For many kids growing up in the mid-late 1980's it was all about Mario and his chums. I was a fan myself, but the one game that really cemented me as a video game fan for life was Konami's Contra. The gun-slinging, alien- shootin' atmosphere was off the charts, with incredible graphics, sound and gameplay. And unlike Mario, two could play at once. In short, it was a senses-shattering, boom-in-your-face adrenaline action thriller. It was the kind of game you talked to your buds about on the play ground at recess. The kind where you never quite tire of beating again and again, provided you had a friend firing alongside you every step of the way
Tonight we take a trip down memory lane, recalling along the way the memorable nasties, the unforgettable little moments, and why this game has stood the test of time
HAPPY 20TH ANNIVERSARY
Today, February 9, 2008, marks 20 years to the day that Konami released Contra on the Famicom. I shit you not -- I had no idea until 5 minutes ago as to the exact date. I knew it was sometime in 1988. Then I saw it was February for the US release. Wow, 20 years, I thought. Then I noticed the Japanese release date was February 9, 1988. So, as I write this, it's EXACTLY twenty years to the day... an improbable coincidence if I ever saw one!
There are indeed strong and mysterious forces at work here..
Ah the classic 'Konami kode' which gave you 30 men. Ask any serious Nintendo fan about the code and they'll recite it for ya on cue (select, start for 2 players)
The first stage is the very memorable Jungle romp. Indeed, it was always amusing to us young 'uns how your guy's as big as the trees themselves!
One of the great things you first notice are all the convenient angles you can fire at... made you never look at games where the hero could only shoot across quite the same ever again, yeah?
For some reason this silly mechanical bridge really captivated my imagination as a youth. My brother and I would often see who could cross it successfully, sort of a game-within-a-game type thing, yeah
Now THAT'S what I'm talking about!
I know I sure haven't
At the end of the jungle lies this humongous base. I remember thinking what a huge boss it was at that time, and if I wasn't sold yet, I was now. A sucker for any sort of elaborate Lego base or set, I was blown away by how cool this imposing structure appeared
First order of business is to eliminate the entry soldier. Next, the two turrets, which spits out lovely red gumballs
Indeed it was. After clearing the two turrets, wipe the base plate out and proceed onto level 2
What great horrors and thrills await you there?
This scene blew my mind back in '88. It was like nothing I had personally seen on the little ol' 8-bit NES. Like all of the game's levels, to this day I can hum level 2's theme...
Simply riveting stuff back in '88
Boss numero 2 is yet another awe-worthy gigantic structure. First you must blow away the pods. Once you do, look at the black screen for a good luck message... or at least yet another notable boss, anyhow
Oh I know you can hear the music right about now, yes? Don't deny it. You can even recall the sound that occurs every time you die, can't you? Good stuff. Except about the dying part, though
We called this boss "Snakey" or "Snake Breath." No explanation needed... just look at him! To this day I can see him zooming across his tiny black space back and forth, desperately spewing his venomous breath
Stage 3... gotta make your way up to the top of this treacherous mountain. Keep your eyes peeled and your guns ready
The classic rocks-falling-down bit. Remember to keep pace with player 2 (if applicable)
Another cool part. Those two small fires move back and forth while turrets and soldiers from above try their damndest to take you out
Thankfully you've got that invulnerable icon there...
Barney ain't got nutthin' on you!
... Very nasty
After a lengthy and arduous journey some 5,000 feet up this mountain top, you have to deal with the guardian from Hell...
YIKES! What a beast this guy is. Nobody could do bosses quite like Konami. That was their MO, no? First you gotta take out his two limbs
Then once that's done, blow his gawd damn jaw off! You can actually position yourself where you're able to hit him and he just misses you. An easy bloke, but a damn impressive and highly unforgettable one. He was one of my favorite bosses of all time. I remember my reaction the first time my bro and I saw him: "WHOA!"
Beat him and proceed safely to level 4...
A reprise of level 2, but a bit tougher and nastier. Don't touch the electric ropes, and don't stay in one spot for too long!
I just love that vast bleakness up ahead
Watch out for the 'dough rollers' as I used to call it back in the day. Did I say that this was a tougher rendition of level 2? [I believe you did -Ed.]
Blackness peppered with ominous red... oooh
This is what lies ahead! Just like boss of level 2, except now with two heads to contend with! Again, you must destroy the pods. Some 'Eagle Men' (as we kids called 'em) swoop down upon you in the process
This was a somewhat tough boss as the little bubble shots it spewed required impeccable skill to successfully dodge. In typical classic boss fashion, once weakened, it'll start to flash red
Yeah? What do you think? I say they damn similar....
Brrr... you may not need a jacket but you will need lots of skill and luck. Stage 5 was, is and forever will be one of the tougher levels in the NES game
Be weary of any trailing foot soldiers behind you
They start shootin' back for a change
Yah, you definitely need a potent firearm, or two players!
