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Native Platform: Arcade
Media/Formats: Arcade Cabinet
Publisher: NTSC-J: Konami
Release:NTSC-J: February 20, 1987
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So began a legacy of unique, predominantly side-scrolling run-and-gun video games. The sequels, remakes, conversions, ports, highs and lows began in 1987, with the release of Contra for the arcade. Contra centers around two muscle-bound soldiers, Bill Rizer and Lance Bean, battling their way through a variety of locations on an island to stop Red Falcon, a potential alien threat. The player navigates through a jungle, two bases, a waterfall, a snowfield and a fortress, which includes the central alien lair. Along the way, they have plenty of powerups at their disposal to help battle the hordes of enemies and large bosses that they confront.
The Contra series is notorious for their challenging difficulty and the first game is no exception. A single hit, whether by an enemy attack or contact with an enemy or danger, costs the player a life. Additionally, the player begins with only 3 lives, earning more by gaining a certain number of points. The concept of losing a life from a single hit is almost consistently maintained throughout the series.
Conversely, the player respawns where they were killed, including when they use up a Continue (which requires credits, a staple of arcade games) after losing all of their lives. Another notable gameplay element of Contra for its time is the multiplayer mode, which allowed simultaneous 2 player action. Although advantageous, both players would still need to communicate and cooperate, especially during the vertically scrolling waterfall stage.
There are two main types of stages encountered in Contra, amounting to 10 stages in total. The player navigates through horizontally-scrolling stages, and a derivative vertically scrolling stage (waterfall); in addition, there are two behind-the-back, pseudo-3D stages taking place inside bases. The player must deactivate multiple electrified barriers throughout the bases by destroying specific wall targets. This must be done within a predefined period of time; failure to do so costs the player a life, the timer resetting upon the player’s respawn.
Helping players throughout the game are a variety of powerup weapons. The default, starting weapon is a standard rifle. By shooting out pods or flying capsules, one can acquire new weapons, represented by lettered falcons or gun icons:
-The machine gun, represented by a gun icon, fires a rapid stream of bullets in automatic fire.
-The fireball gun, F, launches a short stream of fireballs in a spiral trajectory.
-Barrier, B, protects the player from all dynamic dangers and kills enemies on contact. However, it only appears if the player does not have a powerup weapon.
-The laser, represented by a different gun icon from the machine gun, fires a powerful beam, but is awkward to use. Holding the fire button creates slow beams at a regular interval; the beam resets to exiting the player’s gun each time the player presses the fire button.
-The spread gun, S, is a staple of the Contra series and works greatly to the player’s advantage. The gun fires a barrage of bullets in a spreading trajectory, like a shotgun, able to hit multiple targets or cause tremendous damage to a single enemy at close range. It is considered the ultimate weapon of Contra and many of its sequels.
-Rapid fire, R, increases the firing rate of the default gun.
Players can only hold one powerup gun at a given time in Contra, although later entries in the series allow the yielding of two or more guns/weapons and feature unique spins on the arsenal. However, one element that has remained consistent for nearly the entire series is that if a player loses a life while holding a powerup, they revert to the default gun upon respawning.
Most players are more aware and prefer the NES version to the arcade original. Some feel that the controls are sluggish or stiff in the latter. They also prefer the sound and visuals of the NES version to the arcade original. Regarding the latter, in particular, the arcade original employs a vertical screen; the horizontal display of the NES port arguably makes for a better experience, especially due to being predominantly side-scrolling. Contra on the NES more evenly divides the levels. Furthermore, it is much more accessible to players at home.
Regardless, the arcade original left an impact that reached both the players and the game’s developers, as its popularity was a factor to create the NES version. Contra introduced many gameplay elements and conventions, described above, that would continue to be used in its numerous sequels.
Contra also began the tradition of the characters performing the iconic roll-up jump, despite performing a simple somersault jump in this arcade original.
Japan instruction cards:
North American instruction card:
European instruction cards and manual:
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Note: These stage names are unofficial. The second name is the one given by the North American instructions card.
Stage 1: Jungle | Jungle
Stage 2: Base 1 | Inside Enemy Base
Stage 3: Defense System 1 | Core Of Enemy Base
Stage 4: Waterfall | Waterfall Outside The Base
Stage 5: Base 2 | Inside The 2nd Base
Stage 6: Defense System 2 | Core Of Enemy Base
Stage 7: Snow Field | Snowfield, Hangar And The Alien’s Lair*
Stage 8: Energy Zone
Stage 9: Hangar
Stage 10: Alien’s Lair
*Combines the final 4 stages into 1, reflecting how they play as an extended stage.
Cheats, Assistance – There are currently no known cheats, helpful glitches, etc.
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Note: Further details and clarifications required.
In the year 2633, a meteor crash-lands in the Galuga Archipelago. Subsequently, the area is seized by a terrorist organization named Red Falcon that seeks world domination. 2 soldiers, Bill Rizer and Lance Bean, are deployed to neutralize the terrorist threat. During the mission, it is revealed that the enemy is harboring alien entities, likely originating from the meteor. The soldiers eventually stop the terrorists and eliminate the aliens.
Bill Rizer – protagonist; playable
Lance Bean – protagonist; playable
Red Falcon – antagonist organization
The plot to the North American release is essentially a redacted form of the above. Player character names and backstory are absent. It simply states that the player’s mission is to destroy the base of Red Falcon, an organization that is intent on world conquest.
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•Battle In The Dense Jungle
•Labrynthe Fortress 1
•Labrynthe Fortress 2
•Triumphal Return 1
•Fortress In The Ice
•Fortress In The Fire
•Pulse Of The Shudder
•Triumphal Return 2
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•Nintendo Entertainment System
•LCD Handheld Electronic
•Tandy Color Computer 3
•Mobile (i-appli Platform) (1)
•Mobile (J2ME Platform)
•Mobile (SPRINT Platform)
•Microsoft Windows (1)
•Microsoft Windows (2)
•Microsoft Windows (3)
•Sony Playstation 2
•Microsoft Windows (4)
•Microsoft XBox 360 (1)
•Mobile (BREW Platform)
•Nintendo DS (Arcade) (1)
•Nintendo DS (NES) (1)
•Mobile (Windows Mobile Platform)
•Mobile (DANGER Platform)
•Mobile (RIM Platform)
•Mobile (i-appli Platform) (2)
•Nintendo Wii U
•Sony Playstation 4
There appear to be at least 2 minor variants of each regional release of Contra. These differ only slightly in the game data. Konami may have produced an updated board and released a revision of the game with fixes to certain bugs/glitches.
1 revision each of the Japanese and European versions were found, while 2 revisions of the North American version were found.
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