I know it’s been a while, but I’m finally getting around to posting the last few classic gaming night videos on our YouTube channel.
In case there’s any doubt, I am fully aware that these aren’t the highest quality videos. However, I think you can see that we had a lot of fun that night, and believe it or not, AS Jonathan and I still talk about it from time to time. I hope that much comes across.
Back in those days, if there was a Nintendo around, Pat would usually pull out Contra at some point. He would then attempt to beat the game without any deaths. I’ve seen him accomplish this feat at least once, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t on this occasion.
Contra is one of the games that set the benchmark for what a 2D-shooter should be; not just for the NES and Famicom era, but arguably for all games to come in the same genre. It is definitely a simple game by today’s standards, but it’s good to remember that the value of a game can’t really be measured by its inherent complexity or its graphics. A good game is one that you enjoy and have fun playing.
Contra is a game that definitely fits that description. Because the game came out in 1987, it simply does not have the most dazzling graphics. It is good for its time, taking into consideration the fact that many games that came out for the NES were either rushed or never went through extensive Beta testing. Let’s just say that there was a different standard for games at the time.
That’s a key element to this whole discussion. Contra was certainly a challenging game, but it was not impossible to beat. You didn’t require a guidebook or a strategy compendium to confront the difficulty it presented. In that sense, Contra was a very accessible and balanced game. At the time, there were many games that didn’t provide clear direction, and some were pretty close to impossible to surmount (like Simon’s Quest or Robowarrior, for example). Not impossible, just close.
What about the controls? Well, here too, Contra seemed to outclass the competition. It seems like a lofty demand to mess up a platforming shooter, but alas, many did. The controls in Contra are not only smooth; they actually do what many other games should have done. Contra allows the player to shoot in all sensible and necessary directions, and though there were definitely better weapon upgrades and lesser ones, they were all usable at the very least. This at a time when there were other games in which not only could you not shoot in multiple directions; you couldn’t really even aim the projectiles.
As well, though the game doesn’t have a lot of stages, Konami still provided a little bit of variety. In addition to the side view stages and boss battles, there are also “3D maze” stages in which you work your way toward the background. Both styles of stages are highly playable and entertaining and increase in difficulty as you progress.
How about the music? Well, though Konami didn’t really manage to outshine the competition completely (it was up against titles like Super Mario Bros. and Mega Man), there’s no denying that they composed some great tracks for this game. I find the 3D maze stage theme particularly addicting, but all of the tracks are really quite good. They managed to create some great mood music that fits the setting and overall esthetic of the game. The tracks are somewhat repetitive, but you have to give Konami some grace in this area, because many developers were still experimenting with the video game medium at the time.
I have to recommend Contra. Not only it is a great template for all 2D shooters, it is also a great game unto itself. Even if you don’t own a NES consle, there are other platforms you can enjoy this game on today.
It’s a hard game. Seriously. My understanding is that there are subtle differences between the Japanese and American version, namely the Japanese version is a lot harder, and guess what I played? The Japanese version.
This shooter closely resembles Contra in many respects. The heroes look similar, the weapon upgrades are similar, even the sound effects are similar. The main difference is that the heroes use jetpacks to float around the level, and have orbital cannons. These cannons circle around the heroes as they move around, but they can also be locked in place in order to target enemies in harder-to-reach areas (i.e. top or bottom of the screen).
The hero only has three bars of health to begin with – although you gain another bar of health every 10,000 points – once you’ve been hit three times the game is over. I would suspect that the average player wouldn’t be able to beat the first level on their first six tries, so that’s some indication of how difficult it is. Stage 4 and 5 are particularly difficult, with laser beam cannons, indestructible ships that take up 3/8 of the screen, and enemies that scatter multiple bullets across the screen.
On the up side, there are only 5 stages and 5 bosses in the entire game (although there are some mid-level encounters as well). This makes it a relatively short game. On the one hand, such a difficult game shouldn’t go on any longer than that, but on the other hand, it’s just lazy. I mean, why not have 12 stages that gradually increase in difficulty rather than 5 stages that weed out all but the serious gamers. I kind of saw it as a personal challenge, so I went ahead and beat the stupid game (though not without the help of an emulator).
Okay, I do have to admit this is a pretty fun game. It’s a bit of a button masher, because one button is used to fire and the other to lock your orbital cannons, so really you’re only using one button 95% of the time. The overall difficulty is a bit ridiculous, and I still think it would have been better with more stages.
Not very good. Again, slight differences here in the American release vs. the Japanese release, but the original game’s graphics aren’t good even by NES standards. Backgrounds are primitive, and the heroes and enemies look even worse. The gameplay certainly matters more to me than the graphics, but it does seem a little lazy, like other aspects of the game.
Sound & Music
All the sound effects could very well be direct rip-offs of Contra and I would be none the wiser. However, I liked the Contra sound effects so that’s not saying much. The music was anything but memorable. It was kind of just there. The only thing that could redeem a game like this is really intense music, but again there was nothing overly memorable there.
Okay, so it probably sounds like I didn’t really like this game. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun shooter if you have a lot of patience and time to kill. It has its moments, but there are definitely better games out there. The reason I couldn’t give it less than a 5 is because it’s actually a fully developed (well, sort of), functional game. I don’t think I would play it again now that I’ve finished it, but maybe I would try the 2 player co-op mode. Check it out for yourself!
This video demonstrates some of the differences between the Japanese version and North American version:
The Latest Release
New single, "Your Eyes Give It Away", is now available for purchase.