PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Contra 4

Arun Subramanian

Games like Contra presented a sort of difficulty that, while extremely demanding, was what offered those games longevity to begin with.

Publisher: Konami
Genres: Action
Price: $29.99
Multimedia: Contra 4
Platforms: Nintendo DS
Number of players: 1-2
ESRB rating: Teen
Developer: WayForward
US release date: 2007-11-13
Amazon affiliate
Developer website

Contra 4 serves as an homage to the Contra franchise as a whole, as well as a reminder of a time when the difficulty of a game was borne more of memorization and reflexes than of complex control schemes and open-ended level design. While it probably won't be appealing to casual game fans or those gamers that don't remember anything before the PlayStation, it clearly wasn't intended for those players to begin with. Aside from being an extremely difficult Contra game in its own right, it also contains two other classic games from the series, as well as a host of other unlockable content intended to make the package serve as an anniversary presentation of the franchise as a whole.

The game is anachronistically unforgiving, and like many games from the era of the original Contra, much of its replayability stems from its difficulty. Games of that time were able to be slowly mastered through repeated play and lighting-fast finger speeds. The chances of making it through one of those games without dying on the first play-through were slim to none. Titles like Ghosts and Goblins and Ninja Gaiden, then, presented a sort of difficulty that, while extremely demanding, was what offered those games longevity to begin with.

Given that Contra 4 so adoringly tries to recreate the experience of the first few games in the series, analyzing the design can really only be done insofar as discussing whether or not it still holds up in the current gaming landscape. The thing is, many games of that era do hold up, simply due to the fact that without the technological ability for the games to be long or the graphics photorealistic, focus was necessarily placed on the fundamentals of game design. Contra 4 excels, then, by using a tried and true formula, proving that that formula is not yet obsolete in this day and age.

Another point this brings up is in the appropriation of classic properties and characters into new game types. By and large, and with the notable example of the first-party Nintendo franchises, the transition of classic games to new, three-dimensional presentations has been a rather rocky road. Contra itself has seen more than its fair share of stumbles. As such, it's refreshing, as a fan, to see another installment in what is likely the original vision of the game.

Explosions, giant bugs, and power-ups with wings. It's
definitely Contra!

Multiplayer is really where the Contra games shine, and Contra 4 is no exception. Being able to coordinate with a friend, having them cover one part of the screen while you cover another is invaluable. Power-ups are either haggled over or divided equitably. And once a player runs out of lives, they can steal one from the surviving member of the team, either with or without consent. It's unfortunate that multiplayer was excluded from the unlockable ports of Contra and Super C, since they were certainly made more fun with another player as well.

One of the only strikes against Contra 4 has to do entirely with the platform it's on. Because of the gap between the screens on the Nintendo DS, it can be very difficult to be constantly aware of bullets that need to be avoided. Tracking them between the screens while trying to survive the already hectic gameplay is a burden that should not have to be shouldered. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a good way around it. Given the nature of Contra, it certainly couldn't have used an additional screen for a map or tacked-on touch screen controls or anything. Still, it does have a negative impact on the gameplay.

It will be interesting to see if the games industry is starting to run out of classics to update or revive, in the same way that the comic book industry is clearly starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel as it continues its foray into Hollywood. There are a few properties that seem ripe for such treatment, but if Contra represents a gaming formula that still bears entertaining fruit 20 years later, what properties are being developed now that will be able to do the same in the future? That question seems especially relevant given that we seem to be approaching some sort of asymptotic return as far as hardware is concerned. If the previous point about successful and entertaining games needing to have solid fundamental design given the limitations of the hardware holds true, it stands to reason that something similar will happen when graphics, for example, have gotten pretty close to as good as they're going to get. In any case, Contra as it existed then and as it exists now is a very challenging and entertaining experience.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.