ContraWhen you think of challenging NES games, Contra is usually one of the games that come to mind, and for good reason. Originally ported from the Arcades and onto the NES, it not only set up the basic blueprint for just about every run and gun game that ever existed in the video game timeline, but it was also famous for incorporating 2-player co-op gameplay and more famous for being such a hard game. Regardless of near-control smashing difficulty that still manages to provide endless fun for the player, Contra is still one hell of a game and shouldn't be overlooked by NES owners.
Story: Simply put, a couple of guys from the army, Bill Rizer (codename - Mad Dog) and Lance Bean (codename - Scorpion) are sent to a remote island to destroy some alien fortress to prevent a take-over of Earth by an alien army known as the Red Falcon. This is quite a good story as it deviates itself from the countless Super Mario Brothers-based stories ala 'save the princess from the monster in a castle', and it's also one of the first of its kind. Grand story for 8-bit times, though it doesn't really get explained in the game; in fact, you just have to assume whilst playing the game or read it from the manual. Hell, the characters don't have names revealed to them in the game! But still good as it also doesn't detract from gameplay.
Gameplay: It's your basic "get from point A to point B and defeat a boss to beat the level" sort of gameplay, but instead of jumping on enemies or over rolling barrels, you get to shoot your enemies! However, your enemies can do the same; one bullet, you're dead. Also, contact with enemies results in death, so you can't exactly rugby tackle any of them.
At the start of the game and of each new life and continue, your main gun is a P shooter, which is weak as hell but can somewhat get the job done, although you'll probably find yourself looking for a new gun. You're in luck! Throughout the game's levels, you'll see either flying footballs, silver crates mounted to a wall (levels 1, 3 and 5-8) and jumping red soldiers (levels 2 and 4 only) that you can shoot. They reveal new guns if you shoot them and if you make contact with what comes out of the football, you can change your gun from what it was before to what it is now. Weapons include a machine gun, a fireball gun, a laser and a spray gun. I'd say that's a good variety of weapons. However, if you die, you lose that weapon and go back to the P shooter. Damn.
Contra is separated into 8 levels, with 6 levels playing like a platformer but Mario gets to shoot people instead of crushing them with his fat ass... Well, that's how to describe the core gameplay of 6/8 levels, but have a buff guy in his place. The aim of those sorts of levels is to run, jump, shoot and sidescroll your way to the end of the level, defeat the boss by shooting it up and then proceed to the next level.
Levels 2 and 4 play a little differently. While progression is still linear, the way to get through the level is different. Instead of just waltzing through going rapid fire on enemies, you have to destroy these gems that keep the doors up in order to destroy the doors and progress. The perspective is switched from side-on to a sort of overhead view, and you have to move up to proceed after destroying the core of the door's power. While it's still up, DON'T MOVE FORWARDS! You'll be momentarily stunned by an electric force field, leaving you open to attack, and one hit kills you. You even fight bosses in this view at these levels, so if you're not quite adjusted, you're going down!
The enemies all range from human foot soldiers, to human gunners, to turrets, to wall guns, and even as far as alien soldiers (the latter of which is in last couple of levels), although just shooting them up will kill them. The AI is alright; they do have a sense of knowing what they're doing, though most enemies are only hard because they're in high numbers, and contact with them kills you, plus the wall guns are in the worst of places sometimes.
The bosses are interesting enough, though...well, except the first one, which is just a defense system firing at you with a gunner on top. They vary from a bouncer-like alien, to a head of a Transformer, to a giant alien firing fireballs your way and even as far as a giant beating heart (which symbolizes the heart of the fortress - yes, a giant beating heart is the game's final boss). Despite their seemingly scary appearances, they're not the hardest bosses in the world. Once you get their attack pattern and train of movement, they're mince meat! You basically need to shoot them up! However, each boss does prove to be different from one another, so it's not as if we're going to fight the same monotonous bosses 8 times.
