Contra , released as Probotector in Europe and Oceania, is a Multidirectionally Run and Gun Shooter Arcade game released in 1987 by the Konami corporation. The player controls a commando who battles waves of enemies including humans, machines, mutants and aliens to reach his ultimate goal. Much of the games popularity came from its two-player simultaneous gameplay, which was an uncommon feature in video games at the time of Contras release. While successful in the arcades, the game became and remained widely popular and remembered when it was ported to the NES in 1988. Contra was voted #1 by gaming website IGN.com as being the "Toughest Game to Beat".
The player takes control of an armed commando named Bill Rizer, or his partner Lance Bean, as they are sent to infiltrate the island headquarters of an alien army calling themselves Red Falcon and thwart their plot to invade the Earth. The backstory differs slightly between sources. The original Japanese promotional flyer for the arcade version places the game's setting specifically on the month of December 2633 A.D. and cites the movies First Blood, Commando and Alien in its blurb. The Famicom version released in Japan features an intro which fleshes out this plot. The aliens are revealed to have arrived in a meteor that fell into the fictional Galuga (or Galga) archipelago near New Zealand two years prior to the event of the game.
When the NES version of the game was released in North America, the opening intro was removed and the game's manual changes numerous details. The game's setting is moved from a fictional Oceanian island in the distant future to an unspecified region of Central America near the ruins of a Mayan civilization in the present day. The main characters retain their given names, but are now referred by the codenames of "Mad Dog" and "Scorpion". The name "Red Falcon" also became the name of the alien entity Bill and Lance fought, rather than the name of the terrorist organization itself. The meteor is stated to have arrived fifty years earlier as well. This discrepancy with the game's setting between Japanese and American sources would cause the subsequent Contra games to follow a different continuity in each region. It wasn't until the English localization of Contra: Shattered Soldier that the series would follow the original Japanese continuity in North America.
When Contra was covered in the debut issue of Nintendo Power magazine, the original Japanese plot was used for the article. Probotector, the PAL version of the NES game, also follows the Japanese plot in its manual, but replaces all references of Bill and Lance with the Probotector robots RD008 and RC011.
The player's character is equipped with a rifle with an unlimited amount of ammunition. The player can also jump, move and fire in eight directions. The protagonists can move and jump simultaneously while firing. Coordination of the character's movement is essential, as a single hit from any enemy, bullet, or other hazard will instantly kill the player's character, and also discard the current weapon from the player's inventory. It is not unusual for the screen to be occupied with several enemies and dozens of bullets moving in different directions all at once in the game's eight stages.
Contra also features simultaneous two-player cooperative gameplay. Both players occupy the same screen and must coordinate their actions. One player lagging behind can cause problems for his partner, as the screen will not scroll onward. For example, a slow player can be fatal to his partner's attempt to complete a jump over a chasm. In the vertical levels, one player can scroll up far too quickly and inadvertently kill the other player in the process, as the other player would literally have the ground beneath him disappear.
Contra has two different types of levels, both of which are third-person. There are side-scrolling levels and over the shoulder, simulated 3D levels. Furthermore, some of the scrolling levels are vertically oriented, while the majority scroll horizontally. In the arcade version, the last four stages (the Snowfield, the Energy Zone, the Hangar and the Alien Lair) take place continuously. The NES console port depicts these stages individually.
Behind-the-player levels: The two Base levels take place in interior environments. Gameplay is shown from a behind-the-player third-person perspective, although all the gameplay mechanics are kept intact. Each level is composed of approximately five to six rooms (In the NES port, Base 1 consists of 5 rooms, and Base 2 consists of 8) . The goal of each room is to blow up the power-core which eliminates an electric field barrier that prevents the player(s) from proceeding. Initially, only a few enemies or stationary turrets are present. In later rooms gun emplacements must be defeated in order to uncover the room's core. Also Arkanoid like tubes will roll across the floor in different patterns, causing death to the player. Powerups come in the form of a red soldier who will make repeated short jumps across the screen, from right to left. Upon defeating all of the enemies and gun turrets in any given room, the power-core will eventually fire upon the player until it is destroyed. The boss of each of these levels is the same; a six-cored boss that has a swarm of troops and turrets initially followed by an alien creature. These types of level makes a return in Contra 4.
The main characters begin the game with a simple rifle. Special weapon power-ups can be collected to increase the speed, damage, or size of the main characters' shots. This makes it easier to shoot enemies, but these power-ups are lost every time the player loses a life. The player's character respawns with the starting weapon. Each power-up is represented by an icon that resembles a red falcon. Most commonly power-ups appear via flying 'balloons', but they also appear in fixed locations as metal boxes emblazoned with the same logo. In the arcade version, the Machine Gun and Laser Gun are designed differently.
The original game was ported as Gryzor to the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and Commodore 64 by Ocean Software for their release in Europe in 1988, with the Commodore 64 version also being released as Contra in North America by Konami. Konami itself ported the game in 1988 to the NES for a worldwide release and for DOS for a North American release, and made in 1989 a MSX2 version released only in Japan. The NES version is famed for its use of the Konami Code, and is sometimes wrongfully credited as being the first to use it (the NES version of Gradius was the actual originator of the code). The gameplay remained generally unchanged from the arcade game.
The NES version of the game was included as part of the Konami Collector's Series: Castlevania & Contra released for Microsoft Windows in 2002.
