Arcade games were designed to be nigh on impossible to complete. This was because not only did the creators want to challenge gamers, but they also needed to be able to sell a product to arcade owners who in turn wanted games that gamers would repeatedly pump their pocket money in to continue playing…it is a business after all. When arcade games were ported to home consoles, it often seems that the creators failed to adjust the difficulty levels. Young gamers today have no idea how easy they have it all with constant automatic saving, online walkthroughs and cheat pages close-by, at the touch of a button.
Contra is a run and gun video game developed and published by Konami for the Arcade in 1987. A home version was released on the NES in 1988 (in Europe, Contra was known as Probotector). Ocean Software ported the game to the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC in Europe in 1988 under the name Gryzor. Interestingly, Ocean’s cover art for the game was a clearly influenced by a photograph of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film Predator. For this review, I played the NES version of this game.
According to the NES manual, in 1957, a large object crashed into the Amazon near some Mayan ruins. Nothing further seemed to have happened and the incident was forgotten about. 30 years later, reports of weird alien monsters terrorising the local villages have been received by the Pentagon. Rather than create a political incident by sending in an army, the US send in two commandos, Lance and Bill, to find and destroy the aliens.
Contra is easy to play but tough to master. You mainly run, jump, lay down, and shoot. The controls are nice and responsive, and you can shoot in all directions. However, if you want to shoot directly down, then you need to jump. You can jump down to a lower platform simply by pressing down and jump. Be careful though…one shot can kill you and you only get a finite amount of lives and continues.
The manual describes all the levels you will fight through as well as what all the power-ups do. The power-ups are greatly appreciated as you progress through the games and the enemies begin to increase in number and strength. They also make defeating the end of level bosses much easier.
After every level, the perspective changes and your character begins in the foreground firing at enemies and defensive weapons in the background. Once you destroy the circular flashing light, which powers the electrical fence stopping you from moving forward, the rear wall explodes and you can progress to the next room. This must be done several times before you complete the level.
The levels are very well designed and very detailed. They are brightly coloured with many different platforms for you to jump up to and down from. The music fits the game well, and the sprites are clean and nicely animated. The overall graphics are pretty damn good for a home console in 1988.
The game becomes a lot more fun in two-player mode. Although you are competing for points, you are actually co-operating to beat the game, and it certainly makes the game easier. Mrs. L was my co-op buddy for this run through.
Did I complete the game?
Mrs. L and I did complete the game, but we needed the cheat that gave us 30 odd lives each. Without the cheat we could only get past the first few levels. On YouTube I did see one video where someone completed the game without dying once. Fair play to them.
What the critics said:
Computer Gaming World: “Two player contests are always in demand, because most video games are designed for a solo gamer. Contra is doubly welcome, because it is a truly outstanding action epic.” No rating given.
Joystick: ”Overall 92%”.
Best Action Game – 1989 Player’s Choice Awards
“Although this game is tough, it is also a lot of fun, especially in two player mode. Great graphics, tight controls, and adrenalin inducing levels. I think that you will find yourself returning to this game again and again.”
What are your memories of Contra? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.
 ‘How to Play Contra’. NES Contra Manual. :4 (https://www.gamesdatabase.org/Media/SYSTEM/Nintendo_NES/manual/Formated/Contra_-_1988_-_Konami.pdf Accessed 28th March 2020)
 Katz, A., ‘Video Gaming World – Contra’. Computer Gaming World. (June 1988). 48:40.
 Huyghues-Lacour, A., ‘Probotector’. Joystick. (April 1991). 15:118.
 ‘The 1989 “Player’s Choice Awards” – Best Action Game: Contra’. Electronic Gaming Monthly – 1989 Annual. (March 31 1989). :20.