Contra (video game)
Promotional brochure for the North American arcade release
Koji Hiroshita (director)
Shigeharu Umezaki (director)
Shinji Kitamoto (director)
|Genre(s)||Run and gun|
|CPU||Hitachi 6309 (12 MHz)|
|Sound||Motorola 6809 (3 MHz) driving a Yamaha YM2151|
|Display||Raster, standard resolution (Used: 224 x 280)
Contra employs a variety of playing perspectives, which include a standard side view, a pseudo-3D view (in which the player proceeds by shooting and moving towards the background, in addition to left or right) and a fixed screen format (in which the player has their gun aimed upwards by default). Up to two people can play simultaneously, with one player as Bill (the blond-haired commando with the white tank top and blue bandanna), and the other player as Lance (the shirtless dark-haired commando in the red bandanna). The controls consists of an eight way joystick and two action buttons for shooting and jumping. When the character jumps, he curls into a somersault instead of doing a conventional jump like in other games. The joystick controls not only the player's movement while walking and jumping, but also his aiming. During side view stages, the player can shoot leftward, rightward or upward while standing, as well as horizontally and diagonally while walking. The player can also shoot in any of eight directions, including downwards, while jumping. Pressing the joystick downwards while standing will cause the character to lie down on his stomach, allowing him to avoid enemy fire and shoot low targets. When the jump button is pressed while crouching on a higher platform, the player will drop down to a lower level.
The player's default weapon is a rifle with unlimited ammunition that can be upgraded into one of four other guns. These can be obtained by destroying the pill box sensors and flying item capsules containing them, or by defeating the red-clad guards in the enemy bases. They consist of a machine gun, a laser gun that shoots a powerful beam, a fireball gun that shoots its rounds in a corkscrew pattern, and a spread gun that sprays bullets in five directions. There are also two auxiliary power-ups that only appear in certain areas when the player is armed with his default gun: a rapid bullets upgrade that increases the firing speed of the player's shots; and a barrier that makes him invulnerable for a limited period. With the exception of the machine gun and the laser gun, each item comes in the form of a Falcon-shaped symbol marked with a letter representing its function (F, S, R and B).
The first stage is a side-scrolling level where the player is dropped into the jungle and must fend off the enemy's initial line of defense until reaching the entrance of the first base and destroying the large sensor. The game switches to the pseudo-3D view in Stage 2, as the player must fight his way through a series of passageways before time runs out (a display at the top of the screen shows the map of the base and the time remaining). The player proceeds to the goal by destroying the sensors in each corner in order to shut down the electric current blocking each path. Stage 3 is set in the core of the base, where the player must destroy a set of flashing sensors positioned above him in order to expose the target at the top of the screen and destroy it. Stages 4 through 6 follows a similar pattern to the first three stages, with Stage 4 being a vertically-scrolling level set in a waterfall in which the player must jump his way across various platforms until reaching the entrance of the second base at the top.
The seventh and final stage returns to the side-scrolling format from the beginning, as the player fights his way through the enemy's final line of defense (which includes a hovercraft, armored trucks, and giant helmeted soldiers) while proceeding through areas such as a snowfield, an energy plant and a hangar, until reaching the alien's lair, where the regular enemy soldiers are replaced with otherworldly creatures. The player must fight a giant alien head that spawns larvae from its mouth before reaching the final target, a heart that must be destroyed in order to complete the mission.
The player loses a life if Lance (or Bill) gets touched by enemy or an enemy bullet, fails to complete a base stage before the time limit, or falls into the bottom of the screen when there's no visible platform. When that happens, he will revert to his default weapon on his next life. After losing all lives, the player can continue by inserting more coins (if necessary) and pressing START, but only up to three times.
The Contra arcade game was released in three versions. The Japanese and American versions are virtually identical, aside from the title logo. However, the European version, titled Gryzor, only allows two players to play the game alternating rather than simultaneously.
In 2633, the evil Red Falcon Organization have set a base on the Galuga archipelago near New Zealand in a plot to conquer the world. Two commandos, Pfc. Bill Rizer and Pfc. Lance Bean of the Contra unit (an elite group of soldiers specializing in guerrilla warfare), are sent to the island to destroy the enemy forces and uncover the true nature of the alien entity controlling them.
Under license from Konami, Ocean Software produced ports of Contra under the title of Gryzor for the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, and Amstrad CPC, which were released in Europe in 1988. The Commodore 64 version was released in North America under the Contra title. Ocean's ports were patterned after the original arcade version of the game. An IBM PC version was developed by Banana Development Inc and released in North America. This version was released in Europe under the Gryzor name. The cover illustration of Ocean's Gryzor ports by Bob Wakelin was inspired by different poses of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger from the film Predator. The illustration was later used for the packaging of the NES version, as well as the MSX2 version.
