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Contra 4

For: Mobile   Also on: DS

A contra-diction of styles

Product: Contra 4 | Publisher: Konami | Format: Mobile | Genre: Shooter | Players: 1 | Format: J2ME | File size: 561KB | Reviewed on: K800i other handsets | Version: Europe
Contra 4 Mobile, thumbnail 1
The thing is, there are so many retro games to choose from that you sometimes have to wonder how a games company decides which ones to tackle.

Contra was a decent enough game in 1987, but these days the side-on 2D platformer is more often a reminder of how far we’ve come rather than a successul genre of its own, and while some games have survived the transition with their dignity intact, Contra really isn’t one of them.

You see, this is essentially a reboot of the original with a few subtle tweaks here and there to give it a few pixels of 21st Century gaming. Not many, though.

A competition run in 2007 allowed the pocket gaming public to design a new character to replace Lance Bean (player 2 in the original) and to fight alongside techno-hero Bill Rizer. It really hasn’t made any difference to the gameplay, but it’s interesting to see the competition results in action.

An archipelago off the New Zealand coast is the landing point for an alien invasion in the near future, and it’s up to Bill and the all-new Solomon Caesar to thwart the aliens single handed.

You have several weapons to help you in the piffling human resistance, primarily being a gun and a grappling hook. Along the way more guns will come along, and if you’re quick enough on the keypad you can carry two different firearms at any one time - switching to the slot filled by the bog standard shooter before collecting your new gun in the heat of battle doesn’t often happen, but at least the option’s there.

The scenery is built from very basic platforms, but often you’ll find yourself facing an un-scalable wall, and it's here that the grappling hook comes in. All it really does is lift you straight up and onto the higher levels, and isn’t really put to very interesting use.

It’s interesting to think that only a year later Bionic Commando would come along, however, and put the grappling hook platform shooter genre on the gaming map.

Anyway, Contra 4 also suffers from a fiddly control system that does nothing to aid its longevity. Your character shoots continuously, which is fine, and the keypad works to aim his gun in eight directions. You’ll need to shoot at the diagonals a lot, but the problem is that Bill and Solomon also run as they shoot, so aiming at an enemy who can stand still while taking aim is irksome to the extreme.

The backgrounds do Contra 4 justice, though the foreground and characters are tiny and unimaginative. At no point does it ever really feel like a good, crunchy war - instead, it's more like the kind of quick massacre we’d actually expect if two rock hard bastards decided to take on an army all by themselves.

It’s not that Contra 4 is a bad conversion, but more that it’s a decent conversion of a game that’s not aged all that well. Even on a platform as limited as the mobile this feels like a coarse emulation of the NES title, with gameplay too shallow to carry a modern game much further than the first level.

Perhaps if you’re an ardent retro gamer with a particular affinity for Bill, Lance and the all-new Solomon, then Contra 4 could get by happily riding on the waves of nostalgia. But if you’re in the market for a hot action game, this is likely to feel way too tepid to please.
Contra 4
Reviewer photo
Spanner Spencer | 31 March 2009
A decent conversion of a lacklustre game that really hasn’t aged all that well. There are so many retro games to choose from, it’s hard to figure out quite why Konami felt like Contra was the strong choice
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