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Year released: 1988
Company: Konami
Genre: Action

The period from 1988 to 1989 seems to have been a "golden era" for the NES - it was just late enough that programmers were starting to get the hang of their craft, yet there was still a sense of youth to the system, in that not everything had been done yet. If Contra had been released outside of this period, it would have suffered either way; an earlier debut would have preceded some of the more rudimentary developments (largely in the technical areas) whereas a later release would have cost the game some style points for having a now-hackneyed plot. In essence, Konami's publishing of Contra in '88 was an example of perfect timing.

The graphics and sound in this game are quite advanced for the time period. Although nothing is presented in great detail, the sheer volume of sprites on the screen without any slowdown is worthy of merit by itself. The scenery is also quite impressive; especially in later levels, players really do get the sense that they're heading for more and more alien surroundings. The isometric view of the bases in stages 2 and 4 are somewhat choppy (especially when you move from room to room), but considering what was being done at the time, there really wasn't much room for improvement there. Less can be said about the music, however. It starts off fast and furious - the Jungle theme is really inspired - but as the game goes along, the music loses its momentum. Nothing is truly memorable beyond the first two stages, and the music from level 6 on tastes a bit stale.

As far as soldier shooters go, this game has the best play control out there. Your buff-chested manifestation can point his rifle just about anywhere but at himself. It's a good thing, too - in some areas you'll have so many things shooting at you from all different directions, that anything short of the range you have would be down rightunfair. The jumping control hangs just a tad (and considering that these guys also programmed Simon Belmont's movement, it's no surprise), but it's not to any disabling degree nor is there any situation where true acrobatics are necessary.

Like many other games of its type, Contra is not a game that relies heavily on its plot. In fact, it doesn't rely on it at all; I've never seen an instruction manual for the game and yet I still understand what's going on. Such is the charm of a soldier shooter; you stand on the left of the screen. Someone comes from the right? Shoot it. Anything glowing red? Shoot it. I'd shoot the blinking score between the levels if my guy was onscreen, probably. The ending isn't anything to scream about; a helicopter flies away as the island you've just fought through explodes (Konami was keen on that idea, weren't they?), and then a message that says "Good job" the long way. Not disappointing, but still a bit empty.

For those of you who think this game is too hard, I offer you the following mantra. Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B button, A button, Start. If you're not Jimmy Woods, it's the only way you'll see the whole game. I've never been too keen on games where the hero dies with one hit by a pellet gun while it takes several blasts with my laser cannon to fell an opponent. The 30-life code certainly tips the odds in your favor. I also would've preferred some way of knowing just how far along you were in fighting a boss. A life meter would've sufficed, or perhaps having the robot/alien/building/whatever change color as it accrues damage. (They did it for those armored trucks in Stage 5; why not here?)

In any event, this game is fun to play in two ways. First, it's a neat quick play if you just want to pop the game in for a little while and see how far you can get with the traditional supply of lives. The 30-life code supports longer campaigns for those who want to see the whole game through. The base levels increase the game's variety; especially since they occur early on, you'll almost certainly get the chance to play your way through them.

As mentioned above, Contra takes full advantage of the time period in which it was created. It has its flaws, of course, but I don't see it getting much better without drastically changing the gameplay.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 15
Challenge: (Hard)
Thrill: (Frustrating)
Aesthetic Score: 17
Overall Score: 76%

You are now listening to the Stage 1 Music to Contra.

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