Contra (arcade game)

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Screenshot Contra (arcade game)

Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Release date: 1987
Genre: Platform/Scrolling shooter
Game modes: Up to 2 players simultaneously
Cabinet: Standard
Controls: Joystick; 2 buttons
Orientation: Vertical
Type: Raster, standard resolution (Used: 224 x 280)
The game was called Gryzor in some markets.

Contra (Japanese title: 魂斗羅 Kontora) is a 1987 arcade game by Konami. The player is a well-armed and muscled commando.



The player takes on the role of a commando who must battle waves of enemies, including humans, machines, and even mutants and aliens, to reach his ultimate goal. A number of power-ups become available along the way, increasing the variety and appeal of the game.


The player's character is equipped with a semi-automatic machine gun, and can move and fire in all eight cardinal directions using the directional pad. He can also jump, all the while continuing to be able to move and fire. Coordination of the character's movement relative to the player's controller has always been essential; a single hit from any enemy, bullet or other hazard will instantly kill the player's character, and it is not unusual for the screen to be filled with several enemies and dozens of bullets moving in different directions at any given time. Special power-ups can be collected which might increase the speed, damage or size of the player's shots. This makes for an easier time progressing through the game, but it's not without a caveat - these power-ups are lost every time the player loses a life.

The following is a list of Contra's power-ups as featured in the original game. Every power-ups are represented by letter-based icons (with the exception of the Machine Gun and Laser Gun in the arcade version):

  • Machine Gun: This weapon allows players to hold the fire button to fire repeatedly, rather than pressing the button constantly as the default weapon requires. In the Arcade version, it is reprensed by an
  • Spread Gun: Firing 5 shots in an arc, this power-up is useful for large groups of enemies.
  • Laser Gun: This shoots a long laser that can take out many enemies in a row. However, only one laser can be on the screen at a time (the first will disappear when a new one is fired).
  • Fire Ball: A gun which fires small fireballs in a corkscrew pattern..
  • Rapid Fire: Increases the firing rate of the player's currently equipped weapon.
  • Barrier: This makes the player invincible for a few seconds, though he can still lose a life by falling into pits.

Contra also feature simultaneous two-player cooperative gameplay. With little exception, both players occupy the same screen, and must coordinate their movements. If a player lags behind, the screen will not scroll, which could be fatal if his partner is attempting to complete a jump.

The Contra series' core gameplay has given it a reputation for being exceptionally fast-paced and difficult. It is thought to take an extremely skilled player to progress through the game using only the 3 lives and continues provided. The Konami Code, made famous in the first NES version of Contra and featured in many of its sequels, added a great deal of extra lives to the player's total. This allowed players of average skill level to coast through the game. Contra 3, by contrast, allowed players to choose the number of lives with which they started the game, as well as difficulty (which modified both the number of enemies and the number of hits they could take).

This series is well known for its frequent battles against large opponents ("bosses"), who often occupy most of the screen, and consist of multiple body parts and/or phases.


The original Contra was released at a time when video games were still lacking any in-depth storyline or actual narrative within them. As a result, the companies localized the games in the US would often have a different interpretation of the game's plot than the original Japanese publishers. Konami's US branch was very notorious for this practice, writing their own versions of the games' story, sometimes in a humorous (and arguably condescending) fashion within their instruction manuals.

The original Japanese storyline was set in the 27th century, in which a mysterious meteorite falls into the fictional Galuga archipelago near New Zealand two years prior to the beginning of the game. The player (as Bill Rizer or Lance Bean, members of the elite "Contra" task force) must neutralize a terrorist group known as "Red Falcon" that is staging an alien invasion on the islands.

The premise is more or less the same in the US version of the story, but the setting has been changed from the 27th century to the present, with the location being moved from Galuga to the Mayan temples in South America. The arrival of the meteorite also occurs thirty years earlier (instead of two), and the main characters are nicknamed Mad Dog and Scorpian. The change was presumably a result of the discrepancy between the game's modern guerilla warfare theme and actual setting according to the Japanese plot.

