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Retro Challenge: Contra NES

Posted in Retro Gaming Challenge by Bryan

Today, we're playing Contra.

Yeah bitches!  This is the only time either of them wears a shirt.

I do not claim to be an extremely skilled retro gamer.  I don't do 10 minute speed runs of Super Mario 3.  I can't beat all the robot masters in the Mega Man games with just the Mega Buster.  I've never beaten the third world of Ninja Turtles and I think anyone who can is on crack or lying.  I never baked a loaf of bread in the shape of a Gameboy and sent it to Nintendo Power.  I write these posts because I just like talking about old games, and I like having a reason to play them again.

With that said, Contra is my jam.

The challenge in Contra lies with the fact that you die in one hit, just like real life.  Since it's incredibly easy to die, Konami was nice enough to create the famous Konami code, which gives you 30 lives instead of the measly default three.  This can get most people through the game, and everyone has fun.  But me?  I like playing without the code because it's an added challenge.  My one goal in life is to play the perfect game of Contra where I never die at all, but level 6 has a tendency of getting me.  I'll show you the part I always have trouble with later.  I'm pretty sure if I just sat down and played the game over and over again I could get the perfect game, but that's not how I want this to happen.  For me, Contra is a great game that does not deserve to be chain played like some sort of sick chore.  It is to be savored, loved, and whatever.  Caressed?  Sure.  I'm secure enough with myself to say that about a game where the protagonists are (I assume) sweaty dudes not wearing shirts.

For the record, my personal best is only dying once.  One day, I'll pull off the perfect game.

So let's get started.

Level 1: The Jungle.  I just wasted a robot.  All the bad guys are robots.  Violence kills.

So there I am blowing stuff up. At this point, I have already collected the machine gun.  It's a great weapon and all you have to do is hold down B, but what I really want is the Spread Gun.

Let's take a break to see an exploding bridge.

This is where they shot the movie True Lies.

Nobody thinks this is weird, but the Contra dudes can jump all day with a vertical leap that would make Michael Jordan cry and they never get tired.  The trade off is the Contra dudes are super easy to kill.  Slow moving bullet?  Dead.  Robot runs up and touches you?  Dead.  You're playing a vertical stage and the other player jumps so high that it advances the stage and you die because the ground you were standing on is no longer there?  It's effing nonsense, but you're dead.  Also, punch the other player.  Jerkhole deserves it.

Then there's the Spread gun.  The Spread gun is the greatest weapon in any video game ever.  The first Spread gun in the level is a little tricky to get, and to this day I can still get myself killed trying to grab it.  Usually I forego it in favor of grabbing the second one later in the level, but I feel like showing off.

It's in that thing flying over me.  This area has two snipers (already dead) and that turret underneath.  It's actually safer just to swim in the water from below and kill everything because you have more room to manuever, but then you don't get the Spread.

The game immediately tries to punish you by giving you a Flame gun, but those things are pretty awful.  They move super slow, which in a fast paced game is pretty worthless.  You're better off running around with the pea shooter (my name for the default gun).  Here's me shunning a Flame gun and going out of my way to avoid picking it up.

Go home, Flame gun.  No one likes you.  

Here's a screenshot of the Spread gun in action.  Again, we love the Spread gun.  When I say "we," I'm including you.  I make your decisions regarding Spread.  I hope that's okay.


It's pretty hard to screenshot the spread bullets since they blink.  There's 3 out of 5, so that's fine.

Let's over analyze the Spread gun for a minute or two.  On one hand, it's single handedly the most convenient gun ever.  You don't need to be precise when you have five bullets spreading out, and of course you have infinite ammo.  But one day while I was walking my dog, I realized, the Spread gun makes no sense.  Seriously, how would it work in real life?  I imagined firing such a gun in a three dimensional environment, because that's how real life works.  If you go off the 2D view in the game, it looks like it fires vertically, meaning it shoots high and low.  For instance, that robot in the above picture is going to get hit because he's higher than me.  

But wait a minute!  Contra has 3D stages!  Let's see what it looks like when we are in such a stage.

It fires sideways!!!

Seriously?  How does that work?  Now we're hitting things from left to right.  Both of the dudes in that pictures are about to be toast because they are on even ground with me, and my gun spreads parallel to the ground.


And then we have this overhead shot from the sequel Super C, which seems to confirm the 3D view.

