Review: Contra (NES)

By Drew Wilson

In this review, we check out the first entry into the Nintendo family of Contra, Contra. Does this action game live up to a lot of the hype surrounding it? We look into it.

This game was a port from the arcade over to the NES system. It was released in 1988. It would probably be one of the games that immortalized the ever famous Konomi code because, let’s face it, on a game that is extremely difficult, a major boost in free lives really helps the game along.

The storyline seems to be that aliens are beginning their invasion and have set up a base on an island. You and a partner are tasked to stop this impending invasion.

You begin play on a tropical island. You fight human looking enemies along with various gun turrets. As you move along, you’ll encounter flying objects that, when shot, reveal one of a set number of power ups denoted by a letter. You can get a machine gun that allows you to simply hold down the fire button for continuous stream of bullets. You can also get a laser which fires a short beam that does concentrated damage on the various enemies you hit. If you find a pickup that has no letter on it, this is basically a smart bomb that clears out all enemies the moment you pick it up. Quite useful to say the least.

Another thing to note is the medals on the top corners of the screen. Each medal represents a free life. It can only display a maximum of four medals, but you can get more than four easily. The Konomi code enables you to get a whopping 30 lives which, with the help of continues, is generally enough to allow half decent players to actually complete the game.

You’ll also encounter a number of traps throughout the levels. In the beginning, the traps include hidden underwater enemies, bottomless pits and, of course, exploding bridges. Some traps make things inconvenient, other traps will kill you.

Another thing to note is the fact that you only have to get hit once by anything before you die. This is what makes this game so difficult in the fact that this borders on being a bullet hell game. So, as you progress through the side scrolling levels, memory work of the level from previous attempts becomes essential.

At the end of each level is a boss. Sometimes, end level bosses are simply a wall of gun placements and recurring enemies popping up. Other times, they are some of the aliens you are tasked with fighting. On some levels, you fight a large computer-like enemy as well.

There are a few levels where, instead of sticking to a traditional looking side scrolling level, you have a first person perspective fight. These levels are simply long corridors with various targets you have to shoot. If you blow up those targets, then you can move on. These halls are protected by an electric field you cannot cross until you blow up the far wall and door. The enemies are a lot like what you previously encounter, only some (typically the brownish red uniformed enemies) throw grenades at you too. Sometimes, you’ll encounter steam rollers that roll out from the bottom of the wall as well. A lot of the attacks can be avoided by ducking, but grenades and steam rollers are exceptions to this (in which case, it’s simply a matter of jumping or walking out of the way to avoid them).

One thing that I didn’t like about this is the pure difficulty of this. If you make if past the first level on your first attempt at playing this game ever without any cheats or losing any continues, I salute you, but chances are, you’ll be like me and require several attempts (or, well, free lives) to get through these levels. What impresses me about this game is that it can be quite difficult (frustratingly so) and still be interesting to play. There are not a whole lot of games that enable you to have fun and fail miserably, but this, I found, was one of those games that allow you to die quite quickly and still have fun.

Graphically, considering when this game was released, this game was decently well done. There are games that have better graphics in the same year, but there are lots of games with worse graphics. You can see what’s happening and you don’t have any problems figuring out what’s what in these games. A plus in my books.

The music was also nicely done. I really don’t have any complaints about the music as each song was nicely sequenced. sound effects are also very well done.

Overall, while this game was frustratingly difficult, it’s still fun to play. There’s plenty of ways this game will keep you interested with different ways of how a level works. I have no problem going back to this game over and over again to get some more replay out of it. A game worth a replay to say the least.


Furthest point in game: Beat the waterfall level on normal mode. Beat the game with the Konami code and using one continue.

General gameplay: 20/25
Replay value: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Audio: 4/5

Overall rating: 80%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85

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