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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Retro Review Tuesday: Contra


Chances are that if you're old enough to ever be sitting around with your friends discussing your favorite classic NES games, Contra is going to come up. Somehow the abuse delivered by this Konami classic was well received, back when gamers were truly an elite corps, and willing to take it. Within the seemingly simple run-and-shoot format there is a lot going on here, and to make it out alive you'll need to boast pinpoint accuracy, maneuvers that cheat death, and an unwavering will to live . If you don't have any of that, then you'd better have the Spread Shot.


With alien forces and mind control capabilities at their disposal, the Red Falcon is threatening the very livelihood of the Earth it is up to you and one hell of a gun to destroy them and their stronghold. The fate of the world is on your shoulders.

In simplest terms, your goal here sounds impossible - go eight levels in a Konami game without completely dying. Now for those of you who might not know the game and think "eight levels, what a gip" rest assured that classic Konami games and NES games in generally are made to ensure that you get a lifetime of effort out of eight levels.

Contra is a very fun, extremely difficult platformer where, as stated earlier, you run and shoot everything that moves. At the end of each level you will face a boss, generally many times larger than the protagonist. There are two types of levels - side scrolling levels, and pseudo 3D "base" levels that exhibit shooting gallery-style gameplay. Your enemies in this game can be anything from a possessed South American soldier, to a robotic, motion-detecting gun turret, to a huge, nearly unstoppable tank which will run you down if it can't get you with the gun and that doesn't even included the bosses. Beginning with only three lives, you'll find it very hard to get on your feet with this one. But with hard work and determination, you just might see level 3.

The graphics of the game are simplistic but they get the job done. Like all Konami games of the time, there are many, many sprites on screen at once, so the sprites will frequently flicker to compensate. As a fast paced game, this really isn't too much of a problem (except for when you're getting screenshots for a review), and it adds to the illusion of quick, aggressive action. Contra also features several distinctive, none-too-repetitive musical tracks, and is especially known for the catchy music that plays throughout the base levels.


After choosing between playing alone or with a friend (and whether or not you want to be a wimp and use the infamous Konami Code), you literally drop into the first level, gun already firing if you know what's good for you. You scroll the level shooting your enemies first with your default gun and special weapons you can acquire as you go along. Your character showcases very versatile maneuverability for a game of this vintage. You're able to jump, hit the ground, and shoot forward, straight up, diagonally up, diagonally down, shoot from forward from on the ground, and in every direction while in mid-air, including straight down, and can change direction while in the air at any time. Enemies, enemy fire, fireballs, grenades and more come at you from every direction at once, making all these maneuvers a necessity. Many enemies take several shots to destroy so you're need to be quick on the trigger. If you stop moving or shooting, there's a good chance bad things are going to happen to you.

Once you've reached the end of an area, you'll have a confrontation with a boss enemy, usually robotic or mechanical in nature, and usually loaded with several guns. When you've taken down the boss, you will progress to the next area and in the early levels that means getting through the games signature areas, the bases.


Two stages (Two and Four) are played in a Base, where the gameplay takes place in several consecutive corridors and changes from scrolling to pseudo-3D, and the player's viewpoint is from just behind the protagonist. These levels are often compared to a shooting gallery, with enemies appearing in front of you, and running and literally bounding from one side of the room to another. As they do this, they shoot at you, throw grenades at you, and attack you in other forms. You are separated from them by an electrical beam, allowing you to only move side-to-side or lay on the ground while the beam is activated. If you try to cross the beam, you will get shocked. This does not kill you, but renders you immobile for just under a full second, more than enough time to be killed in most Konami games.

