Contra Review
Japanese game box art is always better.
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.

Graphics

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.

Gameplay

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.

Music

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.

Overall

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]

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game
Great childhood memories.
Better known as Teenage Mutant Turtles II: The Arcade Game, TMNT was developed and released by Konami in 1989. This side-scrolling beat ’em up game was simply titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in Japan, where I first purchased and played the game.

I remember this game with great fondness, and I was excited to see a Ninja Turtles game in Japan, where the comic book and TV series were not as widely known. I remember that the game delivered everything I had hoped for, and didn’t disappoint.

Now that the fog of childhood excitement has cleared, I can give my honest opinion of this game without any reservation. Does it stand up to the test of time, or does it fall short?

Something I loved about this game as a kid was the 2 player co-op mode. This was, in fact, my preferred method of play as a kid, because it made it a lot easier to beat the game. It was difficult enough that we couldn’t beat it every time, but typically you could make it a lot farther with 2 players as opposed to 1. This time I played the game alone, and I must admit that this did have an impact on my overall enjoyment of the game. It’s better with 2 players, but it’s still not bad as 1 player.

Another thing I loved about the game was the gameplay. The controls were simple and responsive, and the boss battles were challenging. The gameplay is still pretty fun, if somewhat monotonous. Most of the time you jump, kick, and repeat, which is your basic strategy for most boss battles.

Of course, part of the appeal of this game is the Turtles universe, which they took full advantage of (unlike some movies or games I could mention). They could have released this game under the guise of another hero quartet, but somehow I just don’t think it would have been as satisfying. This is where it gets a little difficult to rate as a game, because those who grew up with the Ninja Turtles are familiar with the universe and the characters, but those who didn’t grow up with the Ninja Turtles might have a different view of this game altogether.

Gameplay

As per aforementioned, the gameplay is simple and the controls are responsive. I like how you can combine your jump with an attack (jump-kick), and if you hit the buttons simultaneously, you can get another “special attack” that brings Foot soldiers down in one hit. I like the variety in movements, but most of the time you’re going to be using the jump-kick or the special attack because they are more effective and it’s easier to avoid enemy attacks. Unlike Final Mission (S.C.A.T. Special Cybernetic Attack Team), there are a fair number of stages to the game, and it still retains a good level of challenge.

Graphics

The graphics were impressive at best, and par at worst. I like the variety in expressions and actions the Turtles can take, and you can tell they paid a great deal of attention to detail here. Of course, some of the backgrounds are a little underdeveloped, and you can tell they recycled the Foot soldier graphic (merely changed the color of it), but this was common practice at the time. All in all, it looks a lot better than a lot of other NES games, so I’m not going to dock any points here.

Sound & Music

I like the fact that they made use of the Turtles’ theme, and also created variations on it. Some of the loops tend to be a little short and repeat too often, but there are also some pretty good themes here. My favorites were the snow level and the Technodrome themes.

Overall 7.5/10

This game may not be the cream of the crop, but I have to admit it’s still a fairly well developed game. It’s a bit like Contra combined with Double Dragon, if I had to make comparisons (although not as memorable as either). I realize I was a lot more forgiving of games like this as a kid. You almost never knew what you were getting when you went out and bought NES games, and fortunately this one turned out to be one of the better ones in my collection. Give it a whirl if you have some spare time.

Check out this video for gameplay footage: