Enemy bullets are a bit hard to see sometimes
Button mashing can be a pain
Konami really made an impact on the NES, what, with the Castlevania series, Metal Gear and Gradius, but one game, not part of the Castlevania series, which will always remain a classic of Konami's would have to be this one...Contra!
As an NES game, it plays very well. The animations are very smooth, the controls are responsive and the gameplay itself is your simple "run and shoot" sort which really keeps you on your toes, and the phrase "shoot first, ask questions later" should be taken literally, as there is no time to rest. You have enemies coming out of every way, and even if you do kill all of them, more will appear out of the sides...
When you first load up the game, you'll be treated to a start-up screen, which has the two main guys of the game, as well as an option of playing either 1-player or 2-player. If you're going to play 1-player, then all I can suggest is that you better be ready to die and lose continues a lot, because you will be at first. 2-player mode is like co-op mode in today's games. You and a partner team up together to kill a bunch of enemies. Press start on either 1 or 2 player option, and the game will begin.
You'll drop down onto a remote island to kill some terrorists on it. As you move right, some enemies will come out of nowhere, and it's your job to mash B until the enemies are dead. Don't worry about them living, they'll only live until they get hit by one bullet. As you continue on, you'll see a whole lot of terrorists coming at you, as well as some machine guns that have been installed on the side of the platforms (like a defense turret). Some turrets will pop out of the ground, surprise you, and maybe kill you. Once you get to the first base, you have to open it up by killing a sniper, destroying the turrets and then destroy the door so you can infiltrate the base. So yeah, it turns out you're infiltrating some terrorist bases and parts of the island for the first half of the game. One thing that strikes as weird, on Level 3, at the top of it, you meet a boss who happens to be an...alien?
Alien? There are aliens in this game? Damn, I thought this was some sort of terrorist war, not an alien war! Of course, if you look at the NES cartridge close enough, the alien in it probably has something to do with the alien boss in Level 3...or a whole couple of levels dedicated to aliens (Levels 7 and 8 to be precise). And at the beginning of the game, you think you're on the island to just save the world, but according to the ending, it turns out you save the universe? Wow. What a battle of epic proportions...and to think, the military sent in only one or two troops for this whole mission to kill all terrorists on a remote island? Damn, if they knew this, they would've sent in a whole lot of troops. In fact, I would've done that in the first place! What gives?
Well, throughout the game, to even out the whole "1 or 2 VS about a few thousand" thing, you can upgrade your weapons at certain points. You can turn your default gun into either a Machine Gun (M), Spray Gun (S), Fireball Gun (F) and a Laser (L), with the (R) upgrade letting you fire faster as long as you collect more of them and as long as you don't replace the gun that got upgraded, and Body Armor aka Temporary Invincibility (B). To get these, you must either destroy a metal box with a glowing red part to it, or a flying football. Once you got a gun upgrade, you keep it until you either replace it with another one or you die.
Speaking of dying, you're going to be doing a lot of that in this game. If you get hit once, you lose a life. You have 3 lives and 3 continues. You can get more lives by getting a certain amount of points throughout the game (20,000, 30,000, around that many points), but trust me, you'll probably lose that bonus life as soon as you get it or a bit later, depending on the level. There's no way to go around this either, you just have to be smart about how you play this game. But how can you when there's a lot of enemies on screen? Well, quickly look at where they are, then where there's some platforms are, and with sharp reflexes, fire! Aside from the turrets and bosses, each enemy dies in just one hit, so I guess that gives us a bit more of an advantage over the terrorists/aliens.
If you want a further advantage and even things up a little more, call over one of your friends and play the 2-player mode. In this mode, you must co-operate with each other, and if you can do this well, this game might just be a bit easier. The only problem with 2-player mode has to be at Level 3. You have to keep going up, and if you're going too fast, you'll end up killing your partner a lot. Another thing that kind of gets to me a bit, is that if one is behind, the other can't progress, and that might sometimes lead him to his own doom, as he falls down to the bottom of the screen and loses a life. But that's usually not the case.
If you just plain want to finish the game and just see the ending or if you're struggling with the whole 3 lives and 3 continues thing, you can use...THE KONAMI CODE! It's a code that lets you have 30 lives instead of 3 lives. The buttons you need to push...read the title of this review. I would recommend only doing this if you've just picked up the game. If you're fairly skilled, just do it with 3 lives. The Konami Code is really only if you're just beginning or haven't played the game in ages. Other than that, just play fairly and play smart.
There's quite a lot of good about this game, but there was some bad about it too, though there was only little wrong with it. Now to break it down into parts:
This game plays very, very well. Almost perfectly. The only problem is that you can't really fall back and retreat, you have to go head-on no matter what. Also, this game is very hard and needs some fast reflexes if you want to see past the first half of the game. This game has a scoring system, though it only seems to show after you've beaten a level. It's main purpose is to give you more lives if you get a certain score, but you can also keep trying to beat it.
Controls are easy to get used to. A for jumping and B for shooting, with the D-pad for movement and Start to pause (or to start the game in the start-up screen). Select's only use is to move the cursor on the start-up screen, otherwise, it's useless. The one and only flaw with this is that, other than the Machine Gun and Laser, to fire a weapon, you have to mash B a lot. This can really give your fingers a workout, as there's a lot of enemies, which means a lot of mashing B (unless you have a Machine Gun or Laser). Other than that, it's all good.
There's no beginning scene, so we don't quite know what the story starts as, but when you move, you'll see enemies and think "OK, this game's story is to kill some terrorists on a remote island and destroy the main base", but like I said, you'll find aliens, so then you're thinking "OK, this game now wants me to kill terrorists and aliens on a remote island, while destroying the alien's lair and terrorist main base". As soon as the game ends, not only did you save the world, but you also saved the universe. The story changed its mind, but for the better to be honest.
Didn't really say much about the graphics, but the graphics are very, very good for the NES. Everything is as detailed as it gets with 8-bit graphics. Well, almost everything. The trees, platforms and enemies all look good and of good quality, but the guy or guys you play as aren't too detailed. They almost look like they literally are 2D, while everything else almost feels 3D (what, with the outlines and little 8-bit textures, mostly on the platforms and trees). Aside from the good guys, it's all good.
It's an 8-bit game, it was made in the 1980's, so what would you expect? Aside from repetition, these tracks and sound effects are actually quite good. Explosions sound pretty cool, gunfire sounds alright and...I guess everything else does too. The one problem I have is the repetition of some sounds, especially the Machine Gun one. It kind of gets on your nerves after a while, but that's actually after a long time and...yeah, aside from that, sounds are actually quite good for the 1980's and even early-mid 1990's.
This game takes about an hour and a half to beat, but that's if you can beat it. It'll take you a few weeks to be able to beat this game without the 30-lives code. And even if you beat it, you might still want to come back to this game and beat it a few more times because it's so good. Only problem here would be that after some time, well really, after finishing it a few times, you might want to put it down for a while as you know how to beat it without dying...too much.
This game can be really fun, especially with a second player. Even with the difficulty being higher than most of today's games, you'll still have fun trying to beat it, and beat your high score, and get higher, and higher, and higher until you get bored, which might take a while, because this game is quite fun.
Contra is a sweet game and if you can find it in stores, I would suggest buying it, well, as long as you have an NES as well (if not, find one, buy it, buy Contra and play it). Get past the button mashing, the kind of harsh difficulty and sometimes repetitive and annoying sounds, and it'll be one of your favorite games for life. You won't regret it!
This extremely good game deserves a 4.5/5.0.