My favorite movie of all time is Blade Runner. Which doesn't have much to do with Contra, but I'm just taking a moment to mention it. But my favorite movie FRANCHISE of all time has to be Alien. I love Alien. I love Aliens. And I like Alien 3 and Resurrection. And I'll defend Prometheus and Alien Covenant to the bitter end.
Having said that, you may not be shocked to know that I'm also a really big fan of the Predator movies. Yup. I love Predator. And I love Predator 2. I also think that Predators was underrated. And The Predator holds a special place in my heart. So yes, I'm a mega-fan of these dumb sci-movies so again... you may not be surpised that while I won't pretend that the two Alien Vs Predator movies are "good," I do absolutely enjoy them.
Having said all that, I was a fairly into the Contra games as a kid. But they kind of fell out of favor with me as I got older. Y'know, they seemed like pretty simple and difficult run-n-guns, and I'm not a huge fan of run-n-guns these days. But just recently I was reading through of my many HG101 books and was looking at some screens of Contra (the original) and for whatever reason I was reminded that - oh yeah! Contra was absolutely a rip-off of both Alien and Predator way back in 1988.
For the record, I'm talking about the 1988 NES version of Contra. Yes, the arcade version arrived a year earlier. But I've never clicked with that version. Sure, the graphics were far better. But the vertical screen always made it feel squished to me. And it's just not as iconic. And here we are in 2022 and I'm playing a NES game on Xbox One... that's awesome.
At any rate, LOOK at Contra on the NES. Okay, so it's some mercs in the jungle... and it looks vaguely South American. So, Predator. And the alien things attacking you look very Xenomorphic and Gieger-esque. So, Alien. We're all in agreement, right? This game just mashed up those two awesome and established properties, right? Right! And I'm certainly okay with that. Konami knew that imitation was the highest form of flattery - and in 1988, an easy way to make a buck.
I played a ton of NES Contra as a kid. It was one of those games that "everyone" had back in elementary school. And quite frankly, it was a co-op game in those days. You played Contra when you had a friend over, because if you input the Konami Code, then you had 30 lives and between the two of you, you just might see it to the end. Maybe. Because Contra was never meant to be an easy game.
Of course as a grown-up, I'm replaying this thing solo. I don't have a whole lot of gaming friends. I certainly don't have time for co-op meet-ups. And my internet gaming buds and I don't really have time to gather these days. I mean, I'm sure things will change over time. But right now, I've got a 2.5 year old child who goes to bed around seven. Then my wife and I clean up and watch Jeopardy together. Then we finally settle down for the night. Maybe she reads a book or watches some true crime thing. Maybe I read or play a game. But whatever it is, it's QUIET. I'm not hopping on my headset and shouting out orders to a gaming buddy. Nope. Those days are in my rearview mirror. And that's just fine.
So here I am, out there in the jungle and up against an alien menace all on my own. Stage One is a bit like riding a bike if I'm being honest. Sure, it's been many years since I've played this (like, many MANY years... I'm 40 now and I may have last played Contra on the NES when I was in junior high - my lord!). But, wow, it all came right back to me. The level layout. The controls. The super easy boss. I got this.
Stage Two is the first of the over-the-shoulder levels. And it's harder than I remember, but easier than I remember once you get the hang of it. That second boss is a little tough, though. Or really, those spreadsheets coupled with the bubbles it drops are. But, yeah - this game is still so solid and iconic. It's really an example of how at the time, even though the NES hardware was far inferior to arcades, the games were often much better when demade and reimagined.
I had actually forgotten about these over-the-shoulder levels, to be honest. It's been long enough ago since I last played the original Contra. And at first I kind of groaned because I thought I'd find them annoying diversions. Instead, I was impressed at how well the whole thing was pulled off on such hardware. I also like how the levels act as sort of puzzles where you're required to judge depth, and duck to avoid incoming fire. It's cool.
It's funny because of the years I think I considered the Contra series to be classic. But at the same time, it didn't really beckon me back in any meaningful way. I felt like they were classic games - and ones I enjoyed in my youth, but maybe they didn't appeal to me anymore. But revisiting the original now, I think I was totally wrong. In fact, I think maybe they appeal to me MORE now in some ways, for instance the homages to Alien/Predator mentioned above which I wouldn't have appreciated so wholeheartedly as a child.
So there you have it. This game is super difficult. And I'm having a tough time getting very far in it on the stock lives (I can't seem to get the Konami Code to work properly on this version...), and yet, that's okay. Because what Contra has possibly done is rekindle my love and interest in the series as a whole. This might be renaissance for me here. I think I'll continue on in my quest to revisit the Contra series. Who knows - maybe my long-standing love for Castlevania will now be augmented by the Contra games as well.