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Defunct Games Vs.
Defunct Games vs. Contra
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on July 28, 2010   |   Episode 6 (Show Archive)  

   


Apparently this scantly clad woman found the jungle with electrical sockets. Lucky her!
If there's one thing I got out of E3 2010, it's that everything old is new again. It seemed like every developer on the show floor had brand new games based on long-forgotten franchises. From GoldenEye to Splatterhouse, Kirby to Rayman and Kid Icarus to Parasite Eve, all my favorite franchises are back with a vengeance. Last month we took a look at this phenomenon in an article called I Covered E3 and All I Got Was This Lousy Reboot. At this rate 2010 is shaping up to be the new 1994.

Of all the games I previewed, one game continued to stick with me. That game was Contra! It's hard not to root for Konami's long-running 2D shooter; Contra has seen its share of ups and downs over the last twenty-three years. And while this may not be everybody's favorite franchise anymore, there are a lot of people who want to see Konami recapture the magic of the originals.

In this episode of Defunct Games Vs., we're taking a look at the Contra franchise, from good to bad -- to downright awful. We're reviewing every single Contra game ever made, from the arcade original to the WiiWare download. You'll see it all, and maybe get a better understanding of why some longtime fans are so frustrated by Konami's handling of this perfectly good series. Join us as we go toe-to-toe in Defunct Games vs. Contra!

Contra
[ Release: 1987 - Developer: Konami - System: Arcade ]
Despite what some people believe, Contra did not start as an insanely difficult home console game. Instead it sharpened its teeth in the arcades. This arcade version of Contra isn't a terrible game by any means; it's just not the Contra game everybody remembers. This arcade game features only a handful of levels, half of which are made up of annoying faux-3D monstrosities. And even the levels don't feel nearly as alive as they do on the NES. And don't get me started on the weird graphics and how they make our heroes look ten feet tall and lanky. It's not that the arcade version of Contra is particularly bad -- it's not. The action definitely holds up, even if it's not the game you remember. But at the end of the day, there's no reason to choose the arcade version over the NES game.

Super Contra
[ Release: 1988 - Developer: Konami - System: Arcade ]
Perhaps the Contra boys weren't meant for the arcade screen. Super Contra suffers from all the problems that plagued the 1987 original. The gameplay doesn't feel right, the levels aren't large enough and the action is poor when compared to the NES game. The good news is that the 8-bit Nintendo port isn't nearly as iconic as the original, so chances are you won't see the difference right away. Considering the NES port has better gameplay and more levels, there's almost no reason to revisit this arcade title. And after two mediocre attempts, Super Contra was the last time Konami took the franchise to the arcade.

Contra
[ Release: 1988 - Developer: Konami - System: NES ]


For many gamers, their love affair with Contra started here. Mention Contra and this is the game everybody thinks of, no matter how old you are. Despite its technical limitations, this 8-bit NES port easily outshines the middling arcade game. There are more levels, better bosses, improved controls and a code that gave you 30 guys right off the bat. Best of all, it pulled all this off while also offering a spectacular two-player option. Contra's great concept and solid gameplay made it one of the best games of the 1980s, influencing everything from Midnight Resistance to Gunstar Heroes. This was the first game that really made you feel like you were playing a big-budget Hollywood movie, even if the graphics were 8-bit. This game was clearly influenced by movies like Alien, Predator and Commando, but even with those nods Contra still felt like a fresh concept. This port of Contra further proves the theory that the NES was the place to go for great arcade ports. That honor may not have lasted long, but in 1988 there wasn't a gamer alive that doubted the power of Contra.

Super C
[ Release: 1990 - Developer: Konami - System: NES ]


Yet again, Konami proved why they program for the home consoles and not make arcade machines. For this home console port, Konami went back and shortened the name, fixed up the gameplay and offered yet another compelling reason to completely forget that the arcade game ever existed. Super C isn't all that different from regular C: Even with the new weapons, levels and bosses, this plays a lot like the first game. Thankfully the faux-3D levels are gone, replaced by awkward overhead stages (a la Heavy Barrel and Commando). These stages aren't bad, but they pale in comparison to the 2D side scrolling levels. It's clear from this sequel that Konami wanted to be a lot more ambitious than the NES hardware would allow, but even then they managed to pack some crazy effects into one tiny cartridge. It may not be as original as Contra, but Super C has a lot of great content you shouldn't pass up.

Operation C
[ Release: 1991 - Developer: Konami - System: Game Boy ]
This shockingly good portable game may pilfer some level ideas from the two NES games, but it's an original game that should not be missed. Operation C proves that Contra rocks on any format, even an underpowered black and white portable. Visually the game looks good and the control is spot-on, but the real star here is the speed. The game moves along just as fast as its home console counterparts, which goes a long way towards selling the illusion that you're playing a real Contra sequel. Unfortunately the game doesn't have two-player support, a staple of the franchise. Still, it's impressive how much Konami was able to fit in this tiny Game Boy cartridge. Who cares if it lacks color and is a bit on the short side? Operation C is every bit as good as the console counterparts.

Contra III: The Alien Wars
[ Release: 1992 - Developer: Konami - System: Super NES ]


The Alien Wars is Contra's masterpiece. After spending the last five years playing around with 8-bit hardware, Konami really stepped it up when delivering Contra III. This was the first time it felt like Konami was able to do what they really wanted to, giving us huge set pieces, great graphics and bosses the size of the screen. This game does not hold back; it grabs you from the explosive first level and keeps you glued to the screen until the closing credits. And it's surprisingly diverse -- something that far too many people forget. Players go from traditional side scrolling 2D to overhead, from riding a motorcycle to hanging on for dear life off of a moving missile. And that's not even the craziest thing that happens in Contra III. In the very first level gamers watch as the ground they're standing on is devastated by a fly-by bomb run. And even with all of these crazy things happening, the action is constantly fast and exciting. If you only play one Contra game, Contra III: The Alien Wars is the place to start.

Contra Force
[ Release: 1992 - Developer: Konami - System: NES ]


After two successful NES installments, Konami tinkered with the tried-and-true Contra formula. Enter Contra Force, an oft-ignored installment that focused more on cheesy storytelling than great gameplay. In this late-generation NES title, gamers play one of four unique soldiers, each with their own abilities and weapons. So far so good, right? Not so fast, because Contra Force fails to capture any of the excitement of the previous games. The patented Contra speed is reduced to a slow crawl, which all but erases any sense of urgency. The good news is that this game has a story, a first for the Contra franchise. But really, it's not a story I wanted Contra to deliver. I want fast action, exciting firefights, explosive environments and humans kicking alien butt. Unfortunately this game delivers very little of that, making it the first Contra game you can feel good about ignoring.

Contra: Hard Corps
[ Release: 1994 - Developer: Konami - System: Genesis ]


Contra: Hard Corps was a big deal. After years of Konami sticking with Nintendo, the developer decided to support Sega with two of their biggest franchises. This opened the floodgates, and in the coming months dozens of big game companies announced titles for Sega's Genesis/Mega Drive. Hard Corps is also important because it marks the last great Contra game of the '90s -- but we didn't know that at the time. Contra: Hard Corps came off of a wave of great titles, including Contra III and Operation C. This offshoot featured a more diverse cast (including a woman, a genetically altered werewolf and a robot) and crazy levels. And best of all, it allowed you to choose the path you wanted to take. True to its name, Contra: Hard Corps goes down as one of the toughest entries in the franchise, a mighty feat given the competition. This Genesis game may not be as well known as Contra III, but it's every bit as good.

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