The Hall of Games: Contra

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When most players see a side-scrolling game that features co-op gun-slinging versus hordes of enemies and epic bosses, one title comes to mind. It is the title awarded to superior soldiers that excel at guerrilla tactics and also the title of a long-running game series that made run-and-gun shooters what they are today. I am, of course, talking about Konami’s very own Contra.

Read on as Pop GO inducts Contra into The Hall of Games.

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Contra started its run back in 1987 as an arcade title. The game starred Bill Rizer and Lance Bean, who bared striking resemblance to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, respectively. The two main characters weren’t the only things to have been inspired by movies, with some other sources being rather obvious. The most obvious of those would come in the form of a giant alien head and alien face-huggers.

Bill and Lance were tasked with taking on the sinister Red Falcon Organization’s army of aliens and robots.  Both of them would have to rely on their skill and special weapons in a fight that would take them into the literal heart of the enemy. Should they fail, it would mean the end of humanity.

The other aspects of the game were far more original with each character being able to pick up special weapons that would give them an extra edge against enemies. These weapons would range from the almighty Spread Gun to the devastatingly powerful Laser Gun. In between stages, the perspective would switch to a view from behind the characters as they made their way through maze-like enemy installations to face bosses therein. 

Aside from the visual aspects of the game, there is the music which stands out just as much in my mind. I don’t know anyone that played either the arcade original or the NES version that can’t recall the tune played at the title screen. The music for the original arcade version was created by Kyouhei Sada, who would later go on to contribute music for Rush N’ Attack and Abadox. Hidenori Maezawa was responsible for porting the music for many arcade games to the NES, including Contra and Castlevania. Maezawa was skilled in both music and programming, allowing him to add extra music for added areas as well as create the VRC6 chip. The chip almost doubled the quality of sound within many of Konami’s Japan-only releases, but sadly went unknown to most of the outside world.

The big draw of the game was the co-op, but having a second player didn’t make things all that easy. The screen would only follow the character that was in the lead, while the other could be killed if the screen scrolled too far. There are many instances in the game where it might be easy to get separated, either due to traps or platforming. As a result, a ton of quarters were pumped into the game in order to complete it. 

Contra‘s fame wouldn’t truly be realized until almost a year later when it landed on the NES. Its fame came not only from being the best game in its genre, but also from the inclusion of the Konami Code. The Konami Code had shown up in a couple of Konami games before Contra, but its popularity didn’t solidify until players learned it would grant them thirty lives. This code became, for many players, the only way they could feasibly beat the game, as limited continues were used in lieu of quarters. So prevalent was the use of the code that it has gone on to be used on several webpages, and even in Palm WebOS devices.

Over the years, Contra has seen many iterations in the series, some that followed the main plot and some that worked as side stories. There have also been several games, such as the Metal Slug series, which can easily be traced back to Bill and Lance. The influence of this game can still be felt, and the core mechanics that made it a classic are still very strong even today. 

Ernie Capagal

Ernie Capagal

Managing Editor (joined 09-2010)

Co-founder and Managing Editor of Population GO. Occasional article writer. Lover of anime, film, TV, Japanese & Korean culture and Running Man. <3

He's the Pop GO rep you've probably communicated with but whose work you've never read.

Ernie Capagal

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