Box Shot
Platform: NES
Publisher: Konami
Designer: Konami
Genre: Action
Players: 2 (Simultaneous)
Published Date 1988
Reviewed by: Kurt Kalata

Previous to Contra, the action/shoot-em-up field was generally, well, light. I mean, Mega Man and Blaster Master didn't really take themselves that seriously. Then, Contra came out. Konami clearly had Rambo in mind when they designed this fast paced arcade game. Comparing this title to Mega Man is like saying that Terminator 2 and Hook are similar movies.

Instead of having your guy fight domestic Earth enemies, it was decided that the threat would come from outer space. Red Falcon, a nasty bad ass alien, wants Earth. He starts his attack on a small island in South America. Two guerillas have been sent to stop the alien menace from reaching the real world. Of course, those warriors are the ones you control (and the second is a friend... as the game is two player.)

The most obvious thing you'll notice is that one hit and you die. And you've only got three lives. So, you'll have to either shoot enemies before they can fire off a shot, or dodge their bullets (most projectiles that the enemies fire don't move too fast, so it's possible to jump over/duck under them.) Bad guys range from simple grunts that run forward to snipers hiding in the trees, as well as mechanical threats like turrets. Later in the game, you'll also have to deal with the nasty, creep aliens themsevles. There is a variety of weapons, ranging from machine guns, spread shots, lasers, and flamethrowers (not nearly as cool as it sounds.)

Although a majority of the game is viewed from the side, there are two stages in the game where the camera moves to behind your commandos. In these scenes, you look toward to enemies in a 3D type mode, and must dodge shots/kill people. There are also certain locks that must be destroyed before the laser beam that's in front of you deactivates...allowing you to pass on to the next room. These aren't exactly my favorite levels, because it's often hard to tell where your shooting. The tons of flickering during these scenes don't help either, especially when attempting to dodge bullets.

As mentioned before, you'd better quick on your toes to survive a game of Contra. In fact, death comes much too quickly and easily...and starting over once all three lives are gone can be annoying. For instance, you could have a really cool spread gun when fighting a boss. However, if you die, you lose that weapon and are relegated to using your crappy single shot rifle. Since this weapon is so weak and slow, it's basically ruined your chance to beat the level. You want worse? There's one level filled with so many spike traps, that it's so incredibly easy to be impaled by them! And one've got about ten seconds to destroy this before it comes ramming into you, uttering demolishing your commando...and there's no way to avoid this if you don't kill it. The only way you'll really get anyway with Contra is with a turbo controller (so every weapon acts like a machine gun, even the normal one.)

In the arena of graphics, most of it isn't too bad. There's a variety of scenery for every level, and some of the later areas (like when you go inside of the body of Red Falcon) are downright creepy. Even though the backgrounds look great, the sprites aren't that hot. Your character walks a bit stiffly, and many of the enemies are barely detailed (except for the bosses, which look good.) The music isn't bad, but most it isn't too memorable, except for the first level. The commandos don't walk very fast, and don't jump very far either, so mastering some of the levels where you have to make plenty of leaps can take a bit of practice. However, they're adequate enough so that it's easy to jump around projectiles.

Contra manages to be a very fun and fast paced title. But beyond the fifth level, it's just too difficult to get past with three lives (unless you become a REAL Contra veteran or get a turbo controller.) Plus the 3D scenes seem to be a waste of space, considering some of the depth problems (like judging how close an enemy bullet is to you.) But Contra is still worth looking into, because it can be a very enjoyable title and one of the classics that shapes games today.