Contra-ry to popular belief, not everyone here at NGamer Towers is a gaming wunderkind. If you prick us with difficulty spikes, do we not bleed/swear? In the case of Contra 4, the answer is a big fat curse-preceded yes. 'Hard' just doesn't do it justice.
If you're one of those hardened oldies bred on the original games - you can tell them apart by their vacant expressions and ability to shrug off gunshot wounds - you'll have some understanding of what's coming.
Bullets: big, round, red and in their hundreds. On one screen this is unforgiving, but doubling up so they can pound you from above and below is downright mean.
Death from above
As such, expect death. Booting up Normal mode, we died in 12 seconds. Then again in nine. A quick six saw us return to heaven, before a hidden turret cut short our roll of 23. Eight later and we were staring at the game over screen.
That's 58 seconds, and that's with an extra two lives that the hard mode doesn't afford you.
As far as DS experiences go, it's a merciless brute that months of Pony Club gymkhana sims haven't readied us for.
The solution? a) Don't get hit; b) Hit them first. The only way through the game outside of the lives-abundant 'easy' difficulty is by memorising the placement of every last soldier and turret, altering your run-through respectively.
Enemies may swarm you from all angles, but they'll always be the same angles. This learning by rote may seem dated - it puts the 'oo me back hurts' into old-school - but it has its rewards.
Off the hook
There's immense satisfaction in finally cutting a swathe through those sections previously holding you back; the relief of progression is one of the most hard-earned rewards in gaming.
It helps that Contra also has action chops to spare, throwing around some terrific dual screen bosses and some highly accomplished set pieces.
One level set upon a nuclear missile as it flies towards its destination is a particular Arnie-worthy highlight.
Wi-Fi Contra co-op is even better, and the only way some will make it through the harder difficulties - though the lack of download play disappoints; twice as much cash has to be handed over to see Contra 4 at its best.
Sure it made us cry, but we lived to tell the tale. And what a tale it is.
We haven't played a game this demanding in some time. Amongst the reams of bright, smiling Touch Generations ware, this is a refreshing kick in the teeth.