hour of practice to snag a somewhat clean runthough of Level One in video. Check 'em out below. We'll have full review of this impressive sequel when it ships this November.
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