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The Contra series have been known under 3 main titles: Contra, Gryzor and Probotector.
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The word Contra in the title does not have a sole, specifically known meaning. Its roots, however, are known.
Contra for Famicom defines the word (roughly translated) as “a master of the fighting spirit and guerrilla tactics”. It is thus considered a ranking or title of a person. Contra: Shattered Soldier also considers it a title: “Contra is a title awarded to a superior soldier possessing almost super human drive and ability, while excelling in guerrilla tactics” (a rough reiteration of Famicom Contra’s definition). Contra ReBirth further affirms a title awarded to a soldier: “Contra is the name given to those elite warriors with indomitable spirit and superior guerrilla tactics.” (a closer reiteration of Famicom Contra’s definition).
The title also contains other origins. The Nicaraguan rebels were known as Contras. They specialized in Guerrilla tactics within the jungles. Contra starts off right in a jungle; in fact, the harder difficulties of the arcade original feature a guerrilla-style knife wielding enemy in the jungle stage. Moreover, the arcade game’s end credits name one of the music tracks Sandinista.
How about the Iran-Contra affair, a political scandal during Ronald Reagan’s presidency in the US? It could possibly explain Konami’s unexpected renaming of some titles following the first game (NES Super Contra and the 2 home computer conversions, Operation C on the Game Boy and the LCD Electronics version of Contra).
Contra (魂斗羅) makes use of Ateji, a form of word play in Japan where the Kanji characters phonetically denote words.
魂 = Kon
斗 = To
羅 = Ra
Pronouncing them together roughly pronounces Contra. You might occasionally see websites listing a Japanese Contra game as Kontora. Most Japanese Contra games use Ateji; the exception is the Game Boy game, Contra, which uses Kana.
On a side note, developers of the unlicensed Commodore 64 game, Sinchi-Guerrilla Contra Los Narcos have likely seen the same connection between Contra and the Nicaraguan rebels. Take a look at the loading screen:
The reuse of the simple title Contra for the Japanese release of Operation has potentially created some confusion. Now, it may refer to either the first entry in the series or Operation C for Game Boy.
Gryzor was originally the name of the European localization of the arcade version of Contra. Home computer conversions of the arcade original in Europe would retain the Gryzor title. The title change is for the same reason as the North American renaming (ie, due to the Iran-Contra affair). The exact meaning of this word is not clear, but in these home computer versions with this title, the player character is named Lance Gryzor (it is worth noting that the plot is significantly changed as well). An alternative reasoning is that Gryzor is a misconception of Rizer, the last name of the series’ main protagonist (Bill Rizer).
The following games in the series are officially titled Gryzor, all released in Europe:
-Amstrad CPC: Gryzor
-Commodore 64: Gryzor (later localized to North America as Contra)
-ZX Spectrum: Gryzor
-PC DOS: Gryzor (European localization of North American developed Contra)
On a side note, the common misconception that Contra was originally titled Gryzor in Japan is still prevalent today. It has gone so far as to be incorporated in Contra 4’s museum bonus content. Being that Contra 4 is an official and mainstream source for such information, it only serves to perpetuate the misconception. The exact origin of this misnomer is unknown. It is used in the file names of many ROM images of the early titles, especially the MSX2 version. Some websites even label the Japanese version of Super Contra as Super Gryzor.
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Probotector is the widely known European localization of the early Contra games. It is best known as the symbol of Contra’s censorship; indeed, the violence of Contra is toned down by the fact that the player characters and many enemies have been replaced by robots. The primary reason for the changes in name and graphics are the policies in Europe regarding violence. In particular, Germany’s BPjM laws prohibited the sale of violent video games to minors; as a result, this would negatively affect Contra’s sales. Featuring robots instead of humans greatly tones down the violence to resolve this issue.
The sole exception to this censorship can be found in the European release of Konami GB Collection Vol. 1 for the Game Boy Color. Despite bearing the Probotector name, including for the title screen, the version featured in this compilation is the Japanese release.
The word Probotector is formed through word play: a combination of protector and robot (or robo). Probotector.
Interestingly, Probotector is a bonus playable character in Contra 4 for DS. Ironically, however, Contra 4 has yet to be released in PAL regions.
The following is a list of games in the series that were given a Probotector name change:
-NES: Super Contra–> Probotector II: Return of the Evil Forces
-Game Boy: Operation C–> Probotector
-Game Boy–>Game Boy Color: Contra–>Probotector (as part of the compilation Konami GB Collection Vol. 1)
-SNES: Contra III: The Alien Wars–>Super Probotector: The Alien Rebels
-Game Boy: Contra: The Alien Wars–>Probotector 2
-Sega Genesis: Contra: Hard Corps–>Probotector
Reuse of titles for the games has potentially created confusion and it is a bigger issue with the Probotector games. There are 3 separate Contra games in the series that share the title of Probotector in PAL regions: NES Contra, Operation C (including in the GBC port) and Contra: Hard Corps. Furthermore, 2 other games have essentially the same title: NES Super Contra (as Probotector II) and Contra: The Alien Wars for Game Boy (as Probotector 2).
The initial Virtual Console ports of Super Contra and Contra III for Nintendo Wii retained their Probotector versions in PAL regions. Their following re-releases, for Nintendo Wii U and (New) Nintendo 3DS, in PAL regions are the North American versions.
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