Contra (video game series)
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The Contra logo as it appears on the title screen of the 1987 Contra arcade game, the first version of the first Contra game to be released.
|Genres||run and gun-style shoot-'em-ups|
|Platforms||Arcade, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, IBM PC, Nintendo Entertainment System, MSX2, Amiga, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Mega Drive/Genesis, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation, Sega Saturn, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Network, Game Boy Advance, Mobile, Xbox Live Arcade, Nintendo DS, WiiWare, Virtual Console|
|Platform of origin||Arcade|
Contra (魂斗羅) is a video game series produced by Konami composed primarily of run and gun-style shoot-'em-ups. The series debuted in 1987 as a coin-operated arcade game simply titled Contra, which was followed by the release of Super Contra in 1988 and several sequels produced for various home platforms.
The in-universe use of the term "Contra" is first explained within the Japanese instruction card of the arcade version of Contra, and reiterated in most games (including Contra: Shattered Soldier), as "a title awarded to a superior soldier possessing almost super human drive and ability, while excelling in guerrilla tactics".
In Japanese, the title is spelled with the kanji characters 魂斗羅 or Kontora. This is a form of ateji, in which the characters are used for their phonetic pronunciations rather than any inherent meaning they may have.
The arcade version of Contra was released on February 1987, a few months after the Iran–Contra affair was made public. While it is unclear whether the game was deliberately named after the Nicaraguan Contra rebels, the ending theme of the original game was titled "Sandinista" (サンディニスタ), after the adversaries of the real-life Contras.
The majority of the Contra games are side-scrolling shoot-'em-ups where the player takes control of an armed commando who must fight all sort of extraterrestrial monsters and other kinds of futuristic menaces. In addition to the side-scrolling stages, the original Contra also featured "3D view" levels where the player must move towards the background in order to progress, while subsequent titles, such as Super Contra and Contra III: The Alien Wars, feature overhead stages as well. Only the Appaloosa-developed installments in the series, Contra: Legacy of War and C: The Contra Adventure, as well as Neo Contra, deviated from the series' side-scrolling perspective (although Contra Adventure does feature two side-scrolling stages). Contra: Shattered Soldier, while maintaining the side-view perspective of the 2D games, features fully polygonal 3D graphics. Almost every game in the series, with only a few exceptions (such as the MSX2 version of Contra or Operation C for the Game Boy, which were single-player only), allows two players to play the game simultaneously.
The main power-ups in the series are falcon-shaped letter icons which will replace the player's default weapon with a new one, such as a Laser Gun or a Spread Gun. There are also power-ups that are actually auxiliary items like the Barrier (which provides temporary invincibility) or the Rapid Bullets (which increases the firing speed of the player's current weapon) in the original Contra, as well as weapons such as the Mega Shell in the arcade version of Super Contra and the Bombs in Contra III and Contra: Hard Corps, that are used to destroy all on-screen enemies. The original arcade version of Contra used the falcon icons for all of its weapons except the Laser Gun and the Fire Ball weapon, while in the arcade version of Super Contra, no Falcon icons were used. Contra: Shattered Soldier and Neo Contra both deviate from this tradition by having set weapon configurations instead.
Most of the Contra games have the player begin the game with only a set number of lives (three in most console games). If the player gets hit, they will lose a life along with any weapon they currently possess in some games. Even in the original arcade versions, most of the games only give limited chances to continue before forcing the player to start all over. Extra lives are usually obtained in most games when the player reaches certain scores. The NES version of the original Contra used the Konami Code (previously featured in the NES version of Gradius) to start the game with thirty lives instead of the usual three. Most of the subsequent console games in the series only featured these extra lives codes in their Japanese releases, such as Contra Spirits (the Japanese version of Contra III) and Contra: Hard Corps.
