Charge up the sled and set Rudolf’s nose on high, it’s time for another Time Warp Review! There are many shooting games out there. Call of Duty. Medal of Honor. Halo. Just to name a few. But these games didn’t just come about. They can find their roots in the shooter games of yesteryear. Ah yes, exotic landscapes, weapon upgrades, enemy soldiers and aliens. Yup, aliens. Plus, there was no multiplayer. It was just you and a bud, running and gunning. And you had three lives. That’s right. I’m talking about the original shooter—Contra.
Konami, known for creating several popular game series including Metal Gear, Dance Dance Revolution, Silent Hill and Castlevania, released Contra in 1987. In 2633, the evil Red Falcon Organization have set a base on the Galuga archipelago near New Zealand in a plot to conquer the world. Two commandos, Pfc. Bill Rizer and Pfc. Lance Bean (seriously, that is his last name) of the Contra unit, which is an elite group of soldiers specializing in guerrilla warfare, are sent to the island to destroy the enemy forces and uncover the true nature of the alien entity controlling them. The game was a side-scrolling shooter. You run and blast away anything in your path with your trusty assault gun. Kinda what you do right now in today’s shooters, run around and blow stuff up. Contra featured power-ups to make Bill and Lance’s weapon even deadlier. The Machine Gun upgrade allowed them to mow down enemies with rapid fire bullets, which looked like cherry bombs. Flame Thrower fires swirling circles of blazing death while the powerful Laser Beam bores through enemies like a sword to the gut. But the best weapon, in my opinion, is the Spread Shot or Spreader that fires rounds in five different directions. Consequently, you can fire your weapon in eight directions using the control stick. Contra was one of the first games to introduce pseudo 3D environment. Some stages of the game were 2D side scrolling while at certain places the stage would be set up to where the character runs toward the background avoiding laser traps and enemy gunfire in an enclosed space.
Contra was released on the NES in 1988 with noticeable differences from the arcade game. The pseudo 3D stages no longer had a time limit and the stage area themselves are longer. There are several character changes as well. Bill and Lance are no longer distinguished by their arcade appearances with Bill having blonde hair and a white tanktop and Lance being dark haired and shirtless. Instead, both men are shirtless and identified as Player 1, being blue, and Player 2, being red. The boss at the end of Stage 3 has been changed from a sensor to an alien statue that shoots lasers from it eyes and limbs. Contra’s storyline was even changed, setting it in 1987 rather than the futuristic 2633. Contra was also one of the first NES games to feature the Konami Code. Imputed at the title screen, both players are then granted with thirty lives instead of three.
Even though several game followed, most were spin offs that deviated from the first game’s storyline so I’m sticking with the main arc. Super Contra (Super C in North America) was released in 1990 for the NES (1988 in arcades). The 3D stages were replaced with Zelda-inspired top view stages. While the arcade version featured upgradeable weapons, the NES port lacked this feature. Bill and Lance moved on the 16-bit era with Contra III: The Alien Wars, released for the Super Nintendo in 1992. Konami took advantage of the graphical improvements to bring the game closer to its arcade counterpart. Alien Wars retains the futuristic setting of 2636, however, Billy and Lance are changed to their descendants “Jimbo” and “Sully”. New features include both players being able to wield two guns which can be switched at any time and, in turn, being able to fire both guns simultaneously with a summersault. Also, the gun-toting commandos can now climb walls and hang from pipes and ceilings adding a new dynamic to gameplay. Their default gun is the machine gun from previous entries so that eliminates that particular upgrade. The Flame Thrower and Spread (Shot) gun make a return along with the new Rocket Launcher and Land Mine upgrades. From Alien Wars forward, Contra has changed developers several times but the tried and true run-and-gun gameplay remained consistent. This element has inspired other run-and-gun titles such as Metal Slug and games that feature this element such as the Battletoads arcade game in which the characters wield Contra-like weapons (flame thrower and machine gun) while fighting the forces of the Dark Queen aboard a spaceship.
Contra’s legacy is still felt to this day. While successful in the arcades, it is the NES port that have made the game series popular thus making it one of Konami’s flagship series. Computer Gaming World called Contra on the Nintendo “a truly outstanding action epic” set on a “scrolling and beautifully drawn playfield”. It was voted #1 by gaming website IGN.com as being the “Toughest Game to Beat”. Nintendo Power ranked Contra the seventh best Nintendo Entertainment System video game, calling it one of the best multiplayer NES games. GamesRadar ranked it the 19th best NES game ever made despite its inferiority to the arcade version. American rock band Vampire Weekend partially based their second album on Contra. Internet guitarist Eric Calderone, known as 331Erock or Erock on his Youtube channel, Twitter and Facebook accounts, released a heavy metal version of Contra’s music, most noticeably the jungle stage and pseudo-3D stages. NES gamers still have fond memories of sitting with their bud and blowing away enemy insurgents trying to survive one of the hardest games ever made.
Eric Calderon shreds up Contra music!!