Contra Coming Back to Haunt Me!
This is my trip down memory lane with my favourite NES games. For those who do not know, NES or Nintendo Entertainment System was one of the biggest video game consoles of the 80’s. It was so huge that it revived a whole industry and gave a whole generation of gamers some of the best game franchises like Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy and Contra that run riot even to this day!
My first tryst with Contra was at this shady video game arcade I found in the neighbourhood, when I was 8-9 years old. What attracted me were the bright colours in the first stage. The lush green meadows, the azure blue waters….. Aaah! Memories! Anyways, when I got my first NES console a couple of years later, one of the first games I looked for was Contra! (Sorry Mario, you never gave me the entertainment Contra could!) Even later games from the Contra franchise never got my interest, except for Super C. (More on that in a later review.) As I had expected, my NES console gave up on me and stopped working. Moreover, games like Doom and Need For Speed caught my attention.
It was during 2005-2006 that I rediscovered my favourite classics through emulation. My systems (even my netbook) has NES and Genesis emulators. Enough of my ranting, let’s take a look at the game.
The plot of the game is very simple. There are two guys Bill and Lance (name them anything: Harry and Sally, Tom and Dick, ANYTHING!) with loads of attitude and big guns, who are out there to save the world against the evil Red Falcon, who with his horde of aliens and terrorists plan to take over the world. Pretty simple, eh! Anyways you get unlimited ammo to kick some serious ass and do impossible feats at jumping which would put an Olympic gymnast to shame!
You push the game cartridge into the console, boot it up and you are presented with a simple menu…
The menu gives you an option for single player or two-player mayhem. This is he place where you get to enter the legendary Konami Cheat Code giving you 30 lives, instead of the regular 3. And let me tell you, this game is fucking hard! Meant to be an arcade game, using as many coins as possible, Konami designed one of their toughest games in Contra. If you have cracked it without using cheats, you surely have some amazing hand-eye coordination! (BTW, I have done it too, just once!). You have eight levels of mayhem to get to the finale. I’ll leave the visuals for you to decide.
The controls of Contra of NES is very easy to understand, extremely difficult to master! The NES controllers were very basic and Konami had to work with those limitations. The standard NES console came with two hard-wired controllers. Each had a D-Pad, and two buttons A and B. The first player controller also had the Select and Start buttons. A for firing bullets and B for jumping. If you had a 2nd generation NES console or a pirated one with detachable controllers, you could plug in the aftermarket controllers which had four buttons, containing Turbo A and B buttons.
Music and Sound
The music is pretty awesome in this game considering the limitations of the NES.It is mostly plain Heavy Metal fare, with some unique Japanese influences. The sound effects are realistic. Explosions are correctly mapped. Gunshot sounds are realistic. There are nifty touches here and there like the zapping sound of electrocution in levels 2 and 4 or the sound of incoming mortar shells in level 5. Overall, it adds to he immersive atmosphere of the game.
While it may look colorful, in reality, hell awaits. Every nook and corner is filled with snipers hiding in bushes, gunmen running and firing, wall mounted cannons, even a mini howitzer firing bullets! Being a side/vertical scroller, you cannot go back or go down. Death awaits in the form of bullets, contact with the enemy, falling…… the possibilities are many. One great aspect of the game is that the player has the same mortality as the enemy; one bullet kills the enemy and the enemy kills with just one bullet. This is of course except bosses and mini-bosses.
Most levels are standard horizontal scrollers. Each stage being slightly grim and complicated than the next. In level 1 named Jungle, at the beginning you can take cover by hiding under water, which is missing from the subsequent stages.
Level 2 and 4 of the game is in 3D, that is instead of a side-view perspective, there is a third-person view behind the player, similar to Max Payne and GTA III. I guess it was one of the first third person perspective games with “behind the back” view! Each level was a doorway which had to be broken and were protected by High-Voltage wires. You could also get electrocuted if you tried to move forward, but it wouldn’t kill. Also, the doorways had men lobbying grenades, firing bullets, shoving mines. The doors were themselves protected by turrets. The 3D bosses were really pain in the rear. Ugly, translucent and firing bluish eggs, It took hell lotta jumping and dodging to destroy them.
Level 3 is purely vertical. Called Waterfall, the level features one going up through a waterfall, with even more turrets and howitzers! The colour scheme is again azure waterfalls, with mossy horizontal steps and rocky brown rocks. At the end of the stage, an Alien boss is seen for the first time. Scary, ugly and sickeningly yellow….. Just makes you wish you could pulverize that bastard!
Level 5 is more or less like Level 1, with snow and large pine trees replacing the lush greenery. You get large oval shaped stuff lobbed from the background, which make the sound of fired mortar shells! And metal parts replacing it afterwards to indicate that you are close to the lair of the bad guy! It also features the game’s first mini-boss. An ugly spiky truck that changes colour with damage and fires bullets from a movable cannon. The final boss is a UFO that drops explosive liquid and mini UFOs that run amok on the ground!
Level 6 titled Energy Zone is in my opinion the trickiest of all levels. You have to dodge the usual human-cannon-enemy hordes. Moreover there are leaky pipes which spew energy blasts. Some of them are timed, so you can dodge them smartly. But couple of them are more like proximity sensors. There is no way to dodge them, unless you want to lose a precious life. And the boss is a jumping lunatic. A cross between Spiderman and some villain from the ThunderCats, this guy is plain wierd!
Level 7 is titled Hangar and it is again the similar to levels 1 and 5. Though it is called Hangar, I never saw any planes or UFOs. You have a railroad track, with some open carriages you can ride. There are some claw lifts that go down periodically, so they are easy to dodge. The boss is the easiest in this level, it has no defense at all! So just shoot at the pulsating mark above the final door, and its defeated!
Level 8 is the finale, named Alien’s Lair. A couple of steps into it you face the game’s second mini-boss. While it looks like an alien mouth, you just cant stop comparing it to the male genitalia. I mean seriously! That Alien sure does look like a HUGE PENIS! After that, you get attacked by floating mothballs and near the finale, giant finger-like aliens, which look like face-huggers from Ridley Scott’s epic movie, Aliens. Lastly you get to meet Red Falcon, which is just a gob of alternating red and blue mass connected to the entire cave. He has four face-hugger spawn pods that he throws at you as defense. It is easy as pie to destroy the last two bosses compared to the rest of the game.
After defeating, you get a cutscene transporting you out of the island on a chopper and the island bursting and disintegrating to dust. The final game message says congratulates you, saying “Consider yourself a hero” and the end credits roll.
Contra had been a huge part of my childhood and early teens. Just coming out of the nostalgia of it all, I think it is one of the finest platformers created. Considering the fact that it was on a NES which was a huge technological block, Konami had developed an extremely immersive and nerve-wracking action game, honestly! Even in its little imperfections, it paved the way for future generations of action video games. Thank you Konami for giving us such a wonderful piece of gaming excellence.