North American boxart
|Release date(s)||Nintendo DS
|Genre(s)||Run and gun|
Contra 4 (魂斗羅 デュアルスピリッツ (Kontora De~yuaru Supirittsu, Contra: Dual Spirits'?). is a 2D action game for the Nintendo DS and the eleventh original installment in the Contra series. The game was released in North America on November 13, 2007. Contra 4 was produced by Konami Digital Entertainment in America and developed by WayForward Technologies, making it the first Contra game developed by them, as well as the first original Contra game for a portable platform since the 1991 Game Boy game Operation C. As the game's title indicates, Contra 4 was designed to be a direct sequel to the Contra games for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super NES (Contra, Super C, and Contra III: The Alien Wars), with a gameplay model similar to those games, and was also in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the original Contra.
The plot is set in 2638, two years after the events of Contra III: The Alien Wars and three years before the events of Contra: Hard Corps. With the Red Falcon alien threat defeated and Alien Wars finished, the Earth is peaceful once again. However, a similar alien entity calling itself Black Viper begins launching attacks against the human race, causing mass destruction over the planet. After strange readings are detected at the Galuga archipelago (the setting of the original Contra), the Earth Federation sends their four strongest Contra Force commandos on a final strike mission to destroy the Black Viper and its army of aliens, robots, and mutants.
The continuity of Contra 4 is based on the Japanese canon that was adapted into the English localization of series with the release of Contra: Shattered Soldier. However, the game's producers took a number of liberties with the established canon by integrating elements of the American localizations of the older games, thus fusing the two versions together. The alien Black Viper was originally mentioned only in the North American manual of Operation C, whereas the original plot of that game (released as simply "Contra" in Japan) was about an unnamed superpower creating new weapons using an alien cell. In the timeline presented in the manual and official website, the events of Operation C are interpreted as a previous mission of "Mad Dog" and "Scorpion" - two new characters created specifically for Contra 4, against the Black Viper. In actuality, "Mad Dog" and "Scorpion" were the names used for Bill and Lance for the North American NES games (see playable characters section for details). Additionally, Operation C was originally a solo mission of Lance Bean, aka Scorpion (as the game was one-player only).
Contra 4 is based on the same 2D gameplay system featured in the series through Contra III: The Alien Wars, ignoring many of the game mechanics introduced in later games such as the fixed weapon configurations in Contra: Shattered Soldier and Neo Contra, returning to the old method of picking up power-up icons to obtain new weapons. The play controls are similar to Contra III: The Alien Wars, including the ability to hold two weapons in inventory. The action spans both screens of the Nintendo DS system and a grappling hook can be used by the player's character to latch onto railings, allowing the player's character to move from one screen to the other. Similarly to the arcade version of Super Contra, the player can pick up the same power-up twice, giving them an improved version of the same weapon. The player can also discard a power-up, allowing them to try out a new weapon without losing a previous one.
In addition to the standard side view stages, there are also tunnel stages similar to the two "3D view" stages from the original Contra, in which the perspective shifts behind the character's back. The action in these stages is displayed solely on the upper screen, while the bottom screen is used to display the stage's map and the locations of power-ups. Other than using both screens, Contra 4 makes no usage of the DS' special features such as touch screen (besides navigating the main menu), microphone, or multiplayer modes.
Arcade Mode is the main portion of the game, which is composed of six standard stages and three tunnel stages, for a total of nine stages. The stages pay frequent homage to Contra, Super Contra (Super C on the NES), Operation C and Contra III: The Alien Wars. Three difficulty settings are available: easy, normal, and hard. Easy is intended to be accessible to novices by providing the player with plenty of lives and credits, as well as making all power-ups upgraded by default, but does not give the player access to the final two stages nor the ending. Normal is a moderate setting described to be "as difficult as the original Contra", whereas Hard features faster moving enemies and enemy fire, with fewer lives. Hard mode also features a different ending from Normal.
After completing the main game (Arcade Mode) once on any difficulty setting, a Challenge Mode will be made available in the main menu. This game mode is composed of forty different challenges in which the player must complete various tasks within the side-scrolling stages of Arcade Mode.
The player's default weapon is a single-fire rifle similar to the first two Contra games, as opposed to the autofire machine gun that became standard with Operation C and Contra III; The Alien Wars. The player can upgrade to the machine gun or any of the other following weapons, by picking up the letter-based falcon icons hidden in flying capsules or on sensors of the wall (enemies in the base stages will also drop weapons). Picking up the same power-up twice will yield the player an upgraded version of the same weapon. In Easy mode, all weapons are upgraded by default. Along with Contra III: The Alien Wars, Contra 4 also stopped using the 'R' powerup, which boosted speed of the current weapon. As introduced by Contra III: The Alien Wars, Contra 4 also had two weapon slots, from which only the currently being used weapon disappeared if the player died.
