“Contra” is a platforming shooter game that was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988 by game developer Konami. The game is actually a port of a 1987 arcade game by the same name. The player plays as famed commandos Bill “Mad Dog” Rizer or Lance “Scorpion” Bean as they take on the sinister Red Falcon Organization from conquering the world. The game is largely known for its intense soundtrack, iconic weapons, and a not-so-secret code that helps you even the odds, if only a little.
Mad Dog and Scorpion only have a few moves available to them, but it's the ability to use those few skills that will separate the men from the boys. You have a fairly versatile jump and can even aim your gun in 8 different directions. Your gun fires a basic bullet, but can be powered-up with items which alter your gun's power or grant you temporary invincibility, and you'll need anything you can get your hands on to defeat the Red Falcon. Some examples of weapons include:
- Fire Gun: Shoots fire across the screen in a somewhat-slow circular motion
- Laser Gun: Fires a long laser that pierces multiple enemies
- Machine Gun: Fires a stream of bullets as long as you hold down the fire button.
- Spread Shot: Fires a shot that spreads as it travels, gradually covering more room.
The game is mainly a side-scrolling platformer, meaning that you follow a set two-dimensional path where you have to jump to various platforms in order to advance. There are, however, two “enemy base” stages, where you shoot and travel down a long hallway in a somewhat three-dimensional fashion, a feature not usually seen on the now-primitive NES.
Your enemies are varying and innumerable. Kamikaze troops will run straight at you, while others aim rifles or throw grenades from a distance. Each stage ends with a large enemy who's more difficult to defeat, most commonly referred to as a “boss.” Keep your reflexes sharp and your Spread Shot in hand, because if you take one hit, you're done. You start with three lives, and that's it.
“Contra” fits right in next to the action movies of the late 80's and early 90's. In fact, your playable characters are actually based off of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. The “lone soldier” feel and macho look of your characters instills a vague feeling of power which cleverly tricks you into thinking you stand a chance against the Red Falcon. The music from the game, especially the theme from the first jungle stage, has been covered by more rock bands than you can count.
The games difficulty in unforgiving. Endless waves of enemies come at you from every direction, and the bosses are ruthless and can take way more punishment than they dish out. But it's not so difficult that it's impossible. Each time you play, you'll get just a little further, and it genuinely makes you feel like you're getting better. There's a code that makes things a bit easier by granting you 30 lives, but more on that in just a bit.
“Contra” is held in high regard and has spawned many sequels since it's 1988 release. The fast-paced action and rocking soundtrack fit perfectly together, and it's hard to find something that teaches the notion of “practice makes perfect” better. The game's difficulty is not singular however. At the time, game companies intentionally made their games very difficult, the idea being that you'd play the game more and get more out of your purchase.
“Contra” is also largely considered the origin of the famed “Konami Code.” When you start the game, the cover screen scrolls onto the TV. By pressing up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, and Start before the cover screen is done scrolling, you'll be given 30 live instead of three, allowing you to stick out the fight just a little bit longer. Konami feature this code in numerous other games, all to differing effects. This code is widely known to video games veterans and is even featured on some websites. Try entering the code on various websites (with “Enter” in place of “Start”) and see if anything changes.
“Contra” is fairly easy to find in NES cartridge format, but has been included with various Konami Collections, and is included as a sub-game in “Contra 4” for the Nintendo DS.