Your goal in these levels is to destroy the round, flashing target(s) located on the wall in front of you. Once you do this, via shooting them several times, the wall will be destroyed, along with all remaining guns and enemies. The electrical beam will now be deactivated and you can finally move forward to the next corridor. Once you've cleared the final corridor (Indicated in both bases by its especially large center target, surrounded by guns), you will encounter the Base Boss, a huge, multi-story control panel armed with an arsenal of artillery shooting energy blasts from every which way and carrying enemy soldiers. Defeating this insidious machination won't be enough, in both bases they're hiding a nasty little secret you'll have to deal with before you can move on. Also, of note, these bosses have their own music, which is some of the best boss music you'll hear, by the way.


Aside from the insane difficulty, Contra is probably best known for its gun augments (which apparently just "plug in" in a split second) and pickups to aid your trek into this nearly impossible situation. Without them, you have no realistic chance of victory, or at least not a pretty one. Weapons are acquired by shooting them out of the pods that fly above you, and in some cases, below you. The type of the weapon is indicated by the single letter set into the center of the falcon graphic that makes up the pickup.

Default Gun (No Letter) - The gun you start off with, it fires a single shot at a time, its rate of fire completely dependent on the speed of your fingers. When you die, you will lose whatever special weapon you may have and will be defaulted back to this. There is no actual pickup for this gun and it won't get you very far.

Machine Gun (M) - The first special weapon available to you, this one allows you to just hold the shoot button and enjoy its rapid-fire properties. The rounds (designed like the signature Konami Eye) are no more powerful than those of the default gun, but the added speed makes a galaxy of difference.

Fireball (F) - This might just be called fire, although it really looks nothing like fire. It fires rounds that revolve in a circle as they go. Although it's a wider shot radius and possibly more powerful, it's still easily the most useless weapon in the game, in some cases even harder to deal with than the Default Gun.

Spread Shot (S) - This is the gun that's going to win this game for you. The most famous gun of the entire Contra series fires a belt of five rounds that spread out as they go, taking out multiple enemies at once, requiring virtually no accuracy to hit your enemy. Firing this weapon quickly causes the belts to loose some rounds, which can get as small as just a single round, but the initial, full five-round belt will usually take care of most of your hostiles, which makes this not too much of a problem. Besides, if every belt were full it would almost make this game fair...

Laser (L) - High risk, high reward would be a good way to sum up this weapon. The laser fires in large, very powerful beams that just cut right through enemy soldiers as if they weren't even there. This means you can destroy an entire line of enemy soldiers in one shot. And for the more powerful robotic enemies such as gun turrets, it only takes about one and a half beams to destroy most of them. So what's the catch. Well, you can only fire one beam at a time. Meaning, only one beam can be in flight at once. You fire a beam while another has yet to disappear, then the initial beam will be canceled out, and disappear. This means that you can't really rapid fire this gun, even manually. if you try, a beam will just pulse in and out of your gun, meaning you can only kill enemies at point blank range. There's a price to be paid for this enormous power.

Rifle (R) - The rifle or range add-on will increase the flight speed of the rounds of the gun you're currently using. Unfortunately, this upgrade does not carry over to a different weapon, so if you pick up a normal gun, it will fire at normal speed.

Shield (B) - Maybe it means barrier? At any rate, this will makes you invincible for a short time, allowing you kill enemies just by walking into them. Don't get over confident, though. There's no warning to indicate when it's about to deactivate.

Smart Bomb (No Letter) - Appearing just once throughout the game in Area Five, this pickup takes the form of a flashing Falcon and upon acquiring it, every enemy on the screen with be destroyed.


Contra is a sure staple of classic NES gaming for anyone who can truly be considered an old-school gamer. From the intense difficulty, to the fast action, to the Spread Shot, this game has definitely secured a strong place in the history of video games. A victory over this game means a lifetime of bragging rights. So put your "skills" to the test and see if you have what it takes to overcome one of Konami's greatest achievements.

Because most people do not.


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1 comment:

  1. This isn't exactly my favorite, because I've never gotten past the first area! Even with the first part. Hahahaha. But we were still young when we first played this, either in preschool or 1st grade I think. :D But it's definitely a classic, because when we played it it's been like, 25 years after its first release. =))



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