- First game in the series. Many of the series' convention such as power-ups, two-player cooperative gameplay and the character's light mobility (including somersaults) were already present in this game. The game is composed of traditional side-view stages that scroll either vertically or horizontally, as well as "3D view" stages in which the player moves towards the backgrounds. The NES version is essentially identical to the arcade version in terms of content, but has longer stages and other modifications. In Japan, the Famicom version uses the VRC2 chip, which allowed for additional background animation and cut-scenes not included in its North American and European NES counterparts. An MSX2 version was also produced that is drastically different from the other two versions. Several computer versions were done outside Japan, by Ocean in Europe for the C64, CPC and ZX, and by Banana Software in North America for DOS based PCs.
- Super Contra replaced the "3D view" stages from the original with "top-view" stages similar to those in Commando or Ikari Warriors. Features unique to the arcade version includes upgradeable weapons and the ability to control the character's jumping height. The NES version (retitled Super C for its North American version) has three new stages and a new final boss, but lacks the upgradable weapons from the arcade game. Unlimited Software created DOS and Amiga conversions for the North American market, based on the arcade original.
- The first Contra game made specifically for a portable platform. Featuring gameplay similar to the NES version of Super C, Operation C also first introduced the "homing gun" power-up.
- The series' first entry for a 16-bit game console, Contra III allows the player's character to climb into walls or railings and carry two weapons that can be switched back and forth, as well as smart bombs that kill all on-screen enemies. Many of the stages and bosses made use of the system's Mode 7 graphic effects, including a bike riding stage that ends in a midair battle with the main character riding missiles. The player is now required to rotate their character in the top-view stages to move along with the scenery. Two heavily modified portable ports were produced; a port for the original Game Boy, simply titled Contra: The Alien Wars; and a later Game Boy Advance port, titled Contra Advance: The Alien Wars EX, which replaced the top view stages with levels from Contra: Hard Corps.
- Contra Force (NES) (1992)
- Contra Force combines the run and gun style of the Contra series with a power-up system similar to Gradius. The game is notable for being the first Contra to feature selectable characters with their unique weapon configurations. Contra Force lacks the alien invaders and futuristic environment of previous installments, as the game centers around an elite task force fighting human terrorists in a present day setting. The game was actually planned as an unrelated game in Japan as Arc Hound, but was never officially released there, nor in Europe.
- The first Contra game for a Sega platform. Hard Corps also contains selectable characters with unique weapons and abilities and introduces an in-game storyline with branching paths that alters the ending.
- The first of two Contra titles developed by Appaloosa Interactive, as well as the first attempt to convert the Contra gameplay to 3D. Was originally sold with a pair of anaglyph glasses. The first console Contra game to be released in the PAL region with no changes. A Japanese release of Legacy of War was planned, but canceled.
- The second Contra game developed by Appaloosa. The gameplay is composed of several side-scrolling and 3D stages, as well as a single overhead stage. It's the only console game in the series to lack a multiplayer mode. C: The Contra Adventure was only released in North America, with no Japanese nor European versions.
- Features 2D side-scrolling gameplay with fully polygonal 3D graphics. The player now has a fixed weapon configuration, allowing the character to use one of three weapons. The player can also charge their weapon for a more powerful shot. The game grades the player's performance on each stage and only allows the good ending to those with an above-average rank.
- The first game in the series to be composed entirely of overhead stages. The player can now select their weapon configurations, which includes a weapon that locks onto airborne enemies.
- Developed by WayForward Technologies. The gameplay is displayed on two screens and the player's character now has a grappling hook that latches onto railings. The gameplay system is modeled after Contra III, with upgradeable weapons similar to Super Contra. It also features the return of the 3D view "tunnel" stages from the original Contra. The game has never been released in Europe.
- Developed by M2 and published by Konami for WiiWare. This new 2D side-scrolling game was released in May 2009 in Japan and features Bill Rizer and Genbei Yagyu from Neo Contra fighting off an alien invasion. It features hand-drawn sprite-based visuals, and has two unlockable characters as well as an unlockable "nightmare mode."
