Contra 4 (DS)
As a longtime fan of classic side-scrolling shooters, I was definitely excited upon seeing the first screens of Contra 4 on the DS. It featured an unmistakably old-school graphic style, and looked like a true successor to the original NES and SNES titles.
Now that I've played it, I remember one crucial aspect of the series it's hard. Damn hard. Even playing on the easiest setting, I was constantly dying level after level. Like the older games, bullets and other projectiles are constantly flying at your soldier, and one single hit will kill you. If that wasn't hard enough, the game features no permanent save function. You'll have access to a couple of continues, but once they're gone it's back to square one.
Both the original Contra and Super C are unlockable, but they won't be easy to get. You have to beat the game on any difficulty setting (no easy task), and then several challenge stages. If you have a friend with the title, you can team up to take on the countless enemy soldiers and giant boss creatures. Whether you play alone or with a friend, be prepared to constantly jam on the fire button no matter what part of the game you're at.
And on a completely unrelated note, I SWEAR that the sound the zombies make when they die in stage 2 is the audio clip of Howard Dean's infamous scream during the 2004 primaries.
Castlevania X Chronicles: Rondo of Blood(PSP)
It's amazing how much Castlevania: Rondo of Blood has in common with Contra 4. Like the previous review, this is a portable update to a classic side-scrolling Konami series that's notorious for being extremely hard. Rondo of Blood was unreleased in the U.S., but Konami has updated the graphics, Mega Man Powered Up-style, and brought it to the PSP.
It should be immediately stated that Rondo of Blood is nothing like Symphony of the Night. It has much more in common with the pre-PSX Castlevania titles, meaning more whipping and dying and less RPG elements and swords. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, it just means it doesn't have the massive open-ended castle and item collection that Symphony is famous for.
Like Contra, Rondo is broken up into multiple stages. However, you can access different versions of stages depending on your actions within the level. There are many separate paths you can take from beginning to end, which is good for adding replay value. However, the ultimate replay value boost is the inclusion of the entire Symphony of the Night title. You have to unlock it, but doing so is far easier than obtaining the classic Contras on the DS. Pick up one specific, semi-hidden item in an early stage, and you've got the entire 1996 classic in the palm of your hand. Dracula X Chronicles is a must-play for veterans of the series.