For many kids growing up in the mid-late 1980s 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-shooting 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, adrenaline-filled action thriller. It was the kind of game you talked to your buds about on the playground at recess. The kind you never get tired 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.
A FREAKY COINCIDENCE
This tribute piece was originally written almost 10 years ago now, back on February 9, 2008. As I was writing it, I decided to search when Contra was first released on the NES. I kid you not, the date was *drum roll please* February 9, 1988. So exactly 20 years later, to the very day, I was commemorating Contra. It’s one of those freaky coincidences that prove there are indeed greater and mysterious forces at work here.
And although RVGFanatic is mainly a platform where I share my passion for all things Super Nintendo, I’m happy to occasionally honor games that didn’t appear on the SNES at all. Contra is the first game of a brand new section on the site entitled “Random Retro.” And I can’t think of a finer first game than this.
THE INFAMOUS KONAMI CODE
Ah the classic Konami code 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 kids how your guy was as big as the trees themselves!
One of the great things you first notice are all the convenient angles you can fire at. It 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.
Uh, yeah, I meant to fall off that collapsing bridge. Of course I did…
Each time I saw him my mind would wander to such thoughts as “How did he luck out to get that hiding spot? It sure beats running in the wide open like some kamikaze soldier!” Ah, the thoughts we had as kids, eh?
This first towering boss really set the tone for what the rest of the game would turn out to be. Contra simply tickles the imagination. It’s a world where massive monstrosities call home and where being a deft action megastar is the only ticket out alive.
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 up top. Next, take out the two turrets, which spits out lovely red gumballs. Seriously, was I the only one who thought they looked like giant red gumballs?
Indeed. After clearing the two turrets, wipe the base plate out and proceed onto level two. What great horrors and thrills await you there?
This scene blew my mind back in 1988. It was like nothing I had ever seen before on the ole 8-bit NES. Like all of the game’s levels, to this day I can hum level two’s theme.
Boss number two 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 that 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. This game was chalk full with memorable bosses. They stay with you even nearly 30 years later. Jeez!
Stage three… 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). The bottom of the screen in 2-player mode acts as sort of an invisible pool of burning lava.
Another cool part. Those two small fires move back and forth while turrets and soldiers from above try their damnedest to take you out.
Thankfully you’ve got that invulnerable icon there…
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 M.O., 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’s 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 four. Wow, we’re not even halfway through and already this game is killing it! No wonder it’s one of the best games of all time.
A reprise of level two, 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, as well as the little specks of red there. A really nice touch that makes it seem very ominous, indeed. Really accentuates the feeling of stepping into the great wide unknown…
Watch out for the dough rollers as I used to call it back in the day. Hey, that’s what they looked like to me!
This is what lies ahead! Just like the boss of level two, except now with two heads to contend with! Again, you must destroy the pods. Some Eagle Men (as we kids called them) 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.
Damn right it reminded me of the Autobots and Decepticons. Man, you had Transformers, Nintendo and bloody Hulk Hogan all ruling the ’80s. What a time to be alive, eh?
Pretty damn similar, no? I liked how the red brain pulsated harder and harder the weaker it got. It made it more intense as if the thing was going to explode into a million bloody pieces!
Brrr… you may not need a jacket but you will need lots of skill and luck.
Oh sure he seems harmless enough. But then factor in foot soldiers running up your back end [that sounds… painful -Ed.] and suddenly it’s not so easy now is it?
I like how each of the game’s locales has a slightly different look and feel. Aside from the two base stages, no two levels look alike. Gotta appreciate that.
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 100 which 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.
Little subtle touches like this tile floor changing colors right before a gigantic boss fight don’t go unnoticed. It’s the little details that make a game for me.
Nobody did bosses like Konami did. You could say that they were the boss of that domain… [You’re fired -Ed.]
Good ole 1988-1989. The year I was in Kindergarten. 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 six-year-old story teller will ya!
On a side note, back in 2008 I visited my old 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. Mmm. Some things just stay with you forever.
The imagery this level had was highly compelling to say the very least. Rolling mine carts, trident-esque hooks, hi-tech computer-y interior… there was just something about it that left a lasting impression.
I love 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.
You know, I think Konami might have been obsessed a little bit with stars. Almost every stage is outdoors and features stars. Red, orange, green, blue…
Foot soldiers come trampling out the door and from behind, all while the turrets below sprout up fireworks. Two players really come in handy here, believe that!
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!
This last level didn’t host very many baddies but they were all memorable due to their distinctly demented nature. As well as they should be, seeing as how the level takes place in an alien’s lair. It perfectly captures the foreboding mood of a giant mother alien waiting for you at level’s end…
This is it. The final stand, the last whistle. My brother and I always had to kill all four pods before attacking the heart; it’s much more fun that way. Destroy the Red Falcon‘s heart to restore peace to the universe.
NES Contra remains one of my all-time favorite video games. I credit it as the game that hooked me for life. I always enjoyed video games prior to playing Contra, but it was Contra that blew my mind in a way no other video game before it was able to do. My brother Kevin, my uncle Jimmy and I played it to death. Though oddly, as much as we loved it, we never bought it back in the day. But thanks to a mom ‘n pop shop called Evergreen Video, 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
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 between. 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. A more innocent time if you will. Contra conjures memories of ’80s yore, and reminds you of why you love video games in the first place.
Who could forget the sights and sounds? Konami were maestros. 25+ years later the tunes are still stuck in my head, and the bosses are 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 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 unforgettable. Killing them always felt so satisfying, and if you were anything like me, you shared “war stories” about it with your friends as if 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 nearly 30 years later.
From telling my friends in Kindergarten about my battles with the 50 foot tall purple and orange monster to the many nights my brother, uncle and I spent locked up in the gaming room blowing up alien chunks, I will never forget the fond memories I have of Contra. But it’s not just nostalgia talking. This is still 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. Here’s the game that turned boys into men. And here’s the game that damnit, just might be my favorite NES game of all time.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta get back to blasting some alien ass. Boo-yah!