Okay kids, this one has been coming for a while. In short, I love Contra. It still holds a pretty giant chunk of my video game heart. There aren’t too many games I can think of that still bring back so many awesome memories. It was the first game I ever bought with my own money, and the first game I ever beat. It was the first game I ever played with another player, and singlehandedly helped me and my Dad get along when neither of us seemed like we wanted to. Contra, for me, is the game that instantly reminds what it was like to play games when I was a kid. There’s no use waxing too nostalgic about it, as Contra was king, and always will be as far as I’m concerned. Even if it did go south in the worst way possible eventually.
Now I’m not gonna sit here and do a list of every Contra game ever made, as I simply haven’t played every single Contra game. What you’ll find below are the games I played personally, since I don’t think it’s fair to pass judgement on random games I never played just for the sake of timeline completion. Anyway, on with the show.
Not much needs to be said here. It’s the game that started it all, and still the best pure Contra experience available. It’s a hard bastard of a game to be sure, but equally fun as Hell. Especially with another player. I spent weeks trying to beat it, forever getting a game over at that infernal Red Falcon’s heart (the final boss). Finally, one random day after school, I managed to beat that fucker with a little bit of luck (and a last minute extra life). I spent the next five minutes running through the house screaming like a wild banshee on PCP. Only to then realize I had missed the entire ending of the game. If this were any other game, I’d have been so pissed I would have ripped a pillow in half with my teeth. With Contra though, I was ready to do it all again. And I did. Several dozen times over the next twenty years.
Contra and Super C Arcade
“Weird” is all that came to mind when I first played Contra in the arcade. Admittedly it looked amazing. Far better than the NES was capable of. But it just didn’t “feel” like the NES game. It still didn’t stop me from dropping quarters in these two games every time I went to the arcade. I eventually warmed up to both of these far more as an adult when they were both released on Xbox Live Arcade. Learning to appreciate their differences from the NES classics.
And they actually are fairly different in a lot of ways. Contra arcade was a much shorter game, lacking the snow level and factory level from the NES game. It’s also a much easier game overall. Super C arcade generally follows the same blueprint, but I did enjoy it more than Contra arcade mainly because of the extra spectacle those crappy late 80′s arcade graphics could provide.
Super C NES
This is what a sequel should be. The NES sequel to Contra had more weapons, more enemies, more stages, and just more ass-to-the-wall action than your ten year-old mind could handle. Super C didn’t make any changes in gameplay from the first besides doing away with the pseudo third person dungeon stages in favor of the far more action-oriented overhead view for some stages. It worked great, and it also helped that the rest of the game was a nice jump up in quality from the original Contra in just about every way. If you were a kid and were able to beat both Contra and Super C on the NES with no codes needed, you were basically a super hero to other kids.
Super Contra SNES
The definitive Contra game, Super Contra made every other action game ever released curl up into a ball and beg for sweet release. Super Contra took all the power the still new SNES could give it, and then proceeded to make a game out of every last bit of it. It looked amazing, it played amazing, and it had so many crazy visual effects and stages that it simply never let up. One minute you’re doing it old school in a ruined city, when all of a sudden a huge bomber comes overhead, bombing the whole fucking place. Suddenly the whole level is on fire, as you fight to shoot everything still alive while not falling into the fire. Then you fight a giant mutated turtle as big as the screen that shot a laser out of its mouth. All that, and you hadn’t even beat stage one yet. This is the gold standard for Contra games past, present, and future. Hands down.
Contra Legacy of War PSX
At some point after Super Contra, the development of the series was handed over to a European studio (all Contra games up until this point had been made internally at Konami). Their first Contra game would be Legacy of War for the PSX. This was the first time for series fans that we saw Contra stumble. And not just stumble. It then proceeded to plunge three stories down onto a shard of glass. Yes, Legacy of War is pretty bad. For us fans who had waited an entire console generation for a new Contra game, playing Legacy of War was like having a long time girlfriend drug you in a hotel, remove your kidney, and leave you for dead in the bathtub. The classic 2-D gameplay that made Contra was tossed in favor of an overhead view, coupled with controls that didn’t work well in an overhead shooter (You had a toggle button for strafing. No, I am not kidding). Not to mention the random platform sections that were absolutely impossible to get by because there was zero sense of depth perception.
Oh wait, I forgot, there WAS depth perception. You just needed to use the pair of 3D glasses that came with the game. Yes, Legacy of War wasn’t quite content with the joyless turd biscuit it had unleashed, and decided it needed to go the extra mile and release it in 3D. 3D that DIDN’T WORK. So if you weren’t satisfied with the game being almost completely unplayable, you could switch that fucker into 3D mode, throw those cheap glasses on your face, and then be treated to a three color mess of a game that gave you a headache five minutes later. Perfect.
C The Contra Adventure PSX
Okay, so Legacy of War was total shit, got horrid reviews, and didn’t sell. So what is the next logical step you should learn from this? Perhaps to go back and try to make a game that more closely resembled the amazing 2D action games everyone had wanted for almost a decade since Super Contra? Or make a shitty third-person action/adventure game that had more in common with Tomb Raider than Contra? Someone, somewhere, chose the latter, and then got paid a lot of money to do so. This game is a disaster. Playing it was like watching an entire game franchise get flushed down the drain with zero remorse. Contra was on life support after Legacy of War. This game flat-lined it so hard that any good will Contra had built up over the years was pretty much long forgotten.
The same developer from the previous Contra was seemingly brought back in to see just how much more damage they could do. Basically, The Contra Adventure ends up being all the worst stuff from Legacy of War, along with a whole bunch of new problems. Mostly thanks to the constant perspective shifts in every stage. One stage may be overhead, while the next would be a behind-the-back free roaming stage. None of them were fun at all. Everything looked like it was tossed at the wall in an effort to see what would stick. The end result being that we were left with yet another Worst Game Of The Year contender.
Contra Shattered Soldier PS2
Around the end of the PS1 era and the majority of the PS2 era, Konami (the creators of Contra) were rolling in money thanks to games like Metal Gear Solid, and Silent Hill. Apparently it was enough to give the go ahead to Shattered Soldier, a complete reboot of the series. The development was snatched back to Japan, where a team went out of their way to reassemble Contra in a form that hadn’t been seen since Super Contra. Contra would once again be 2D, but use the power of the PS2 to create amazing levels and bosses. The art team hired to do this were the same people who had been drawing the popular Alien comics for years, while the rest of the team would recreate everything that was great about the series. Namely huge bosses, crazy weapons, insane difficulty, and non-stop action. It’s something that should be a no-brainer for a Contra game, right? But for all three of us remaining Contra fans out there, it seemed like a dream long lost to time. In the series’ darkest moment though, Shattered Soldier was released. And against all odds, it kicked ass.
For one game, everything anyone could ever want from Contra was back. It was dark, stylish, had some of the craziest bosses ever committed to 3D (Even the turtle from Super Contra made a disgusting return), and was absolutely playable while still being hard as nails. It may not be the best Contra, but it’s my personal favorite. The dark and gritty art, coupled with the great feeling of remembering why Contra games could be so good gave it top spot on my list. It’s just sad that it had to pass by so quick since Konami once again lost their mind and decided to push the bloody turd that would be its sequel out of their ass a year later.
And that is sadly where my experience with Contra games end. I have heard good things of the Contra released on the Nintendo DS, as well as the throwback to Super Contra released on WiiWare. I guess I just don’t care too much anymore. There’s a certain “you can’t go back” to all this I had learned over the years. For one, what I consider fun from games is no longer sitting for hours, dying repeatedly. I just can’t handle it. I’m glad to hear that years after I stopped caring, Konami finally found a place for classic Contra to thrive. Maybe new players can get the same experience that I got to have the first time I jammed it excitedly into my Nintendo a hundred or so years ago. Those were great times I’ll never forget, thanks to one game. That’s pretty awesome when you think about it.
Jeremy is a quiet, steadily mortified man hailing from Indianapolis.
Contact him this way: firstname.lastname@example.org (hint: it’s email)