Nintendo Entertainment System
Contra was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America in February 1988. This version was produced in-house by Konami and features several differences from the arcade release in order to better suit the NES's hardware. The game can be played by up to two players, but due to the graphical limitations of the NES, Bill and Lance lost their individualized character designs. Instead, they are both depicted as shirtless commandos distinguished by the colors of their pants (blue pants for the first player and red pants for the second). When one player loses all of their lives, they are given the option to use the other player's stock to keep fighting.
The power-up icons for the Machine Gun and Laser Gun were also changed and are now represented by letter-based falcon symbols like the other weapons. The Rapid Bullets and Barrier power-ups are also more common in this version. The NES version introduces a seventh item that clears the screen of all on-screen enemies when obtained, although it only appears in one area throughout the entire game.
The NES version consists of eight stages, which are structured a bit differently from the arcade game. Stage 1 (the jungle) starts similarly to its arcade counterpart, but the level is longer and there's an added segment where the player must jump over a couple of bottomless pits just before reaching the gate. Stage 2 combines the first base stage and the subsequent battle in the core of the base into one level, whereas Stage 4 does the same for the second base and its core. Both base stages no longer have a time limit and feature a completely linear layout compared to the maze-like designs of their arcade counterparts. Stage 3 (the waterfall) is also longer and has a different boss at the end: instead of destroying a sensor, the player fights an alien statue that shoots fireballs from its mouth and limbs. Stages 5 through 8 are based on the various areas that composed the final stage of the arcade version (a snowfield, an energy zone, a hangar and the alien's lair). Each of these stages end with a showdown against an enemy boss.
Contra was one of the early NES games to feature the Konami Code. Inputting the code at the title screen starts the player with thirty lives instead of the usual three. The cheat will be in effect as well when the player runs out of lives and uses a continue to retry a stage.
When the NES version of Contra was localized for the North American market, certain details of the game's background story were altered. The year of the setting was changed from 2633 to 1987 (the year of the arcade version's release) and the location was moved from the Galuga Islands to the Amazon. Bill and Lance were also given the codenames of Mad Dog and Scorpion.
Contra was released for the Family Computer in Japan on February 9, 1988. While the gameplay remains identical to the NES version released around the same month, the Famicom version utilized a custom-made Multi-Memory Controller that Konami produced called the VRC2 (in contrast to the UNROM board used by its NES counterpart). This allowed for the inclusion of cut-scenes and a few graphical effects that were not possible in the NES version.
The game begins with a prologue sequence explaining the game's backstory, followed by a map of the Galuga archipelago, which is shown at the start of every stage to indicate the player's progress. Cut-scenes are also shown between stages, depicting Bill (or Lance) giving a status report of his current situation to headquarters, and in later stages, shooting his gun towards the screen. The ending sequence is also slightly different and if the player holds the select and start buttons during the credits sequence, a secret message will be displayed after the Konami logo. Other differences include the addition of a sound test mode, added background animations in certain stages (such as windblown palm leaves in Stage 1 and a snowstorm in Stage 5), a different stage clear jingle when the player clears the final stage, and another cheat code that allows the player to start the game at any stage.
Probotector is a modified version of the NES Contra that was released for the PAL region on December 28, 1990. This version redesigns the human protagonists and some of the enemy characters to give them a robotic appearance. This was done to circumvent the BPjM's censorship laws in Germany, which prohibits the sales of violent video games to minors. Subsequent Contra games for home consoles followed suit, all being released in the PAL region under the Probotector title and featuring similar modifications. Beginning with Contra: Legacy of War, Konami abandoned the Probotector title and localized most of the further games with minimal changes.
An MSX2 version of Contra was released by Konami exclusively in Japan on May 26, 1989. The MSX2 version greatly differs from the arcade and NES versions. Due to hardware limitations of the MSX2, the game does not scroll but instead uses flip-screens like other MSX2 games such as Metal Gear and Vampire Killer. Rather than one-hit kills, there is an energy gauge, which allows Bill Rizer to take more than one shot or hit before losing a life. There are two main power-ups in the MSX2 version, a Falcon-shaped power-up that increases the player's walking and shooting speed, as well as a gun-shaped power-up which allows the player to change their current weapon. After picking up the weapon power-up, the player can choose between the default Normal Gun or four other weapons. The Spread Gun is not featured in this version, replaced by Rear Gun similar to the tailgun in certain Gradius games, which fires at two directions at the same time. The MSX2 Contra is composed of 19 stages. The first nine stages are based on the arcade version, while the final ten stages are new to this version and are set entirely underground. Unlike the arcade and NES versions, the MSX2 version is single-player only (Lance Bean does not appear in any form), and has no continuation feature; if a player loses all lives, the game will be immediately over.
