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Level 1
Contra (Level 1)
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on April 01, 2010   |   Episode 7 (Show Archive)  


Welcome to Level 1. Every Thursday we are going to look at a random game's very first level. It doesn't matter what kind of game it is or what system it's for, we're here to dissect the game's first level and see what it tells us about the rest of the game. I promise you an eye-opening experience in each episode! This week we land on a mysterious island and get down to work. To some that may mean tilling the land and planting some crops, but in Contra it means kicking alien butt! Today we're going to rip this island apart and look for clues about what we can expect from one of the greatest action games of all time. In other words, it's time to look at the level 1 on Contra!

Contra (Konami)
[ Release: 1988 - Console: Nintendo Entertainment System/Arcade ]
Bonk's Adventure (TurboGrafx-16) Cover
If there's one thing gamers like to do, it's kick alien ass! From the very beginning games had you flying through space and going head to head with aliens from across the galaxy. With its fast-paced action and great use of aliens, Contra quickly became one of the most influential 2D action games of all time. Played solo or with a friend, Konami's Contra throws you into a messy situation, gives you a bunch of cool power-ups and prays for the best. If you are tough enough you can make it to the end and destroy the aliens once and for all. Everybody else can use the Konami Code.

For a long time it looked like Contra was one of Konami's strongest franchises. While that may not seem like the case today, there's no question that this 2D shooter series has had quite a run. Contra has seen a number of solid sequels, including Contra III on the Super NES and the Nintendo DS version of Contra IV. There have also been some fun spin-offs, such as Contra: Shattered Soldier and Contra: Hard Corps. However, everything after that is dreadful. But who cares about the clunkers? Today we're going to focus on the first level of the NES original, back when the Contra name actually mattered.

The Island: We land on the alien-infested island in the dead of night. Right from the get go we're having to deal with enemy soldiers. They come in a few different varieties, but most are wearing red suits and have automatic assault rifles. In the distance are the mountain, unfortunately we won't have time to visit their snowy peaks. Instead we have to deal with
Contra - The Island
Contra - The Island
the mysteries of this tropical island. Between shooting at the never-ending soldiers, I look at the lush environment I landed in. Behind I'm fighting on a cliff, with a number of lower sections I can jump down to at any time. Below that is the water, but even that seems strangely calm. I can swim my way to victory without losing any time. I think about doing that for a few seconds, but decide I don't want to get my pants wet.

In front of me is a large gun turret. It sits there eyeing me, knowing that one of us is going to have to act first. I see a flying craft zoom next to me, so I shoot it down. Upon impact, the flying craft blows up and reveals a power-up. Now
Contra - The Island
Contra - The Island
I have a spread weapon, which lets me shoot three soldiers at once. I take out the remaining soldiers and head towards the bridge. The moment my boots hit the bridge it explodes, sending me falling towards the calm water below. I climb out of the water and up towards a jungle.

The Jungle: The jungle is a lot like the early parts of the island. I'm dealing with the same band of soldiers and gun turrets. I can no longer see the mountains, instead they are hidden by a forest of trees. Thankfully none of the foliage gets in my way. It's smooth sailing through the jungle as I collect more power-ups and deal with a brand new batch of baddies. This new character
Contra - The Jungle
Contra - The Jungle
has a backpack and likes to rush straight at me. I'm keeping this one as far away from me as possible. Up ahead I see something big, like a building or something. I snag the laser power-up (which miraculously turns my assault rifle into a sci-fi laser weapon) and head towards the commotion.

Boss - The Fortress: When I finally get to the end of the jungle I am face to face with a large fortress. This is a fashionably blue fortress, made of heavy metals that are not going to be able to bust through. To make matters harder, the fortress is equipped with two bomb-throwing guns and guards patrolling the base. At first glance it looks helpless, I'm never going to be able
Contra - Boss - The Fortress
Contra - Boss - The Fortress
to defeat this fortress, there's no way I can do it all by myself. And just as I thought that, my friend pushes the start button and in drops another teammate. He shows me the fortress' weakness, a large red circle that we can shoot. Together we focus our fire on that spot and blow the base sky high. We both rush into the base, knowing that together we can do anything. Well, almost anything. He still won't give me a proper high five, he insists on doing that annoying fist bump. Meh.

What Have We Learned Today? Today I learned that sometimes it's best if you just let the super villains take the mysterious island. I mean, it's not like you want it, it's way out in the middle of nowhere. It'll cost a fortune to import products and building anything
No, I'm not talking about Probotector!
No, I'm not talking about Probotector!
on the open land will take forever. If they want it enough to send thousands of guards, then why not just let them have it? At least you'll know exactly where they are at all times. Just focus your high-tech satellites on the island and let the spying commence. Also, I learned that without the Konami Code, Contra is really hard. Even the first level. And don't you forget it.

What Did We Miss? The moment we enter the blown up fortress we are met with a brand new gameplay perspective. Instead of being a run and gun 2D action game, Contra suddenly becomes a faux-3D shooter where you fire into the screen hoping to blow
Rolling Thunder cinema
up doors. Thankfully that level doesn't last long, because from there you chill out in front of a waterfall and even fight your way through the alien's spaceship. But who am I kidding, there's no way you're making it that far. Trust me, these bad guys definitely don't want you getting close to their secrets.

Seriously, No Question: We can argue about a lot of things, but I think it's safe to say that the Contra box is definitely derivative of all of the other popular science fiction of the time. We have two soldiers with huge weapons. The one on the left is posed like Arnold Schwarzenegger from Predator. He even has the same hair. And there's no question that the alien in the background is from the Alien franchise. This game came out in 1988, a year after Predator hit theaters and two years after James Cameron's Aliens. It's almost hard to believe that neither Paramount nor 20th Century Fox sued Konami into the ground.



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