On February 20, 1987, a new arcade game debuted in Japan. It was called Contra, and offered players a challenging, fast-paced run-and-gun experience. Developed by Konami, the cabinet surely had its fans, but it was its console port that would establish name recognition for the franchise. Less than a year later, on February 2 in 1988, North America had first dibs on the 8-bit cartridge made for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Contra on NES boasted one of the first uses of the Konami code, which many gamers would need in order to complete the game, since entering the button sequence gave 30 extra lives instead of the standard 3, a huge difference in a very challenging title. This level of challenge ensured massive replay value, however, as many home players would return to their controllers time and time again to take a crack at the on-screen action.
Sporting an early use of two-player simultaneous play, it was the perfect game to play with a friend. Konami truly stretched the development boundaries of the hardware for the time, and Contra would become a shining example of what was possible in 8 bits, since even cartridges made half a decade later would still seem inferior, despite programming teams having had so much more time to master their developmental techniques.
The console release had a few differences from the arcade cabinet; perhaps most importantly, there was no longer a time limit. There was now also an additional power-up, a “bomb” that instantly destroyed all on-screen enemies. But even between the regions, the console release saw differences, as the Japanese debut a week later arrived with an extended opening and map-related short cutscenes between stages.
Regardless of the design decisions made, the result was an undeniable success, as the home console release proved to be popular enough to launch a whole series of sequels across subsequent platforms in decades to come.
For many retro gamers, Contra remains a favorite. As long as the NES remains in the public consciousness, Contra will be remembered as among its stalwart examples of high-quality gaming. Even on its silver anniversay, it offers thumb jockeys an adrenaline-pumping dose of high-octane action. Long live the Contra.
Eric Bailey blogs at NintendoLegend.com, where he is reviewing every American-released NES video game. He also serves as Editor-In-Chief of retro gaming features site 1MoreCastle.com, and can be followed on Twitter @Nintendo_Legend.