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.
AS Rating [usr=8.5]