Contra 4 features the return of the original Contra duo, Bill Rizer and Lance Bean, who were last seen fighting together side-by-side in Contra III: The Alien Wars. Two original characters were also introduced named Mad Dog and Scorpion. Created just for this game, the characters take their names from the American localizations of Contra and Super C for the NES in which Bill and Lance were given the nicknames Mad Dog and Scorpion respectively. This is justified by portraying "Mad Dog" and "Scorpion" (the new characters) as having fought against Black Viper in the past (particularly during the events of Operation C), although this revision is not taken into account in the Japanese localization of the game. There are no differences in terms of gameplay or ability between the four main characters, as they all use the same character sprite with a different color pattern for each. Bill and Lance are depicted wearing blue and red respectively, their colors from the NES versions, while Mad Dog and Scorpion wear green and purple, the colors Bill and Lance wear in the arcade version of Super Contra. In addition to the four main characters, there are also five hidden characters that are unlocked after completing certain numbers of missions in Challenge Mode. They include the Probotector, who is based on the robot characters RD008 and RC011 that replaced Bill and Lance in the PAL versions of the Contra games for the NES and Super NES; Lucia, a female cyborg who first appears as the secondary playable character in Contra: Shattered Soldier, taking Lance's place as Bill's partner-in-arms; Sheena Etranzi, the female soldier from Contra: Hard Corps; and Jimbo and Sully, the sprite renditions of Bill and Lance respectively as seen in Contra III: The Alien Wars.
In addition to the main game, Contra 4 contains a slew of extra features under "Bonus Content" in the main menu. The game begins with the "Museum" already available, but other contents are unlocked by completing the stages in "Challenge Mode". The bonus content are as followed:
- Classic Contra - Emulates the original ROMs of Contra and Super C for the NES. Both games can be played with the original resolution or fit to the DS' screen. These two games cannot be played with another player via ad hoc, which means they are one player only.
- Museum - The museum is a virtual gallery containing packaging artwork (both, domestic and overseas versions) and screen shots of all previous Contra games, as well as the regional titles for each game (although, the Japanese title of the arcade version of Contra is incorrectly listed as Gryzor). There's also an unlockable section containing assorted illustrations and promotional materials from the series, including conceptual artwork.
- Comic Books - There are two unlockable comic books in the game. The first is an adaptation of Contra III: The Alien Wars by illustrator Atsushi Tsujimoto and written by Nobuya Nakazato, which was originally published in 2002 in the official Contra: Shattered Soldier website. The second is an adaptation of Contra 4 also illustrated by Tsujimoto and written by producer Tomm Hulett, which was created specifically for this game.
- Sound Test - Listen to the game's music and audio score.
- Interview - An interview with Nobuya Nakazato (the director of Contra III: The Alien Wars, Contra: Hard Corps and Contra: Shattered Soldier, as well as the producer of Neo Contra) detailing his involvement with the series.
The music and sound effects were handled by famed videogame music remixer Jake Kaufman, who also composed for Shantae and founded the game music remix site VGMix. The soundtrack consists of a few arrangements of music from previous Contra games as well as a lot of new material. When Arcade Mode is played on the Hard setting, an arranged version of the Jungle theme from the original Contra is played instead of the standard stage music. The standard Jungle theme is actually an enhanced version of a "Contra style" chiptune song previously posted on Kaufman's website, called "Vile Red Falcon."
A soundtrack CD has been announced by Konami to be bundled in the first print of the Japanese release of Contra: Dual Spirits, as a gift for preorders through the KonamiStyle shop. This deal is only available for Japanese residents. In addition to the music found in the game, a 4-minute live performance of the "Harbor" song is included as a bonus track. The song is performed by The Smash Bros, Jake Kaufman's video game tribute band.
Contra 4 received positive reviews from critics, scoring an 83 out of 100 on Metacritic. Contra 4 has been hailed as a rebirth of the Contra franchise, returning the gameplay to the classic roots of the series. It has garnered multiple awards including IGN's "Best Action Game" and "Best Revival" of 2007, Gamespy's 7th best game of 2007, and one of Gaming Target's "52 Games We'll Still Be Playing From 2007". GamesRadar named Contra 4 the 22nd best DS game of all time out of a list of 25.
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- DS - Best Action Game of 2007 - IGN
- DS - Best Revival of 2007 - IGN
- DS - 7th Best Game of 2007 - Gamespy
- 52 Games We'll Still Be Playing From 2007 selection - Gaming Target
- GamesRadar Staff (September 15, 2012). "Best DS Games". GamesRadar. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
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