- The game was developed by Arc System Works and is the first Contra game without the "Contra" brand name in the title. It became available on Xbox Live Arcade on February 16, 2011, and was released on the PlayStation Network on March 15, 2011. It is a prequel to Contra: Hard Corps. The player will play the role of Colonel Bahamut, the main antagonist from Contra: Hard Corps. Although the game was released with only two different characters to choose from (as opposed to four like in Contra: Hard Corps), Konami has released additional characters via DLC.
- In 2011, a remake of the original Contra was released in arcades in China and later ported to iOS systems in 2013. It features updated graphics, new characters to choose from, pay-to-play credits to buy extra lives, and featured bonus stages.
The original arcade versions of Contra and Super Contra were ported to several computer platforms in North America and Europe during the late 1980s and 1990s. In North America, the original Contra and Super Contra (as Super C) were ported to DOS. A version of Super C was also released for the Amiga. Contra was released for the DOS, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum in Europe under the Gryzor title.
As software emulation become more widespread, the classic Contra games, both arcade and console installments, are being made available in numerous formats such as downloadable game services like the Wii's Virtual Console and Xbox Live Arcade, video game compilations, stand-alone re-releases and even as unlockable games in newer installments. Mobile Phone versions have been produced as well. For more information, see each individual game page.
- Contra Spirits 64 (Nintendo 64) (Canceled)
- Originally announced in late 1998, this Nintendo 64 incarnation of the series was to be developed by Konami Computer Entertainment Osaka, but was later canceled when the development team disbanded.
In other media
- Blades of Steel (Family Computer) - During the second intermission, either a video game will appear for Player One to play or a Konami ad will appear featuring a bear shooting the puck into a net mouthing the words "Nice Shot!" The video game is actually an advertisement for Contra and other Konami games.
- Konami Wai Wai World (Family Computer) - Although released a month before the Famicom version of Contra, the final boss theme in the game is the same one used in the original Contra.
- Wai Wai World 2: SOS!! Parsley Jō (Family Computer) - Bill Rizer appears as a playable character among other Konami characters.
- Snatcher - In the English-language Mega-CD/Sega CD version, two characters masquerading as Bill and Lance appear at a Konami-themed costume party held in the Outer Heaven show pub. They are replaced by Light and Pastel from the TwinBee series in the PlayStation and Sega Saturn versions. However in the same 32-bit versions of the game, an ad for a Contra film is shown on a large monitor on a building in the Altamila (Alton Plaza) shopping center.
- Nano Breaker (PlayStation 2) - Jaguar from Neo Contra appears as a hidden character.
- Best Student Council - A Konami-produced anime TV series. Pucchan's other hand puppet friend in episode 19 is named after Lance Bean, a nod to the Contra character.
- Pawapuro-kun Pocket 8 (Nintendo DS) - One of the minigames is a Contra parody.
- Silent Hill: Shattered Memories - Late in the game, the player explores a movie theater which features several Konami arcade machines in the lobby, including the original Contra. If the player makes lead character Harry Mason stare at the Contra machine for a moment, Harry will remark, "Some real classics."
- Rocket Knight - The ending, when playing as Gold Sparkster, features Bill Rizer shooting the Spread Gun at Gold Sparkster as he flies across the sky.
The original Contra, and its initial sequels (Super Contra and Contra III: The Alien Wars) are set in the 27th century, and center around two commandos named Bill Rizer and Lance Bean, who are members of a special guerrilla task force codenamed "Contra" repeatedly sent to thwart an army of alien invaders seeking to destroy the Earth. Bill Rizer was named Nintendo Power's 17th favourite video game hero, due to his aptitude with saving the world.
Some of the Contra games released after Contra III have deviated from this premise, such as Contra Force (which was set in the present day) and Contra: Hard Corps (which featured new heroes following the events of Contra III, as well as a human antagonist). However, the original Contra protagonist of Bill Rizer would not return in another game until Contra: Shattered Soldier, which brought back Bill Rizer (now a convicted war criminal) to fight against his former partner Lance, who has become a terrorist leader. Neo Contra also brought back Bill Rizer, however the character in this installment is revealed to be a clone of the original Bill, as the game is set in 4444, almost 1,800 years after Bill's last appearance in Shattered Soldier. Contra 4 brought back the original team of Bill and Lance by setting itself as a direct sequel to Contra III set before the events of Hard Corps and Shattered Soldier.
