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The Mighty ‘Contra’ review

Contra is one of those games for the NES that was simply unbeatable, literally. Back in the 1980s, as retrogamers will agree, there were many games that were simply difficult. But not many games were as fiendishly difficult as Contra was. It truly was a hellishly hard game to beat, and many people found it to be a ‘bad’ game because of this. But if you persisted, you found a real gem underneath all of that tricky gameplay. Much-loved by a few people, hated by many, Contra is still one of the very best games on the Nintendo system. And as a retro game, it stands on it’s own two feet simply because it has gameplay elements that, difficulty aside, really work.

Graphically, it had a lot of value for the console. There were plenty of really high quality sprites in the game. Remember sprites? Well, they were often done rather badly on the NES, but with this game the developers really pulled it out of the bag. Bright and quite detailed for a game of this age, the sprites were a key feature of the title. In fact, these spirits as ‘concepts’ easily stand up well against some of the more basic games of today. They are that good.

3D as innovation

Then we come to one of the very best improvements in the game. We mention improvements such as these because retrogamers in particular will understand their value. This is a game that actually used a 3D perspective. Back in the day, this was huge stuff and rather groundbreaking. There are not that many titles from this era that can lay claim to such an achievement, and it is testament to the NES console that it is able to offer such incredible graphics for the time. As a retro game it stands up well after all these years, but back then it was truly inspirational stuff to see some real 3D perspective in a sideways scrolling game.

Remember this was an 8-bit game and the problem with sound seems almost forgivable. The issue was simple. The game had some great basic sounds, for example, including the gunshots that came up when you fired your weapon. But, amazingly, the game didn't have a sound for when an enemy fired his weapon. This means that the game felt a little unbalanced sonically now and then. It didn't affect the gameplay, obviously, but it was one of the small issues around the game that made it less than perfect to play.

Then the big issue came up. The gameplay was such that you often faced hordes of soldiers in your attempts to get to the end point. We are talking hundreds, all of them armed to the teeth. If there was anything that made Contra special, it was this difficulty level. And that difficulty is why the game is still remembered today.

Sounds funny, that a game's difficulty level should make it so popular, but it was a truly addictive game, and one that retro gamers everywhere will look back on fondly.

Now for some Contra facts:

  • The game was released in 1987. This coincided with the Iran-Contra affair meaning no one actually knew whether the game was actually inspired by Nicaraguan rebel fighters Contrarrevolución (or Contras)

  • The two protagonists named Bill Rizer and Lasnce Bea n were taken from actors names in Aliens: Bill Rizer is made up of both Bill Paxton and Paul Reiser, and Lance Bean combines Lance Henriksen with Michael Biehn.

  • In an episode of Supernatural on TV there was an episode with FBI agents named Rizer and Bean.

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