After the success of the run-and-gun arcade game “Contra”, Konami ported the game in 1988 to massive success on the Nintendo Entertainment System. The original Contra has spawned numerous sequels, some good, some…not so good. Let’s take a look at the original Contra that started it all. It’s Bill and Lance to the rescue in this Contra review!
There is a bit of a discrepancy between the North American and the Japanese timeline in Contra. In the North American release, the game takes place in 1987, while the Japanese version takes place in 2633. That’s quite the leap! I think 1988 sounds boring, so for entertainment purposes, we’ll go with the setting of 2633 in my Contra review.
Anyway, there’s a terrorist organization called “Red Falcon” with headquarters near New Zealand. Their goal is to destroy humanity, but here’s where I get confused. I thought Red Falcon was a terrorist organization made up of humans, and become brainwashed from invading aliens. Do the aliens not have enough bodies to destroy all of humanity or is Red Falcon founded by aliens where they brainwash humans into joining the cause? I don’t know, but I’m confused. Either way, Red Falcon is bad news. Terrorists and aliens teaming up to blow up the Earth? That’s almost as bad as Nazi Zombies.
Red Falcon starts wreaking havoc on the neighboring countries around New Zealand. The only hope for the human race is the Contra Force made up of hardened elite marines. At the top of the chain is Bill Rizer and Lance Bean. Two bad motherfuckers, with terrible names. Lance Bean? Are you serious? They may have terrible names, but these two will summersault through the air on way to blowing holes through alien skulls and setting fire to headquarters.
In the arcade version, they were able to look unique, but due to the NES graphic limitations, the programmers just gave Bill a blue jumpsuit and Lance a red one. The main objection of the game is to clear every level and take down the alien bosses at the end to bring down Red Falcon and save the human race.
When you beat the game, you get a small cutscene of the island exploding and a helicopter flying away. The following message will appear on the screen:
“Congratulations! You’ve destroyed the vile Red Falcon and saved the universe. Consider yourself a hero.”
Contra consists of nine levels, but nine insane levels. You will die. You will die a lot. You may never beat the game. I completed my Contra review in three hours, but it took me around 30 times to beat the level two boss. It all depends on which weapon you have. I had the flamethrower against the boss in level two and that was a big mistake. My favorite weapon by far was the gun that had the spread shot. Even if your aim was off, you would probably hit at least one enemy. Once I secured the spread shot weapon, I didn’t collect any other power-ups, I didn’t see the point in risking it.
There was one feature from Contra that I enjoyed and thought was innovative. Instead of the whole game being horizontal side-scrolling, it mixes it up with 2D vertical levels. These levels acted like indoor shooting ranges. I applaud Contra for putting this into the game and made sure to include this feature in my Contra review. The level designs are generic but change at the same time. There is a jungle level, water level, snow level, factory level, and cave level, so you get all the environments even though most level layouts are the same for the side-scrolling part.
After each level, you face a boss that varies from difficulty. Some bosses I beat my first try but others like the second level boss took me close to 30 tries. The final boss is a weird alien sac that hatches little aliens. This fight took me about 15 tries. Most bosses show unique designs, which is refreshing, fighting the same boss over and over is boring. It wasn’t uncommon for games in the 80s to do that to save time and costs.
The gameplay was a lot of fun but the difficulty is the number of lives you get. You start with three, which is like saying here are three lives to cross this giant field littered with land mines, good luck. Back in the day, I don’t know how anyone beat this game without playing it hundreds of times to memorize every enemy. So if you beat it in the 80s, kudos to you. Well, I should say, if you beat it in the 80s without using the Konami code, kudos to you! Contra gained extra attention from one of the first universal cheat codes. The Konami code became so popular that even today it exists in various games and gets parodied in tv shows and movies. Did I use the Konami code? You bet I did!
I started playing Contra right after I got out of college. I had heard such great things about the first couple of games, that I wanted to see it for myself. I wasn’t disappointed, there was such much action on the screen with bullets flying everywhere. Call it silly, but I loved doing the summersaults in the air, it was just so over the top. I quickly learned to never stop shooting even if there are no enemies on the screen because even if you don’t see them, they’re coming! I wrote an old Contra review before but wanted to update it to reflect my last playthrough.
Contra Review Score:
If you love action, Contra is for you. If you like dying, Contra is for you. It’s not easy, although some make it look like it. I had to practice over and over to beat levels, but with the overall game so short I didn’t mind. There’s no difficulty curve, I found that the challenge was generally the same for every level unless you made the mistake of switching weapons.
The game is tough but fair. Contra is a fantastic run-and-gun game, I’m getting the itch to play it again just writing about it. It’s too bad that the series is in shambles today. The original Contra showed how much fun dying could be.
Contra scores a 7.7 out of 10.
What would you write in your Contra review? When did you first play Contra and did you team up with a friend to take down the Red Falcon? Which boss was your favorite and what was your weapon of choice? Let me know your memories and thoughts, I’d love to read the comments!
If you’d like to own a copy of Contra for the Nintendo, you can purchase a preowned version from eBay for $20.