- A PlayStation 2 port of the arcade version of Contra was released in Japan on May 25, 2006 as part of the Oretachi Geasen Zoku Sono-series of retro game ports by Hamster.
- A second rerelease was made for the Xbox Live Arcade on November 8 of the same year, with Digital Eclipse handling the conversion.
- The arcade version was also included in Konami's classic game compilation Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits for the Nintendo DS.
- During Konami Mobile's tenure, several variations of Contra were released for different mobile phones, based off the arcade version.
- The NES version of Contra is included in the video game compilation Konami Collector's Series: Castlevania & Contra for Microsoft Windows, released in North America in 2002, which also includes Super C and the three Castlevania games released for the NES.
- The NES Contra and Super C are included in the Nintendo DS game Contra 4 as hidden bonuses.
- The MSX2 version of Contra was released for the Virtual Console in Japan on February 2, 2010 for the Wii and on October 15, 2014 for the Wii U.
Much of the game's popularity came from its two-player simultaneous gameplay, which was an uncommon feature in video games at the time of Contra's release. While successful in the arcades, the game became and remained widely popular and remembered when it was ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988. Computer Gaming World called Contra on the Nintendo "a truly outstanding action epic" set on a "scrolling and beautifully drawn playfield". It was voted #1 by gaming website IGN.com as being the "Toughest Game to Beat". Nintendo Power ranked Contra the seventh best Nintendo Entertainment System video game, calling it one of the best multiplayer NES games. GamesRadar ranked it the 19th best NES game ever made despite its inferiority to the arcade version. Game Informer also included it in their list of best games ever at number 13. The staff noted that while not revolutionary, it was fun. The MS-DOS version of the game was reviewed in 1989 in Dragon #142 by Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser in "The Role of Computers" column.
Contra was followed by Super Contra a year later. It was the only Contra sequel for the arcades developed in-house by Konami. Following the success of the NES adaptations of both, the original and its sequel (which was retitled Super C in its American release), subsequent sequels would be produced specifically for the home console market such as Contra III: The Alien Wars for the Super NES and Contra: Hard Corps for the Genesis, becoming one of Konami's landmark series. As of 2014, the series has 11 installments.
The music from the arcade version of Contra is one of the soundtracks included in the video game album Konami Game Music Vol.4: A Jax, which was released by Alfa Records on May 10, 1988, in CD (catalog no. 28XA-201), cassette (ALC-22922), and vinyl (ALR-22922).
Notes and references
- "Fire and Forget - Probotector". Power Play (in German). Markt+Technik Verlag (12/90). 1990. Retrieved 11 July 2011.
- "Roboter in Rage - Probotector". Video Games (in German). Markt+Technik Verlag (1/91). 1991. Retrieved 11 July 2011.
- "Contra". The International Arcade Museum. Retrieved 5 Oct 2013.
- The Japanese flyer counts the different areas of the final level as four separate stages, but the actual game uses no such division.
- "Scans of the Japanese brochure for Contra". The Arcade Flyer Archive.
- "Save the Last Lance for Me (Gryzor review)". The Games Machine (003): 52. February 1988.
- "Gryzor review". Power Play (in German). April 1988.
- "Bob Wakelin at Exotica".
- "Instruction Manual of Probotector for the NES (transcript from NES World)".
- "オレたちゲーセン族 - 魂斗羅".
- "Contra - Game Detail Page at Xbox.com". Retrieved 2010-11-16.
- "Details of Contra (MSX2 version) for the Virtual Console at Konami" (in Japanese).
- "MSX Virtual Console Lineup" (in Japanese). D4 Enterprise.
- Knight, Kyle. "Contra - Overview". AllGame. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
- Katz, Arnie; Kunkel, Bill; Worley, Joyce (June 1988). "Video Gaming World". Computer Gaming World. pp. 40–42.
- IGN: Top 10 Tuesday: Toughest Games to Beat
- "Nintendo Power - The 20th Anniversary Issue!" (Magazine). Nintendo Power. 231 (231). San Francisco, California: Future US. August 2008: 71.
- "Best NES Games of all time". GamesRadar. 2012-04-16. Retrieved 2013-12-05.
- Cork, Jeff (2009-11-16). "Game Informer's Top 100 Games of All Time (Circa Issue 100)". Game Informer. Retrieved 2013-12-10.
- Lesser, Hartley; Lesser, Patricia; Lesser, Kirk (February 1989). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (142): 42–51.
- James Montgomery. "Vampire Weekend Have Konami To Thank For Contra". MTV Online. Retrieved 2011-01-01.