Who hasn't been stuck on a long and boring road trip with the family? Dad's singing the theme song to That Girl while keeping at least one eye on the road. Mom's covering her ears to shield herself from the sting of tepid off-key notes. Little Sis is staring out the window, dreaming about how she become something great, like a ballerina or an insurance agent. And Grandma's complaining about the heat and about how many ugly people are also driving along the highway. And then there's you. In a situation like this, there's only one thing you want to do: kill. Now then, slaughtering everyone in the vehicle in a murderous rampage doesn't seem like the moral thing to do. The lives of everyone in the car are all of equal value, and you really don't want to stain the beaded seat covers with blood plasma residue. So, what's a bored, irritated adolescent to do?
How about whip out the classic Game Boy and pop in the cartridge of Operation C? That sounds novel, far more so than actual physical violence. Being the very first portable game in the Contra series, this one surely must satisfy one's craving to pop off a significant portion of humanity, alongside some mechanical contraptions and a few alien cells, right? That is correct, and not only will this young person be content, they'll also get a rather decent version of Contra on the go.
Operation C follows the exploits of Lance Bean, formerly the famed "second player" of previous Contra games, as he gears up for another war against an alien invasion, this time against the influence of Black Viper, the "sister" of Contra antagonist extraordinaire Red Falcon. Equipped with a ton of artillery and semi-futuristic technology, Black Viper establishes a base in the middle of the ocean with the intent of breeding aliens for one purpose: to destroy humanity in the most violent way possible. Lance is now tasked (without backup this time) with infiltrating the enemy base and getting rid of Black Viper by any means necessary. This differs somewhat from the Japanese storyline, which not only includes the original Player 1, Bill Rizer, instead of Lance Bean, but also does not specify who is actually cultivating these aliens.
In the future, we'll never have to manufacture new ammunition ever again. ...Uh-oh.
The game doesn't deviate much from the series' prior established gameplay of running through a stage, blasting everyone and everything that moves with your gun before toeing off with a gigantic boss and blowing its ugly head off. There's rarely a dull moment to rest in Operation C, and you'll always be on the lookout for anything intending to tear you a second belly button... through the chest. The game offers both horizontal side-scroller and vertical overhead stages, giving some variety throughout. But Operation C's biggest pull factor is undoubtedly the different guns you can use based on the falcon-crested power-ups you grab. Returning from earlier games are the Fire Gun (now actually not terrible to use) and the fan favourite Spread Gun, which can actually be upgraded. But my personal favourite is the newest addition, the Homing Gun, whose bullets automatically seek out enemies on screen. I swear, this can make life so much easier.
So, with a Homing Gun, is the game easier? The answer is a resounding no. If you fail to possess quick reflexes, Operation C will eat you for breakfast and spit you out by dinnertime. No deaths in the game feel especially cheap, but some of the difficulty does come directly from certain situations, such as the vertical platforming in Stage 3 where shooting down enemy turrets proves challenging, or the close-quarters navigation in Stage 4 where your aim against creepy slugs is rather limited. With perseverance, practice, and a punching pillow, you can prevail. Just have some extra batteries handy for your Game Boy. The game itself can probably be completed in a matter of 30-40 minutes, but the game's difficulty coupled with limited continues may negatively affect that time limit.
If I had to describe Operation C's look — and I think that's my job right now — I'd say it's basically a shrunken, less colourful version of the NES games. Certain sprites are recycled, mainly that of our hero and the slew of enemy soldiers, and I recognize those jungle trees from Stage 3, but most other graphical aspects are crisp and solid. Operation C is rather detailed by comparison to many of the Game Boy games released at that time frame. Konami knew what to do with that gray brick of a system. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is hard and in your face; in other words, it's exactly what you want out of a hardcore series like Contra.
For run'n'gun enthusiasts, you'd be crazy not to indulge yourself in the blast-phemy of Operation C. This one is perfect for Contra enthusiasts on the go. Although it's not available on any Virtual Console, original cartridge copies can be found in pretty much any used game store; they're quite plentiful. Though it's often overlooked, Operation C is as much a challenge and a classic as the original Contra or its sequel, Super C, despite being on a handheld, and you'd be wise to give it more than a glance. Do it for Lance!