The Greatest Video Games of All Time: Contra

Impossible to beat without using the Konami Code

Contra is a Konami video game known for its great difficulty. You start the adventure with only three lives and the eight levels have so many enemies and dangerous elements that make it almost impossible to avoid death. Its gameplay is flawless, but as you progress even the weakest enemies pose an important threat and the bosses are harder to beat. The game is a shoot ’em up that is considered one of the greatest classics of all the time and one of the best NES games. In Contra you can control one of two military commanders: Bill and Lance. Their main motivation is to neutralize a terrorist organization known as Red Falcon that wants to take over the world. There are some minor inconsistencies in the story as the Japanese release is really different to the American one, but let’s just say that the plot is not Contra’s strongest point.

Spoiler alert…

The game is really cleverly design and there is an incredible variety of levels that can be basically divided into two, the regular levels and the base levels. Each type has a different approach to it and the change of perspective is an interesting and smart choice. In some of the regular levels, which include a jungle, ice, electricity and so on, you can run and jump left and right, while in other levels you have to climb from platform to platform until you reach the top, here not only you have to shoot enemies but you have to avoid falling. The base levels are different because they incorporate corridor missions that change the perspective completely making it really similar to a first person shooter rather than an action game.

Every level has hundreds of enemies that come to you in hordes, the quick-pace nature of the game makes it really hectic and amusing creating a unique experience that can be fully appreciated when played with a friend. You have to avoid shots, enemies, traps, bottomless pits, bombs and many hazards that are maliciously spread in the levels. At the end of each level you have to fight a boss and each one requires you to discover its weakness as there were many different ways to defeat them. Some of these creatures include aliens, snakes, statues, weird bubbles, giants beating hearts, and the lists goes on and on.

I hate that bridge!

The commandos you control are not only really strong and agile, but they can fire enemies in every direction. To add more variety to this, the designers included several weapons for you to use in the form of power-ups, which you have to shoot, to upgrade your regular gun. Each weapon is represented by a different letter: M (machine gun), L (laser gun), F (fireball) and everyone’s favorite S (spread). There were also some helpful items: the “Special” lets you destroy every single enemy onscreen, the “Barrier” allows you to protect you from everything, and the “Rapid Fire” speeds up the firing rate of any weapon.

But there is only one reason why Contra is considered one of the best video games of all time and therefore why it’s on this list. Contra represents the best cooperative experience. Playing Contra in single-player is really entertaining, but playing with a friend doubles the fun. The inclusion of this type of multiplayer was uncommon in 1988 and nowadays we take cooperative modes for granted, but the legacy of this game is undeniable. The game and level design encourages you to play together, sharing guns, selecting power-ups and items and making sure not to move too far to the edge of the screen in a way that could be dangerous to the other person. This limits the movements you can perform as you shouldn’t do things recklessly without thinking about your partner. Besides that, the graphics were really accurate for their time, specially comparing them to the arcade version of the game that had been released before, and the music is really engaging.

One of my earliest, and fondest, memories is me playing on the NES on my living room. As I don’t have any brothers or sisters I’ve always invited many friends over after school, and playing games was one of our favorite activities. Contra was the game we liked the most, as it represented an endearing habit that we were glad to repeat over and over. I would like to say I was a really cooperative and friendly player but I always enjoyed making my best friend falling off a platform, and up to now no other game was able to replicate that feeling of accomplishment.