We went hands-on with Contra 4 at E3, and Konami had to pry us away from the DS to get us to move on...
Contra 4 is goddamn awesome. It's unapologetically tough, and it isn't going to win any awards for its uncomplicated 2D graphics, and it doesn't do much to progress the Contra formula, but who cares? If this were a franchise like Mega Man, and I were playing the 17th sequel to not do much to reinvent the formula... I might not be giving the game such a pass. But the fact is I've been waiting for a long, long time for a pure, balls-out 2D Contra sequel. It's one of those things that as a hardcore gamer you always secretly wish will happen, but you assume is an impossibility given the realities of today's gaming market.
Konami apparently said to hell with "market realities" and made Contra the game I would have made, if I were given the team, the money, and told not to worry about sales potential.
In the demo I played you only got three lives. I played with a group of other journalists, and went first. I made it (I'm guessing) about halfway through the first level before losing all my lives. Embarrassed at my performance, I passed the DS. The rest of the journos I was with (who shall remain nameless) lasted about 30-60 seconds. So... that made me feel good.
The first level is very reminiscent of the beginning jungle level from Contra 1. There's exploding bridges, wading through a river on the low ground, everything you'd expect. Many of the same power-ups are present. Spread gun, rapid-fire gun, laser, bazooka, etc. And of course, if you tough an enemy, you lose a life. This is serious oldschool business.
Just about the only addition (besides two screens of real estate for baddies to hide in) is the grappling hook, which fits right into Contra's simple, zen-like run 'n gun action. Certain clearly-marked surfaces can be grappled onto, and hitting X when underneath them then propels the hook upwards, giving you access to hire ground. It's simple and uncomplicated, just like Contra's always been. Jump, shoot, grapple. That's all you need to know.
Konami reps stated that the final game would have 2-player ad-hoc co-op, and nine levels total - six 2D run 'n gun levels, and three pseudo-3D "tunnel" levels, and a remix of the original Contra tunes (there was no music in the demo).
I'm as big a fan of the DS's touch-screen innovations as anyone (really), but the fact that this shooter is just pure twitch action, without any touch-screen or microphone complications makes me a very happy gamer. All indications point to this one being a must-own for anyone who has ever enjoyed 2D goodness in their life.