Contra 4 Original Soundtrack
Contra 4 Original Soundtrack
March 13, 2008
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Contra 4, released in Japan as Contra Dual Spirits, a encouraging step in the right direction for the franchise. Featuring crazy 2D shooting and platforming, insane scenarios, along with some brutal difficulty, Contra 4 was a throwback to the classics and managed to keep the series spirit alive and kicking.
Perhaps, the most questionable feature of the game — besides being a Nintendo DS exclusive sequel — was its soundtrack. To a big surprise for most, the talented remixer Jake “virt” Kaufman composed the score, due to his long-running association with developer WayForward Technologies. This is a pretty unusual deal since it’s a rare occurrence that a western composer scores a Japanese franchise, never mind someone who started as a fan. Kaufman was perhaps the smartest choice, since his musical style and compositional skills are influenced by classic Japanese game soundtracks. With Contra 4, he managed to create appropriate and memorable themes for each stage, embedding the right amount of nostalgia and passion, while still managing to sound very original and musically rich despite being limited by the hardware’s synth.
Nostalgia is an important factor and essentially the driving force of the Contra 4 soundtrack. This is immediately noticeable upon listening to the opening title track, which is an arrangement of Contra‘s now-legendary introduction theme that was stuck in our minds many years ago. Despite being composed of some really simple notes and barely reaching the seven seconds mark, the theme is very memorable due to its heroic and militaristic notions that provide an exciting prelude for what’s ahead. Kaufman develops the theme further with futuristic and distorted sound effects, giving a much harder edge to the classic and as well properly introducing newer audiences to the world of Contra.
Still, this is not an “arranged” album despite numerous Contra themes being reprised, and Kaufman impressively creates “classics” of his own. Take, for example, the first stage theme “Jungle”. Starting identically like the classic from the first Contra, it soon shifts into a more militaristic and heroic action theme, full of bombastic motifs and rocking guitars. As if that wasn’t enough, the track ends awesomely with an incredible solo part that reprises one of the most memorable motifs of the older theme, and manages to sound very awe-inspiring to newcomers and incredibly nostalgic to older fans. Despite the hardware’s limitations, the track sounds rich and is musically complex. Still, the tribute to Contra‘s unforgettable first stage anthem doesn’t end here, since Kaufman does a faithful arrangement that is used for the game’s hardest difficulty level. The arrangement is pretty good and it sure is going to please many veterans, while showing the new recruits what it is all about.
The same formula is applied to various other themes of the soundtrack. “Waterfall” starts quietly with the same intro as the original, and is soon followed by tempo-shifting rhythms and some exquisite guitar melodies. Many musical elements and motifs of the original are used throughout, something that I leave to fans to explore by themselves. Nevertheless, “Waterfall” is another memorable and awe-inspiring action theme. Other classics like “Base” and “Base Boss” receive an appropriate treatment and despite not being particularly special, they still deliver. Kaufman’s influence doesn’t come just from the first Contra. There are quite a few arrangements dedicated to Contra III‘s legacy. “Ocean” is more or less an arrangement of the catchy “Daredevil”. The track features fun melodies, fast rhythms, and funky bass — something that feels kind of out of place in the Contra universe, but nevertheless entertains. “Neo City” on the other hand is a medley of various motifs that consists mostly of sections from the memorable “It’s Time for Revenge” that was first heard in the chaotic opening stage of Contra III.
Unfortunately, the most memorable tracks of the Contra 4 soundtrack are those with the biggest nostalgic impact. Most of the other pseudo-orchestral action themes are either repetitive, underdeveloped, or just uninteresting, for example “Base Boss” andc ounterparts. To his credit, Kaufman did an amazing job creating the same aural magic of the classic Contra games, but much like the older games, the final sections of the score loose their impact and are not particularly remarkable. In typical Contra fashion, there are various tracks featuring chaotic string sections and frantic percussion, but most of them only work well in context and don’t provide much outside of the game.
Fortunately, Kaufman delivers with his original compositions. “Hangar” is instantly memorable with its catchy guitar riffs, militaristic motifs, and constantly building ante. It manages to become a Contra classic without much problem. While not that important, the various menu themes are very good and well-executed, and surprisingly the limited DS synth doesn’t make these difficult to enjoy. Even more surprisingly, the ending theme is very good, managing to sound epic despite coming from the DS speakers, and combines new and old themes together for one hell of ride. It really is a great track that rewards you for completing the extremely difficult game. Closing the album is a bonus hard rock arrangement of “Hangar” performed by The Smash Bros. The arrangement itself is very good, featuring fiery guitar solos, crushing riffs, and some really cool keyboard layers. While it’s a much welcomed bonus, the track can be found for free on The Smash Bros.’s Bacon EP, thereby limiting its impact on this album considerably.
The Contra 4 soundtrack is a very difficult album to recommend. On one hand, the soundtrack is good with its mixture of classic arrangements and solid originals. However, the limited DS synth and the redundancy of certain tracks really limit its overall potential. What’s worse, the tracks don’t loop, making even those musically rich highlights like “Jungle Normal”, “Waterfall” and “Hangar” (which don’t suffer much from the synth) harder to appreciate, because of the short playtime that doesn’t allow them to develop for the listener. If all this wasn’t enough, the soundtrack is only available as a promotional item, and was featured only in preordered copies of the Japanese version, making it almost impossible to have. While hardcore Contra fans will love Jake Kaufman’s tribute to the franchise and should definitely seek this one out, everyone else will have a very difficult time with this, much more difficult than with the actual game, and that is saying a lot. I highly recommend sticking to the much more easily available and accessible arranged album Contra 4 Rocked ‘n’ Loaded to truly get the spirit of the score.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by George Capi. Last modified on August 1, 2012.