The change of setting caused trouble with the localization of later installments, which were clearly set in futuristic environment. To remedy this, Konami of America explained that the characters in Contra III: The Alien Wars were actually the descendants of Mad Dog and Scorpian from the previous games. Ironically enough, the European NES version, Probotector, kept the original Japanese storyline, with the only differences being the replacement of Bill, Lance and some of the enemies with robotic counterparts.

Beginning with Contra: Shattered Soldier, the old US continuity was discarded and the Japanese continuity was adapted for all subsequent North American releases.


The original game was ported to the NES in 1988. This version is famed for its use of the Konami Code, which it is sometimes wrongfully credited for having initiated (the NES version of Gradius was the actual originator of the code). The gameplay remained generally unchanged from the Arcade game, but most fans consider the NES version to be superior due to the benefit of a horizontal screen, allowing a wider view of the playing field (the Arcade game used a vertical screen instead).

In Japan, third-party developers of Famicom games were allowed to use their own custom chips for their games in addition to the standard ones given by Nintendo (in contrast to the U.S., in which only Nintendo's first-party mappers were used). Konami took advantage of this situation and developed the VRC (Video Resource Chip) series of mappers for the Famicom. The Famicom version of Contra made use of the VRC2 chip and its added effects are quite noticeable when compared to the American NES version with the presence of animated backgrounds such as palm trees and snowfalls. The Famicom version also included additional cut-scenes between stages, a map displaying the player's progress and extended opening and ending scenes (including a secret message after the closing credits) which serves to narrate the game's storyline to the player (in contrast to the US version, which had no in-game narrative at all).

Konami also released an MSX2 version of the game in Japan, which included new stages, but has been criticized by fans for watered-down gameplay (the game lacked any scrolling and only displayed few enemies on-screen), substandard graphics and lack of 2-Player mode.


The arcade version was followed by one sequel, Super Contra, in 1988.

The NES port of Contra was the first of many console-based games. It was followed by Super Contra (also known as Super C) and Contra Force also on the NES, and a GameBoy version titled Operation C. The SNES-based Contra 3: The Alien Wars was one of the most highly acclaimed titles for Nintendo's 16-bit console due to its revolutionary graphics (level bosses took up large parts of the screen, never before seen Mode 7-effects). Later the Sega Genesis got its fill of Contra with Contra: Hard Corps, which is widely considered the best of the series. The Sony Playstation installments Contra: Legacy of War and C: The Contra Adventure (which were developed by the Hungarian Appaloosa) are generally considered the most disappointing of the series, being completely in 3D and sporting awkward controls. However, the series saw a revivial on the PlayStation 2 with the widely-praised Contra: Shattered Soldier and its follow-up Neo Contra (both developed by Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo). Both were much more true to the original Contra formula.

Contra also has the most well-known use of the Konami Code, and many incorrectly believe it was the first game to contain the code. However, Gradius was the first Konami game to include the famous code.

In addition, the early console versions of Contra (and sequels to the console versions) were called Probotector in Europe and Australia. Also, the two main characters (and many enemies) were changed to robots, despite the fact that the original Arcade version was released uncensored in those territories under the Gryzor title. One reason might be because people worried about violent games in Europe. But no one knows for sure. Another guessing is that Konami feared Germany's so-called "Bundesprüfstelle", an institution that watches newly released media in general and is allowed to forbid the selling of a game. In the 1980s and 1990s dozens of games in which people have to be killed in order to progress (i.e. Rambo III) were put on an index which meant that these games were not allowed to be advertised or displayed in stores. Only people over 18 years could buy them upon request. Consequently, this meant commercial disaster. So Konami possibly chose to avoid such a scenario.

Famous quotes

"We must attack -- Aggressively!"

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