Contra (NES) review
"Contra’s weapons don’t blow their loads in retarded, premature fashion as is the case with other games in the genre. These weapons kill hard and die harder. The Laser rips through anything in its path, the Machine gun eats up alien troops like Fruit Loops, to say nothing of the Spread. The Spread? you query, clearly curious. The spread cuts swaths through hopeless, hapless oncomers. "
The music starts in, sweetly bloated with self-importance. Those spare chords, those crashing cymbals (or maybe it's rushing water, or someone saying "tschhhh"). Two manly men appear, muscles bulging. They are Mad Dog and Scorpion. The word “Contra” appears on the screen.
Welcome to hardcore.
Contra is badass, it’s hard, it’s addictive. You'll have noticed that this is a review for a very old game, and so I don't have to sell you on how beautiful it is, how gorgeous the orchestrations are, how luscious the package is—in order for you to part with fifty of your hard-earned dollars. (If you're one of those spoiled kids who whines on Net forums about only getting a domestic this year and not a Benz, then stop reading and start bidding; why start being discerning now?)
I won’t sell you on those things, because Contra features none of the above, and it shouldn't cost you more than a few paltry dollars. What it is, is ideal game design equating the purest accessible enjoyment. Good ol' sidescrolling action starring two guys—at the same time!—with big guns against a crawling chaos of alien soldiers, creatures, and imposing armaments.
Contra works so well because it manages to make an intense game without making circumstances trying for the player. There is no false sense of challenge here; our protagonists have not been handicapped pitifully so that moving about defeating enemies is inordinately difficult.
For starters, our Mad Dog and Scorpion can jump. I was replaying another “classic” the other day, one Bionic Commando, and that guy couldn’t even jump. His bionic arm was cool, but why should cool be introduced at the cost of fundamental game functions? No, these guys can do tight, balled-up somersaults that would make He-Man envious, and you can control them throughout the entire jump.
You’ll remember famous and typical Castlevania moments such as this: “oops I’m airborne and heading towards a pit, I’m halfway and there’s a bat coming my—curtains”. Disaster along these lines is easily averted in Contra, where your balled-up trajectory can be corrected along the way. You'll even get to 'fake out' sensor-based alien weapons with your versatile jumping ability.
Besides leaping about, our heroes can shoot diagonally. I know it may be hard to believe that evidence of such programming prowess was manifest over a decade ago when so many of today’s shooters flounder with just four-way directional firing, but believe it. Shoot diagonally while running, shoot while belly down in the dirt. Hold your breath and plunge under water to dodge bullets.
And come up shooting. Contra’s weapons don’t blow their loads in retarded, premature fashion as is the case with other games in the genre. These weapons kill hard and die harder. The Laser rips through anything in its path, the Machine gun eats up alien troops like Fruit Loops, to say nothing of the Spread. The Spread? you query, clearly curious. The spread cuts swaths through hopeless, hapless oncomers.
You can see that Konami gives you a straight flush, and that makes Contra a breeze—right? Ha. Anyone who tells you that has been making use of the famous 30-man code far too often to know what the game is like when played fairly. With just three lives in stock, and three continues waiting at the title screen, you must shoot through eight levels of relentless alien aberrance. Konami made its game as hard as its heroes.
It is an infuriating state of affairs that sees Contra spawn a ton of sequels, with just one managing to be on par with it; that game which came DIRECTLY after it, Super C. I hate to name names, but ALIEN HOMINID, a newish invention which has been touted as something special and wonderful, was released this year and pales in nearly every way to this classic.
Contra is so universally powerful, that it has taken up centre stage in my friend's rather expensive entetainment setup. (Certainly not expensive by the standards of you spoiled kids, if you're still reading.) He's got a costly karaoke thing going, and lots of other sleek black electronic consoles and gadgets, but at the parties, everyone just comes in the room to play Contra, one and all aspiring to be the first to finish it while impaired.
And so: through the jungle and the forest we go. Through enemy bases, through the snow-capped platforms where flares break the icy water. Before long, it's your shirtless self, and shirtless friend, locked in mortal combat with purplish demon arachnids and face-hugger pretenders in the ALIEN LAIR. The end is near, and yet, it’s a common occurrence to see gamers clear Contra only to begin another go at the bad guys without so much as a pause for a toilet break.
I’ve remarked that the presentation isn’t mindblowing. But it’s always easy to see what is what, and the soundtrack includes some of the catchiest melodies ever heard in a game. This title simply has no known weaknesses; just pick it up for a few bucks on Ebay. You’ll sing the very same tune.
Staff review by Marc Golding (March 19, 2005)
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