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RELEASE DATE (NA): February 2, 1988 GENRE: Action
// review by SoyBomb

The pièce-de-resistance for 1980s bulletry.

Konami certainly was a corporation sent from Heaven (if such a thing could possibly exist) for hardcore gamers of the 1980s. They are responsible for some of the most challenging NES games out there, including Gradius, Castlevania, Metal Gear, and even that dreaded first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game. Oh, the humanity! And indeed, they also were kind enough to bestow Contra (a former arcade game) to the NES as well, which has retroactively been considered one of the greatest NES games of all time. The developer's legendary status was further solidified by the need for the introduction of the Konami Code here to survive the perils they exuded upon the public. Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A. Classic. Indeed, those were joyous and frustrating times, but thankfully, I get to enjoy a blast from the past yet again.

From what I gather, the story goes like this: asteroid hits Earth, golden bird emerges, then asks to see some ID.

Although the North American version of Contra had all of the cinematic introductory scenes violently ripped from its veins, the game DOES have a storyline. The game follows Bill and Lance, military commando units sent to take down Red Falcon, a huge alien dedicating itself to ruling the world, on an indistinct South American island. (Although they might have had a much easier time with some backup, the U.S. military had its hands full with World War VII, probably.) Interestingly enough, this storyline differs greatly from the Japanese version -- the manual writers must have taken some sweet liberties. For one thing, in the Japanese game, Red Falcon is actually a terrorist group, not an alien. But I guess it makes a bit more sense, considering terrorists aren't known for raising mucous-covered beings very often. Secondly, the Japanese game sets the events in 2633, whereas the American Contra is set in the present (although some other Contra games are set that far ahead in the future). Lastly, their version is set on Galuga, within a cluster of Oceanic islands -- NOT in South America! Not sure why all these changes were necessary, but it then required the localization team to adjust future games as well to ensure continuity with their previous flubs!

Contra IS the epitome of run'n'gun shooters and the one that instantly comes to mind amongst the old-school gamers when the genre is even casually mentioned in conversation. And the term "run'n'gun" accurately describes the majority of the levels in this game, where you're literally running around (typically left to right, or going upward on platforms in one area) and gunning down enemies who will likely fire back! It can sometimes be a bullet circus in these types of games, and something that's the case here, too, so try and be light on your feet as you dodge everything with the classic Contra curl-jump (curling into a ball when you jump -- why, I have no idea). However, the game is also notable for featuring "3D" stages as well from a third-person perspective behind your character(s). You will be expected to trek through a long corridor broken down into several individual sections filled with enemies, turrets, and walls that need to be destroyed before progressing. In the NES version, the 3D parts are straightforward, but they were more maze-like and featured a special map in the arcade version. That would have been interesting to experience at home, but I guess we can't get everything we wish for. Bosses line the end of each level as well, so start scratching that trigger finger because they can get a bit nasty.

There's no mission too rough or too tough for a guy named Bill.

Contra also helped boost the trend of picking up various upgrades and powerups during a gaming escapade, as a means of helping to make the lives of those brave commandos just a smidgen easier. But I'll be frank: I don't care much for most of them. Aside from the piddly default weapon, what do we have? Fire? I don't want that; it's just a big fire orb that explodes when it hits something. Laser? Bah. Take that to an ophthalmologist. Spreader? Now we're cookin'! Besides sounding like a sexual tool, it's also considered by many as the greatest weapon in the entire Contra franchise. (Actually, it's my second most favourite, behind the unmatched Homing weapon -- but only the one found in "Operation C" for Game Boy; homing bullets in other weapons are too weak.) You can knab these by picking up gold falcon powerups with letters on them, such as "S" for Spreader or "F" for Fire. There is also a flashing falcon without a letter, serving to defeat all enemies on screen. It's rare, but it could get you out of a potentially sticky situation!

Because this was originally a rather snappy-looking arcade game (which really should be re-released, along with many other Konami arcade classics in a spiffy classics collection for current-gen consoles), Contra did take a bit of a hit when it was ported over to the NES and Famicom. That being said, Contra still doesn't look terrible for its age. Though not incredibly detailed, Contra could still hold its own against other games of the time. Every area provides enough variation to not make the game seem overly repetitive. Plus, you'll be too busy keeping a watchful eye out for every stray bullet heading for your skull anyhow. Music and sound are also decent; there's nothing hideous or overly impressive here, but everything serves its purpose. The title screen theme is classic, especially with the audio explosion at the end. It's sound effects such as those which make us really melt when we think of classic gaming. Ah...

This game is, essentially, one of the reasons why NES owners are, even to this day, proud to be NES owners. The NES had such a rich library, and Contra sits among them as one of the best (and one of the most difficult, although in my opinion, there are equally difficult games in the bunch -- StarTropics, Zelda II, Double Dragon III, and even the dreaded Yo! Noid come to mind...) But if you love your shooters, do your best to get your hands on this. You can either seek out an original cartridge of the game, or failing that, a port of Contra is available on the Nintendo DS game, "Contra 4" (alongside the sequel, "Super C").

As a sidenote, in Europe, violent video games that could potentially harm children's minds were forbidden, thanks to the "heroic" efforts of the Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien (the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons). You just couldn't have a pair of army men kill humans of any sort, no matter what! So Konami changed all of the human sprites into robots, and subsequently renamed the game "Probotector". That's really silly -- and they continued to change Contra games into Probotectors until "Contra: Legacy of War" was released for the PlayStation. (Poor Europe... the first uncensored Contra game they played was THAT one? Sigh...) But can I really trust this BPjM organization? They banned Tarzan comics in the 1950s, for goodness sake! Tarzan poisons minds, apparently. Perhaps with subpar grammar?

Well, you've heard me ramble. Go! Attack aggressively!

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