Since November 8, 2006, a version of the original Contra is available as an Xbox Live Arcade download for the Xbox 360, costing 400 Microsoft Points ($5.00). This version of the game was also offered as a free reward through the Xbox Live Rewards program. Gamers could download the game for free if they raised their gamerscore by 1500 points between March 12 and April 22, 2007.
Contra's arcade incarnation also appeared as one of the games in the Nintendo DS compilation Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits; the NES version of the game would later be seen as an unlockable bonus in the DS title Contra 4.
Contra and its successors were heavily influenced by the action movies of the time, in particular Predator, Rambo and Aliens. The characters depicted on the cover for the North American version of Contra resemble Arnold Schwarzenegger as Alan "Dutch" Schaefer from Predator, and Sylvester Stallone in First Blood
Arcade and home versions differencesEdit
- Screen orientation: The arcade version was designed as a conversion kit; one arcade machine able to use several different ROM sets. Vertical kits sold much better than horizontal kits. Thus, the arcade version was left in vertical orientation, while all console and home versions utilize a horizontal orientation. The vertical orientation does not give the player much time or room to react, and thus increases the difficulty slightly.
- Graphics and sound: The arcade version boasts much richer, colorful, and more detailed graphics. The same is true with the sound aspects, as the YM2151 sound chip allowed rich sound.
- Level structures - The original arcade version features ten stages according to the promotional flyer, counting the two "homicide sensor" bosses after the base stages as separate stages. The final four stages in the game (the snowfield, the energy zone, the hangar and the alien lair) all take place in one continuous level. In the NES version, the two base stages were merged with their subsequent homicide sensor bosses and had their time limit removed, while the final four stages now take place in separate levels. The individual stages in the NES versions are also much longer than they were in the arcade version.
- MSX2 levels: The MSX2 version features 12 new levels of which four are third-person levels (as opposed to two), two vertical scrolling cavern levels, two volcano levels, an enemy base and another alien lair. However, the hangar zone from the original is not present.
In Japan, third-party developers of Famicom games were allowed to use their own custom chips, in addition to the standard ones given by Nintendo. This was in contrast to North America, where only Nintendo's first-party mappers could be used. Konami took advantage of this situation by developing the VRC series of mappers for the Famicom. Contra made use of the VRC2 chip; its added effects are noticeable in comparison to the American NES version, with the presence of animated backgrounds with palm trees and snowfalls. The Famicom version also included additional cut-scenes between stages; a map displaying the player's progress and an opening sequence detailing the meaning of the Contra codename and the game's plot. There is also a secret message from Red Falcon after the closing credits that serves as a prelude for the next game in the series. The Famicom version also includes Sound Test and Stage Select codes, both omitted from the NES release.
Konami also released an MSX2 version of the game in Japan. While this version included several new stages, it has been criticized by fans. People have derided this port for its watered-down gameplay, addition of a health bar, lack of scrolling, limited number of enemies displayed simultaneously on-screen, substandard graphics, and most commonly, the lack of a two-player mode. The level structure of this port is also different from the original. There are many additional levels that are not present in the other version; four 3D view levels instead of two, two vertical scrolling cavern levels, two volcano levels, an enemy base (also with vertical scrolling), and another alien lair. However, the hangar zone from the original is not present.
European and Australian releasesEdit
The NES version of Contra was released as Probotector in the PAL region. In this version the two main characters (and many enemies) were changed to robots - despite the fact the original arcade version and computer ports were released with their graphical content unchanged under the Gryzor title in those territories. One reason may be that Konami was concerned about worry over violent games in Europe; another theory is that they feared Germany's so-called "Bundesprüfstelle", an institution that watched media that they were made aware of to possibly forbid the selling of a game to people under 18 years. In the 1980s and 1990s, dozens of games in which people are killed in order to progress (e.g. Rambo III), were added to an index that meant they were not allowed to be advertised or displayed in stores, and they could be only bought on request by people over 18 years old. Relegation to this index would have meant commercial disaster.
The game's immediate sequels, Super Contra for the NES and Contra III: The Alien Wars for the SNES, became Probotector II: Return of the Evil Forces and Super Probotector: Alien Rebels. The Game Boy versions also underwent similar conversion, with Operation C and Contra: The Alien Wars becoming Probotector and Probotector 2 respectively. Contra: Hard Corps for the Mega Drive, simply titled Probotector in the PAL region, was the final game to undergo this conversion. All subsequent Contra games would retain the Contra title and their human characters in their PAL localizations, beginning with Contra: Legacy of War for the PS1.
The first level theme in the NES port of Contra titled "Battle in the Dense Forest" remains one of the most recognizable pieces of video game music ever created. In the early 2000s, several bands started performing live and studio renditions of the song. The Minibosses as The Advantage too, covers the song along with several other classic tunes such as the theme from Metroid. A band has recently formed and started touring called Contraband; two of the members of the band play the NES version of Contra in a speed run fashion, while the other members of the band perform a live rendition of the song. A projector screen showing the gameplay action is superimposed on stage. Also, the main theme played at the title screen is used in the beat for the Madlib-produced track "2 Brothers from the Gutter" by Percee P featuring Diamond D.
There is a limited-edition of the soundtrack of the game released by Alpha Records, at Konami Game Music Vol.4 - 28XA-201 on May 10, 1988
The entry for the country of Nicaragua in The Onion's Our Dumb World atlas book is styled to make the nation appear as though it is merely an environment from the Contra games.