We kids called this the UFO Boss. Creative, huh?
Lots of strategic positioning and patience in level 6
What a great set-piece. Players must remain focused or else..
Remember Larami Corp's Super Soaker lineup? Very popular stuff circa 1992/'93. First there was the orange Super Soaker 50 if memory serves right, then the OMG ultra-cool Super Soaker 100which EVERY kid on my block had to have. My bro was the first to buy one and of course, he became a legend within our circle of friends. Good times
.... is right!
Indeed I did. About 20 years ago I attended Kindergarten. Good ole 1989. At the table with the big white styrofoam blocks I would share my tales with my friends of the battles I had with the "50 foot tall purple and orange alien monster." My friends looked on with eyes wide open, urging me to continue my story. Just imagine this little 5-year-old story teller will ya!
On a side note, yesterday I visited my old, still alive Kindergarten classroom to help out for a day. The teacher, remarkably, in her old age still somehow remembered me: an impromptu 20 year reunion! It was simply surreal. I looked over at the corner and saw that 1989 scene replay in my head -- where I was weaving magic by the campfire about this Contra baddie... unbelievable, eh?
Of all the stages, this was my favorite. Lots of good stuff
The imagery this level had was highly compelling to say the very least. Rolling train carts, trident-esque hooks, hi-tech computer-y interior... there was just something about it that left a permanent lasting impression
I loved the spiked walls that would pop out of the ground. Sometimes weapons may get caught in-between as well. It's a small detail, but they really do add up
[Psssst. Manute Bol FTW -Ed.]
'Keeping Up With the Jones' takes on a whole new meaning
Wasn't it? Sorry, like I said, I am obsessed with these spiked walls
Hell yeah this was. Straight up evil!
You know, I think Konami might have been obsessed a little bit with stars. Almost every stage is outdoors featuring stars. Red, orange, green, blue...
Foot soldiers come trampling out the door and from behind, all while the turrets below sprout up fireworks. 2 players really come in handy here, believe that!
Stage number 8 in three words: SHORT AND SWEET
Ah yes, who could ever forget this epic mini-boss. We called him "The Long Neck Alien Monster" -- catchy, huh? I remember not being able to eat shrimp for a while after seeing this monstrosity for the very first time!
Level 8 didn't host very many baddies but they were all memorable due to their distinctly demented nature
This is it. The final stand, the last whistle. My brother and I always had to kill all four pods before attacking the heart... much more fun that way. Destroy the Red Falcon's heart to restore peace to the universe
"ONE OF US HAS TO DIE!!!"
Oddly, as much as my brother and I played Contra back in the day we never did own it. But thanks to a mom 'n pop shop called Evergreen Video (Memories of Renting) we must have rented it half a dozen times. Plus borrowing our friend's copy, but of course we had to loan him our copy of Legendary Wings, a fair trade if there ever was one ;)
I can fondly recall a many night where Kevin, my uncle and I would rotate turns beating Contra with the 30 men code. My uncle was still young and full of energy, full of life, and full of night. Although perhaps Father Time has been unkind to Uncle Jimmy, it's been pretty good to NES Contra, which I believe stands up well even today, twenty years after its release
Each of the eight stages have their own unique quirks and little details you can't help but fondly remember. It's the sign of not just a great game, but one that somehow sticks with you for a lifetime. They are far and few in-between, and playing Contra is akin to going about your daily routine as usual, only to inhale a whiff of a comforting scent that takes you back to a certain period in your youth, a much calmer time when things weren't so hectic and chaotic
Who could forget the sights and sounds? Konami were maestros. 20 years later the tunes are still stuck in my head, and the bosses firmly planted in my heart. Nobody could do bosses like Konami. They knew just how to spark your imagination, and really brought the enemies and end level guardians to the third dimension... to real life. Never have I played a game where we talked about the bosses as much as we did with Contra. They were awe-inspiring, gruesome and highly note-worthy. Killing them always felt so satisfying, and if you were crazy like me, you shared "war stories" about it with your friends as though it were a genuine badge of honor. The game had, and still has, that special connection with gamers the world over. That is partly why we cherish it so, even 20 years later
From telling my friends in Kindergarten about my battles with the 50 foot tall alien monster, to the many nights my brother, uncle and I spent locked up in the gaming room blowing alien chunks, I will never forget the fond memories I have of Contra. But it's not just nostalgia talking. This is a damn EXCELLENT game. One of the best on the 8-bit Nintendo in my humble estimation. Its gameplay fares well to this day, and it has a unique aura about it all its own. Mario? Yeah don't get me wrong, the Italian plumber is cool and all, but here's the game that made me a video game fan for life: Contra
Now if you'll excuse me, I gotta get back to blasting some alien ass. Boo-yah!