Ask someone to name some of their favorite NES games and no doubt Contra will be mentioned. It was one of the most influential games of the late 80s and is still present in pop culture thanks to references to the Konami code that appeared on TV, T-shirts and even coffee mugs. In recent years, however, the original NES classics have not been available through a digital distribution network. Rumor has it that it was a simple paper error that prevented him from accessing several Virtual Console stores, but that doesn’t matter anymore because it’s part of the Contra anniversary collection for the Switch. As if Konami is trying to make up for lost time, there are many more versions of Contra than you think!
When I was a kid in the 1980s, I first tried Contra on Nintendo. I had no idea at the time that the game even existed in slot machines, although I regularly visited several machines in my neighbourhood. The code of 30 people (above, above, below, left, right, b, a, beginning) is engraved in my memory and is one of the few secret codes I remember today. The game has been a great success with my friends, and we’ve worked on it regularly – and we’ve had a great time. It was one of the few collaborations between two NES players that really showed what the system was capable of. His inclusion in this collection was an absolute necessity, and I’m glad to see he’s still playing well. The code still works, and the levels are the same as I remember, except that I can now play on the road! It’s always my favorite part of the show, and now that I can press the Joy-Con button and everyone can join in, wherever I am, it’s a beautiful thing.
So you can imagine my curiosity when it comes to the arcade version of Contra. This would, of course, be even better than the NES port, as is often the case in this type of situation. The nostalgia may be too strong, but I was rather surprised that the arcade version was the worst of the two. Of course the sprites and some of the graphics are a bit nicer (and should be), but the NES version is nicer. The levels are similar, but the original arcade is slowed down by the cut-slowdown, which is a good show. The NES version suffers from flickering, but rarely freezes as much as the arcade version, which moves in slow motion in more than one area. Although you can give as many credits as you like in the virtual version, once you’ve wasted enough time you’ll be given the task of going back to the beginning – which means the challenge in the arcade version is quite demanding. Fortunately, there are several difficulty options, but the NES version seems more accessible.
Then I played the sequel, Super Contra , in the arcade. Both arcade games use vertical screens, so you have to get used to the perspective. This one works much better than the first one and looks better to start with. I spent more time here and found it very amusing – not to say that it’s still very complex. Since I’ve never played any of these slots, it’s clearly the best of both worlds and the one I can imagine going back and trying to finish it off.
Interestingly, Konami decided to also include the Japanese version of Famicom Contra in this collection. I’m not sure if they didn’t have enough games to complete the collection, or if they just wanted to give players all the options with the games. This version is identical to the NES version, but has some extra graphical features. They contain different cut scenes and even a map that shows each level and your progress in the game. In some stages, such as Snowfield, even snow falls from the sky, which is not the case in the NES iterations. This is partly due to differences in policy between Japan and North America: Konami-san could use his own chips in Famicom games to improve them, while the NES versions would use Nintendo chips. Apparently this meant that some games lacked graphics and audio gadgets. The Contra version of Famicom is therefore probably the best version to play.
Super C is also part of the collection and is another fantastic new addition to the range. The graphics have been greatly improved and the levels can now scroll diagonally and contain high shot sections. No code for 30 people, but there’s a way to get 10. As a result, for some players it may be a little more difficult than the original, but for most it remains unbeatable. The game is a bit more science fiction oriented at some levels and the music is still a master class. I know some people appreciate this sequel more than the original, but for some reason I consider the original to be a must-have game in this collection.
Perhaps the most amazing mention is Operation C, the first Game Boy Contra game. I’m not surprised it was introduced, especially since Castlevania’s anniversary collection included work on the Game Boy, but I was pleasantly surprised that it worked so well. This game is super smooth for the Game Boy and even includes some of the graphic tricks implemented in Super C, such as diagonal scrolling. Moreover, the soundtrack is quite good and contains the stereo sound. I thought it would be kind of a step back, but I found myself strangely caught up in the longer levels and the perfect gameplay. Of course, it has only four colours and can’t compete with the graphics department, but it works better than many Game Boy games, and it’s still fun to play!
I know the favorite entries of many players in this series – Contra III:. Immigration War. This Super Nintendo game features improved graphics, a great soundtrack and fantastic gameplay enhancements. You can now wear up to two power-ups and even hang on platforms. There are bigger gnomes and cute bosses to fight in this one. I think it’s holding up exceptionally well and playing with a girlfriend. It is neither incredibly difficult nor accessible to beginners – it is the perfect game to start a lazy Saturday afternoon.
The outsider of the series can be Contra: Hard Case. not because it’s necessarily a bad game, but because it jumped from Nintendo to Sega. This Genesis game looks good and sounds good, fast and furious. It’s a bit weird that the character choices are the usual boat lovers (and for a change a female option!), but this time you can be a robot or what I like to call ALF with sunglasses (Fang). The game runs faster than most games in the series, and literally everything you shoot explodes into a giant fireball. That’s really exaggerated – in the good sense of the word! Anyway, this is a tough one. After all, it’s in the title!
If you come from Europe, you may be familiar with the SNES and Genesis games as Super Probotector and Probotector respectively. They are almost identical to the other versions, except that the humans have been replaced by robots. It’s a nice addition, but I’m not sure it’s worth playing with these small changes again. Still, I respect the fact that Konami included it in this collection.
Players are used to a certain level of extras when it comes to this kind of retro collection. Overall, Konami and M2 have prepared well. You get a save that you can make at any time, although there is only one per game, which is still a bit low given that Classic Edition mini consoles offer four save per game. Fortunately, there are user accounts on the Switch. So, when other players play the game under their own names, each of them gets a different set of rescues. Right now, Konami-san has just released a free game update that offers full button-mapping in most games. This is very important for NES effects, otherwise the keys will be flipped. Players can now B to jump and Y to shoot, which seems much more natural. You can even switch to turbo if you want!
Other quality improvements include extra edges around the screen and the ability to display the game with or without scanned lines. You can choose the original size, perfect pixels or 16:9 (why choose this option?). Arcade titles even allow you to rotate the screen to better match the vertical character of the arcade machine. It’s perfect for those who bought the Flip Grip! This new update also includes the Japanese versions of the arcade games: Super C, Contra III, Operation Cand Hard Corps.
The content of the bonus is also included in the Contra history. You can read some interviews with some of the people who helped create the games, as well as some fun historical anecdotes about each of the titles included in this collection. The design documents were scanned to see how certain scenes, enemies, characters and power-ups were created. This kind of thing always fascinates me, so the effort put into it is much appreciated.
Overall, the Contra anniversary collection offers good reasons to buy, especially for fans of the series. Arcade games are the weakest of all, but there are enough solid games here for most people to run and shoot at them for a while. I wouldn’t mind seeing a second Game Boy game, or even Contra Force, the third NES game that’s often forgotten. I’ve heard that the game in particular isn’t that great, but it would be fun to add a bonus title to a collection like this, especially because I don’t think such a game has ever been released in Japan. But despite these omissions, this pack contains many games you can enjoy!
Revision of the anniversary collection of Contra
- Graphs – 8/10
- Sound – 9/10
- Gameplay – 8/10
- Late call – 7/10
Final thoughts: GRAND
The creator of the run-and-gun genre for 2 players is still in its infancy. With more Contra than you bargained for, there are enough strangers to keep you busy for days. Don’t forget to pass the Joy-Con to a friend for maximum fun!
Craig has covered the video game industry since 1995. His work has been published in various media. He is currently editor and employee of Age of Games.
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