While the original Japanese version of the early Contra games (specifically the original Contra, Super Contra and Operation C), were set in the 27th century (in the years 2633, 2634, and 2635 in that order), the American versions of these games omitted this detail and the instruction manuals for these versions implied that the series was set during the present day. Contra III: The Alien Wars retained its futuristic setting of 2636 for its American release, but the identities of the two player characters, Bill Rizer and Lance Bean (the heroes from the previous installments), were changed to their descendants "Jimbo" and "Sully" in order to retain the continuity of the previous localizations. The American (and European) version of Contra: Shattered Soldier was the first Contra game overseas to follow the same continuity as its Japanese counterpart.
The enemy characters of the earlier games were also named differently in the American versions. Particularly "Red Falcon", originally the name of the terrorist army that was fought by the main characters in the first game (the Red Falcon Organization), became the name of the actual alien entity leader; thus "Red Falcon" became the name of the final boss fought at the end of Super Contra (or the second to last boss in the NES Super C) and Contra III; this particular boss was named "Emperor Demon Gava" (天王鬼 ギャバ Tennōki Gyaba ) in the original Japanese versions. The antagonist of the Game Boy game Operation C, originally a nameless hostile nation seeking to develop alien-based weapons in the Japanese version, was changed to "Black Viper", another alien invader (the alien cell the player must destroy after thwarting the final security system is presumably Black Viper itself). In Contra 4, the final boss is actually Black Viper itself, who takes a form similar to Gava did in the other games. "Mad Dog" and "Scorpion", originally the nicknames given to Bill and Lance in the NES versions of Contra and Super C, were made into separate characters in Contra 4.
When Konami released the NES version of the original Contra in the PAL region (Europe and Australia) they modified the game by replacing the original main characters and most of the human enemies with robotic counterparts, retitling the game Probotector (a portmanteau of "Robot" and "Protector"). The title referred to the two robotic soldiers, RD-008 and RC-011, who replaced Bill and Lance in this version. This was presumably done due to the German Federal Agency BPjM, which prohibited the sale and advertisement of media deemed too violent to children, including "content which glorifies war".
While the original arcade games, as well as a few computer conversions under the Gryzor title, were released unchanged in Europe, subsequent console installments of the Contra were released under the Probotector title in Europe. The original Probotector was followed by Probotector II: Return of the Evil Forces for the NES (originally Super C) and Super Probotector: Alien Rebels for the SNES (Contra III: The Alien Wars). The Contra games for the Game Boy (Operation C and the Game Boy version of Alien Wars) and Mega Drive (Contra: Hard Corps) were also released as Probotector titles in Europe. The series would revert to the Contra title in Europe beginning with Contra: Legacy of War for the PlayStation, retaining the human characters. However, Probotector II and Super Probotector were still released for the Wii Virtual Console in Europe and Australia like their original releases, with no "uncensored" versions available. Although Contra 4 was not released in Europe, the "Probotector" character appears in the game as a hidden character.
- Ａ－ＪＡＸ～コナミ・ゲーム・ミュージック VOL.4 (A-Jax: Konami Game Music Vol. 4 (booklet). G.M.O. Records / Alfa Records. 28XA-201. http://vgmdb.net/album/3863.
- "Konami Announces Contra Rebirth for WiiWare". Nintendo World Report. 2009-05-09. Retrieved 2009-05-11.
- Hatfield, Daemon (2009-05-12). "Contra ReBirth Impressions". IGN. Retrieved 2009-05-13.
- IGN staff (January 29, 1999). "Contra Canned". IGN.com. Retrieved 2008-12-24.
- Nintendo Power 250th issue!. South San Francisco, California: Future US. 2010. pp. 40, 41.