Though Contra might be a relatively short game, it sure doesn't skimp on the extras. This year is Contra's 20th anniversary, and in celebration of that fact, the game comes with a ton of extra content. Granted, you can't get too much of it until you unlock the challenge mode (which you can do by beating the game on any difficulty level, including easy mode) and start beating the game's challenges. These are all stand-alone level pieces that task you with everything from surviving an enemy onslaught to getting from one end of a level to the other without the aid of a gun. Easier said than done. But once you do get a few challenges completed, you'll unlock everything from additional characters and developer interviews to playable NES versions of Contra and Super C.
The only real bummer about those unlockable titles is that they don't come with multiplayer functionality. Contra was always a better game when you had both a blue and a red guy onscreen shooting at once. Without that, these older titles lose a bit of their appeal--not all of it, of course, but some. Contra 4, fortunately, does include multiplayer for two players, and that is, in fact, awesome. The only disappointment is that it's only for multicard play--no download option.
The gameplay is mostly straight up, no-nonsense Contra style shooting with few wrinkles in the formula, but old-school fans will feel right at home.
Contra 4 might not be one of the more immediately striking DS games you'll ever see, but while the game might mostly just look like a 16-bit game on heavy doses of performance-enhancing drugs, there's a lot of eye candy to be found the deeper you go into it. Whether it's the cool-looking backgrounds or the absolutely crazy-looking bosses, at nearly every turn, there is one impressive visual moment or another. The only real bummer is that periodically, the separation between the two screens causes some issues, like bullets you can't really see popping onto whichever screen you happen to be occupying. Audio is also quite enjoyable, from the "inspired by the classics" soundtrack to the goofily fantastic voice samples from the various heroes, such as "Lock and load!" or "Let's party!"
It's possible that Contra 4 might have benefited from a few updates to the design formula and maybe a drop in the difficulty by a half-notch or so, but those quibbles aside, the fact remains that Contra 4 is great at being a Contra game. There is no pretense here about the game being anything but an intensely difficult shooter, as well as a great piece of fan service, and it delivers on that promise. Contra fans and shooter fans in general would do well to pick this one up. It's a blast.