Retro Gaming Project #3: Contra [NES]

Last year I announced the creation of a Retro Gaming Project in which I would finally go back and play through all of the classic NES and SNES games I missed over the years. This is a long work in progress with no set end date.

Contra [NES]

Contra
System: NES
Genre: Run and gun
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Release Date: February 1988

Super C, the 1990 sequel to Contra, may very well be my favorite video game of all time. I know a great deal of my love for the game is owed to nostalgia — it was one of the first I ever played — but I still love dusting off the old cartridge and playing it today. Amazingly, even after all these years, I had never played the original game in the series. In an effort to go back and kick-start this Retro Gaming Project, Contra seemed as good of a choice as any to get back into it.

I felt right at home instantly.

The run-and-gun, shoot ’em up gameplay fits in perfectly with the excess of 80s action movies, and the two dudes on the box art are even dead ringers for Rambo and Dutch from Predator. The plot is standard sci-fi/action fare — aliens have invaded Earth, and only Bill “Mad Dog” Rizer and Lance “Scorpion” Bean are bad enough to destroy them.

Contra [NES]

The gameplay basically consists of shooting everything that moves while dodging enemies and stray bullets. In fact, it’s most beneficial to keep a finger on the shooting button the entire time — you never know when an enemy will pop up out of nowhere.

There are eight levels in total, all but two of which are side-scrolling fare. The other two, the “Base” levels, place the camera behind the player, only showing one room at a time. Once the room is cleared of enemies, it’s onto the next one and then the next after that, ultimately culminating with a boss fight.

The boss fights are glorious as expected, with some really ugly mothers tossed in there. These are always some of my favorite moments in the Contra series, and they do not disappoint here. Destroying the alien heart in the final level is immensely satisfying.

Contra [NES]

Also as expected, Contra is one tough son-of-a-bitch. When I first started playing, I struggled to make it past the first level. I mean, three lives only last so far, especially since it takes just one hit to die. That’s when I remembered the famous Konami code:

Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start

With that, I had 30 lives, and the gameplay experience became instantly more gratifying for a rusty gamer like myself. Although it felt a bit shameful to cheat like that, I was happy to make it past the second level and ultimately beat the game. Major props to Konami for realizing their game was hard as hell by throwing a bone for the rest of us.

Contra [NES]

I would be remiss not to mention the existence of the greatest weapon ever created in gaming history: the spread gun. It remains the best, most rewarding gun I have ever come across, and using it is one of the action genre’s greatest thrills. The other weapons (i.e. the laser gun and cluster shot) are effective as well, but nothing compares to the almighty spreader.

Contra still holds up remarkably well today, especially if played with a friend. The run-and-gun gameplay remains a blast (albeit an often infuriating one) on your own, but co-op is the way to go if you have that option. I’m glad that I was able to go back to this classic, even though Super C is still the better game for my money.

9/10

List: Top 10 Video Games I Just Can’t Quit

A couple of weeks ago there was a “Freshly Pressed” blog post that caught my eye. This post, titled “Video Games I Just Can’t Quit,” was about the author’s list of games that he kept coming back to time and time again. I was very intrigued by this idea, and have been thinking about my own personal list since initially reading his. Here’s what I have come up with, a list of games that I continue to play over and over regardless of their age:

Super C [NES, 1990]
1) Super C [NES]
I have fond memories of playing this with my brother when I was a kid. In typical Contra fashion, the game is hard as hell. I think we only beat the game once or twice back then… it was brutal.

Dr. Mario
2) Dr. Mario [NES]
Man, I can’t even tell you how hooked I was on this game. We used to have insane Dr. Mario marathons in college, even developing a ranking chart for everyone who played regularly with us. My roommate was always #1 on the list, but I was a close second. Ah, the good ol’ days… Even today, my girlfriend and I bust it out from time to time.

Tetris
3) Tetris [NES]
For some reason, old puzzle games got a lot of “airplay” in college. My buddy Roy and I would play Tetris all the freakin’ time, often listening to The National while doing so (an odd mix, but it worked perfectly). I still have some version of Tetris for pretty much every system I own today.


4) Super Mario Bros. 3 [NES] & Super Mario World [SNES]
My two favorite Mario games. I still play them every now and then, picking up right where I left off. My girlfriend and I are working our way through SMW again, this time collecting all of the Yoshi coins and hidden items. Good times.


5) Golden Axe [GEN]
One of my favorite beat ’em ups. It’s still fun to relive the glory days as Gilius Thunderhead, that badass axe-wielding dwarf.


6) Castlevania: Symphony of the Night [PS1]
Believe it or not, this is what introduced me to the Castlevania series. The cheesy dialogue, the incredible soundtrack, the exploration gameplay, the inverted castle… this game has it all. Now that I also have it for the PSP (via the Dracula X Chronicles disc), I can play it anywhere.


7) Star Ocean: The Second Story [PS1]
I have probably started and stopped this game at least a dozen times. I still have a save file that is in the final dungeon, but I have been stuck on one of the last bosses for YEARS. Someday I will pick this back up and finally beat the damn game, and it will be absolutely glorious.


8) Suikoden [PS1]
Still one of my favorite RPGs to this day. I played through it multiple times and loved trying to recruit all 108 characters. Although many prefer the second game, I still think this one is best by far.


9) Quake III: Arena [PC]
Back in high school, my friends and I used to get all of our daily work done in “Computer Lit” (or whatever the basic computer class was) as fast as we could so we could play this. We had some furious deathmatches back in the day, and it remains one of my favorite FPS titles to this day. I never could master that damn rail gun, though I was pretty lethal with the rocket launcher and plasma gun.


10) Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 [PS2]
This is the best all-around Tony Hawk game and it features some of the most memorable levels in the series (Airport, anyone?). This is one of the rare games where I had so much fun that I went through and beat the game multiple times with different skaters. I can still pick it up and play it today while remembering most of my special trick combos. Best skateboarding game ever, in my opinion.

So there you have it, my list of ten video games I just can’t quit. Working on this list has just made me want to go back and play all of these again.

How about you guys? What games do you keep coming back to?