Contra, released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988 by Konami, was originally an arcade game released in 1987. It’s a wonderful piece of nostalgia that fits in along the lines of Rocky IV, where the message is clear. You don’t want to mess with America. While the arcade version of the game had more detailed playable characters, the NES version of the game had to downgrade a few things to better suit the capabilities of the system. You play as Mad Dog and/or Scorpion, (in the arcade they were known as Bill and Lance) fighting the Red Falcon Organization, a nod to the Communists of Russia at the time, through the jungles of the Amazon (after all, this WAS 1987, and America was in the midst of the Cold War). That is, up until the end when you find out the Communists had teamed up with aliens!
What really made this game special was the ability to have two players playing at once. Not many games at the time had that capability. Outside of the Double Dragon games, most titles at the time were turn based two player modes. This was also one of the first games to feature the Konami code, UP-UP-DOWN-DOWN-LEFT-RIGHT-LEFT-RIGHT-B-A, which gave the player 30 extra lives. Let me tell ya, you needed them too. You see, even though Contra was an insanely fun game from my childhood, it was also insanely difficult. Between the enemy gunfire, platforming jumps between collapsible bridges, falling ledges, and dodging the never ending enemies, you tend to die a lot while playing. What made the game also unique was the power ups. You start with a machine gun with infinite ammo, but with the power-ups, your gun becomes even more powerful. They would float across the screen and the player would shoot them to release the power-up. (Spread gun alllllll day boy!)
What I remember most about this game was the second stage. It was no longer side scrolling from left to right like the previous stage, but a third person view, just behind the player. You went through sections of automated gunfire, only passing when you were able to destroy the sensor that would cause the wall to explode and you to proceed when you did. Each section was increasingly difficult, with more and more waves of enemies, different sensor layouts, different automated drones firing at you, all of this happening at once. As a 5 year old playing this game, I rarely if ever made it past this portion of the game. As I got older, and began replaying the game in emulation, even then I was only able to pass it with lots of practice and retry’s. Contra is probably my favorite NES title ever, and with good reason. It sums up the times perfectly. The main characters, are blatant rip offs of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone playing Dutch from Predator and John Rambo from Rambo: First Blood Pt 2 respectively. I mean, just look at the box art for the game! The blond guy with the flat top’s torso is from a still image in Predator! The gameplay was incredible for the time, and I’d even argue it still holds up today.
Super C 1990
Super Contra, or Super C was released in 1990 on the NES and was a direct sequel to the original. This time, Bill and Lance (or Mad Dog and Scorpion for people with continuity issues) are sent on another mission, where they find the aliens have hijacked an allied military base and possessed most of the troops! For the most part, this game could be considered Contra: the Lost Levels, as it plays basically the same as the original. The Konami Code is not included this time, and they’ve also changed the Fire Power-up, as it was without a doubt the worst power-up in the first game.
All things considered, Super C is a good sequel to Contra, but it is even harder than the
first. The amount of enemy gunfire gets to a point where it’s practically impossible to dodge all the shots. With the added knowledge that there’s no 30 extra lives code in place, many a continue was used trying to traverse through these levels.
To be honest, when I was young I had no idea this game existed. When it was released in the U.S. titled just Super C, I never put two and two together and found out it was a Contra sequel. It wasn’t until years later that I found out about this game, and I enjoy it immensely. Give the higher difficulty level I doubt I would’ve liked it as much as a kid though, so maybe it’s better off. With the same great gameplay, the same great soundtrack and game sounds, Super C is a worthy addition to anyone’s NES collection.
Contra Force 1992
Released in 1992, Contra Force was the third installment in the series for the Nintendo Entertainment System. A huge departure from the original two games, the player has a character selection screen to begin the game. You can play as Burns, the team leader; Iron, a heavy weapons expert; Smith, a sharpshooter; or Beans, a demolitions expert. Much like Super Mario Bros. 2, each character has his own strengths in weapons, speed, and jumping ability. Also, instead of the jungle or an army base, the game starts in Neocity, a fictional destination under attack by a criminal organization known as D.N.M.E.
Also much like Super Mario Bros. 2, Contra Force was not slated as a Contra title at first. Originally planned for a Japanese release, Arc Hound was cancelled in 1991. It was later localized for an American release, becoming a spinoff of the Contra series known as it is today. Another thing worth noting is, the first working title of the game was Contra III, however due to a delay, the first Super Nintendo Contra title was released first and titled as Contra III: The Alien Wars.
Gameplay is similar to the first two Contra games, however slightly different. Instead of power-ups, the player shoots an object within the level that contains a briefcase. Each briefcase raises the player’s power selection meter, not unlike Gradius. Each level of the meter contains a power-up to the player’s weapon. When it reaches the power-up the player would like to use, the player can press select, and the power-up is equipped. In an interesting twist to the series, Contra Force takes a page from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and allows you to switch characters from the pause menu. To take it a step further, you can also assign another character from the team to the second player slot, or as a CPU assisted partner.
There’s certain sections within the game where gameplay slows down and is somewhat choppy. Of the three NES releases, this is the most unpopular one of the bunch. To follow up with what I said earlier regarding Super C, and how I didn’t know it existed until much later, I knew of this game when I was younger. I knew it was a Contra sequel. Even with that knowledge, this game never really stood out to me. As an older gamer now, I can appreciate the differences in gameplay. But at the time, I didn’t really understand the power-up system. Between that and the slow down in gameplay, I didn’t really care for this game at all.
It seems Konami started to drop in quality with the Contra series as time went on, but the original still stands the test of time. Nintendo Power said Contra was one of the best multiplayer NES games, even ranking it the seventh best NES game ever. Only the first two games were developed in-house by Konami, which might explain the drop in quality with subsequent games, but it’s also worth noting that both Contra and Super C were ports from arcades. After that, every other release was created specifically for the home gaming system they were released on. The Contra games became one of Konami’s signature game series, and are still widely popular today with 11 installments as of 2014.