I won't lie to you - this game is pretty hard. The sheer amount of enemies on screen coupled off with the one hit death rule will be overwhelming to beginners of the series. Not saying this game is the hardest on Earth, but it proves to be one hell of a challenge. You need a hefty amount of practise to overcome the difficulties in the game. Prepare to die often...
Of course, you can overcome the difficulties with a second player! Yes, this game features 2-player co-op! In this day and age, you'd be thinking 'big deal', right? Yeah, but in 1988, this wasn't a thought out outside of the arcade! With a second controller and your best mate, you two can go through the game together! This will make the game easier but there are some things which might make things harder. For one, the screen will not scroll if a player is at the non-scrolling edge of the screen (as in, if you're going from left to right and the player is on the left side, the screen won't scroll). This can be a bit of a problem as a slow player can prove fatal. The second and final problem is all of level 3 with the exception of the boss. Level 3 is a vertically scrolling level and if a player is too slow, he will pay...with death! See, if you fall to the bottom of the screen, you die! Hurry it up! But aside from those two, the 2-player co-op feature was a grand idea and really added some replay value to the game.
One last thing I'll mention is that this was infamous for containing the Konami code and advertising it like hell...you know, Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start? If you input this code, you get 30 lives instead of 3 per continue. It's a cheat's way of beating the game, and if you input this code, you're a cheating pussy! Play it like a man; 3 lives per continue!
Control: This game controls like a dream! It's quite a simplistic scheme, but then again, the NES controller is simplistic in design, so that's to be expected. Basically, you move with the d-pad, you jump with the A button, you shoot with the B button and pause with the Start button. The responsiveness of the controls is absolutely spot-on! There's no delay and they're as fluid as possible; meaning you will have no problem adjusting to these controls. My only gripe is that you can't shoot down unless you're in mid-air. Down lets you duck, but not aim down? Geez. Oh well, the controls are fantastic enough to make this minor inconvenience look like nothing.
Graphics: It's not going to win any awards for being the best the NES can offer, but they're at least tolerable. The animation on each of the characters' actions are a nice touch and actually quite good (they even included recoil from the gunfire; awesome, I guess little things do help after all), though the actual sprites are only half-decently designed and far from the best looking. The main characters and enemy sprites are fairly detailed, and that would be fine and all, but the explosions in this game look kind of underwhelming even for a 1988 NES game. The backgrounds are quite well done, being all detailed and interesting to look at like that. Hell, it's all average to good! My only gripe are some of the bullets, like the ones from your P shooter and shooters' guns. They're too small and hard to notice, which will cause deaths in this game!
Audio: Simply put; it's all well done, but the soundtrack isn't tense enough. The soundtrack doesn't quite capture the tension that Contra otherwise brings within the gameplay and story aspects of the game. If it was a more tense, then it'd be one of the best soundtracks the NES has ever received. Why? Because it's catchy, it gets stuck in your head, it's memorable, and it's executed with no problems, besides the appropriateness of the situation. The sound effects sound 8-bit realistic and is suiting to what they're sounding out; the 'twoing' sound the bullets make on tougher enemies makes sense as most of them are made of metal, and as underwhelming as they are graphically, the explosions sound pretty cool, like an 8-bit rendition of an actual explosion. I have nothing bad to say about the sound effects in the game.
Replay Value: It's got that sort of charm to it where you're always coming back for more, or to better yourself at the game, or because you want to show your mates how good you are at this game (and even go as far as allowing them to play it with you). That's the only replay value it has, considering there are no secrets or additional difficulty modes to speak of.
Overall: Don't even give this a second thought! If you're skeptical about getting this game because of its difficulty, then allow me to help by telling you that it's the fun sort of difficult; the sort of difficult that you can still enjoy playing even though you're getting your ass kicked! Why else do you think many people like this game? Basically, give this game a few shots, I guarantee that you'll be addicted within the first few minutes of gametime.