Thursday, April 17, 2014

RETRO REVIEW SERIES: Contra for the NES!


  Hello there! Welcome to another installment of B-Sly The Gamer Guy’s retro review series, which is of course a series of articles that both celebrates and obliterates everything good and bad about retro/classic video games.
     The game that is going to steal some spotlight today is a game that is very well known to fans of classic gaming thanks to it’s extreme popularity and the fact that this game helped to popularize a code that many video game fans still know by heart to this day. The code in question is known as the “Konami Code”, though many refer to it as the “Contra Code” since Contra is the game that made the configuration famous. That’s right boys and girls, today B-Sly The Gamer Guy is going to review Contra for the Nintendo Entertainment System!
    Ah yes, many of you may remember countless late nights on the couch or early mornings in your bedrooms navigating the fierce jungles within Contra, and I know that all of you surely remember just how fucking hard this game actually was. This game wasn’t just hard, it was a god damn ball buster, but it was also fun as hell once you’ve entered in the “Konami Code” and settled down with a second player to proceed into what sometimes felt like a long, slow, ass raping. It’s difficulty aside, I would say that this game was truly one of the most prolific 2-player games on the NES and certainly one of the most popular. The only game I can remember that featured two player action that was more popular was possibly TMNT II: The Arcade game (a personal favorite). Seriously, I didn’t know anyone who didn’t own this game back in the heyday of the NES, or at least I didn’t know anyone who hadn’t played it. Contra was seemingly everywhere and the game was so popular it spawned some sequels on the NES and eventually quite a few other platforms like the Gameboy, Super Nintendo, Genesis, and even the PlayStation, but none of them quite captured the awe-inspiring greatness of the original classic.
     The story of the game as well as the gameplay itself was a pretty basic fare. It revolved around two armed soldiers, Lance and Billy, as they scoured an unnamed South American island aiming to destroy a terrorist organization that was trying to take over the Earth. The run & gun style gameplay has become well known as a trait of Contra and many felt that the series was the perfect war simulation, that is until Medal of Honor and Call of Duty popularized war games on the Xbox and PS2 in the early to mid 2000’s. But there was something quite magical and special about Contra in it’s day. There was no 6 hour story line here, no online multiplayer, and certainly no dramatic cut scenes that look like they were ripped out of a horrible blockbuster movie. Nope, just about 1 ½ hours worth of intense side-scrolling action and a couple of sore thumbs. This is exactly the kind of game that both kids and adults were addicted to some 20-25 years ago and if you were playing alongside another player than the experience was enhanced and the game was all the more better.    
    See, if Contra came out today you’d have a 7 or 8 hour video game with extremely well done cut scenes that would take up about ¾ of the actual content leaving you with about 2 hours worth of solid gameplay. The developers would do their best to discreetly hide this with a multiplayer option that would be cluttered full of 12 year old boys calling everyone “noobs” as they blast their way to a high score. Yeah, that sounds like it would be well worth my $60! Bleh. Some games were truly meant to be what they were and Contra is certainly one of them, there is absolutely no need to release this franchise on current generation hardware since the developers would most likely just ruin it with pile after pile of modern bullshit. No thanks, kiddies.   
     Some of my personal memories with this game include a buddy of mine, Kenny M, coming over some mornings and playing this game with me before we had to go to school. I’ve also played this game quite extensively with my friends Chris B and Kenny K, it seemed like I’ve put hours of time into the game in the single player mode but the 2-player option is what has made me fall in love with Contra. I remember sitting on my bed with my friend Chris one Sunday afternoon and we slammed this game into my NES and didn’t stop playing until we hit the end. It was a grueling test of skill and effort but we made it and I’ll always remember that victory as long as I live. Contra is one of those games that you just remember putting quite a bit of time into though you’ve probably not met many people who have actually completed the game without using the code or an accessory like the Game Genie. It’s just so damn difficult, but many NES games were like that. But I guess that was somewhat the norm back in the ol’ NES days, the library of games that were just too insanely difficult is too long to list but yet it didn’t stop people from trying.
     I think if this was the case with today’s games people would pack it up and run away quicker than a Jewish man depositing his check in the bank. Seriously, today’s “gamer” has grown too fickle and they don’t seem to want to put too much time or effort into their games anymore. But not us children from the 80’s, oh no, we would keep pounding away until we broke some ground and got the job done. That’s what a gamer does.
     Well, now it’s time to discuss the actual game and where it’s strengths and weaknesses are found. First of all, we’ve got to talk about the sound effects and music within Contra and how they strike a sense of nostalgia with those who grew up playing the game. Everything from the theme that plays while the start screen comes up after pressing the power button to the sounds of the guns going off is quite frankly the stuff of legend among gamers. The 8-bit music you hear while running through each level has become “humming” tunes for many of us and I would say that Contra had some pretty fun and addicting tunes throughout the game. Honestly though I’ve got to say that it’s been several years since I’ve made it past the first few levels so I don’t remember all of the music, but I do remember a good portion of it which speaks volumes since I haven’t heard much of it in close to 20 years since I’ve finished the game.
    The game controls just fine on the classic NES controller though I have heard that many prefer the NES Advantage joystick while playing, and I’ve also heard that the dogbone controller works well too. Everything is responsive and I wouldn’t say it struggles with sluggish performance or anything, it can just be very annoying when bullets are flying everywhere and it becomes insanely hard to dodge them while you’re making your way through certain levels. But that speaks more to the difficulty of Contra than the controls of the game.
     The graphical performance of the game are fairly pretty and represented the NES quite well back in it’s heyday. Though the visuals are nothing too outstanding mind you, they were on par with other games of it’s time and you can see everything that is going on within the screen and can clearly see where you need to jump and things such as that. There is no major weakness in the graphical category that I can think of and everything appears to look fine. It’s funny how developers were able to get so much more out of the NES toward the end of it’s life-cycle though, with games that have visuals that eventually would put Contra to shame, but I guess that could be said for any video game console as developers learn to develop for it. At the end of the day and the most important stat to worry about is that the game is fun.
     And if I’m not mistaken that would be why we play games in the first place, correct? For the fun? Yeah, that’s exactly why people played video games back in the day but I’m not entirely sure that’s why people are playing video games today for whatever reason, but that’s another blog for another time. And now we’ll take a look at the totals……
Graphics/Visuals - 7.5
Sound/Music - 8.0
Controls/Handling - 8.5
Fun/Enjoyment - 8.25
Overall - 8.0
© B-Sly The Gamer Guy

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