3 out of 5 bullets pictured...that ain't bad!

So really, the Spread gun is contradiction wrapped in unlikelihood.

Maybe in those levels, he's turning the gun sideways?  Or do you remember in the Ghostbusters cartoon when they would encounter a negative charged ghost so they would dig out their screw drivers and fiddle with their proton packs so they would be effective?  Later, they just got a toggle switch.  That shiz got easier.  There's a point in there somewhere.

Let's get back to the game.

Oh look, I beat Level 1.


Nothing is better than unloading the Spread gun point blank into a giant red button.

And I beat level 2, the aforementioned 3D stage.  So far, no deaths.  We're doing just fine.


When I was a kid playing this two player, my buddies and I would try to shoot each other from the opposite sides.  No one got hurt.

Level 3 is the Waterfall level, a vertical stage that has you working your way to the top.  This is the absolute worse stage to play with a partner, because if you're jumping too quick the screen advances and kills anyone too slow.

Gold medal in gymnastics!

Sadly, I managed to get myself killed in this level while setting up a screenshot.  There goes my perfect game.  But then again, I'm kind of glad it happened for two reasons.  First, the pressure is officially off.  I don't have to worry about dying because I already effed it up.  Second, I'm playing this on an emulator because it's easier to get screenshots.  Honestly, I don't want my first perfect game to be on an emulator.  I want to be playing my real live actual cartridge on the crappy TV in the basement.  That's how cool people do it.  So I died and that's fine.  Let's keep going.

Level 4 is another 3D stage.  I don't think the final boss is difficult, but I'm really slow to kill him.  He has four heads that you can only kill when two of them line up, and what you're supposed to do is shoot a bunch of bullets in advance so they hit whatever head forms up right as it forms up.  I always forget to do this.  As a kid, my friends would always clear their side and come over to help me with mine, and my friends were dicks so they would say something snotty about it.


There's two heads, but it's impossible to screen shot them because they blink.

Level 5 is the Snowfield.  Usually this level isn't a problem for me, but the unthinkable happened.  I died once to a loose stick of dynamite, and that just set off a chain reaction of multiple deaths.  I died a lot, and I was bummed.  Luckily, I was able to get a Spread gun back pretty quickly and recover, but I was a little demoralized by my poor effort.  However, we still have lives, so we can carry on!


Watch your toes!

When I was little, if I didn't have the Spread gun this tank was an auto kill because I couldn't hit the B button fast enough to kill it.  I'm a lot better now.  I also don't need the 30 guy code anymore.  Suck it, world.  I'm adding that to my resumé.

Here's the ending boss.  All you have to do is stand under him and waste him.  He drops bombs, but you can shoot them as they fall.


Like Bard shooting the underbelly of Smaug...if Bard had a Spread gun.

Here's the dreaded Level 6.  Level 6 is the reason why I have never played the perfect game of Contra.  The one time I only died once, it was because of this cheating jerk of a level.  Let me show you the tough part.

The Capital of BS

So here's what we're looking at.  The top laser (currently shooting) goes straight down, and it isn't on any timer.  It activates when you get close enough to it.  Beneath that is a power up station with a Body Armor in it, which makes you invincible for a short period of time.  The bottom laser lashes out when you land, so what you have to do is shoot the panel to get the Body Armor while tricking the top laser to activate so you can sneak in under it, land on the Body Armor, and rock your way to glory by not dying when the bottom laser shoots at you.  Just like real life.

It's stupid hard, but let's give it a shot.

Annnnd I survived.  Sigh.

Why can't I do that when it matters?  Oh well.  The good news is that I didn't die, which means I get to fight the ending guy with my Spread gun intact.  I'm looking forward to this rare opportunity, as I'm usually reduce to the pea shooter by this point.

Suck it, Jumping Jack!

Level 7 is a snooze by comparison, although I give the level creativity points for trying to kill me with pop up spike walls.

If only Wile E. Coyote used this on the Roadrunner.  I'm standing on bird seed.

Sadly, I had a bad day on this level, and I managed to die a bunch.  I think my confidence got to me.  At one point, I was down to two lives.  I shot down a Spread power up, but it landed on a ledge too high to jump onto.  My solution?  I jumped in a pit, died, and since I know I respawn by dropping into the screen from the top, I was able to get the Spread gun.  That's right...I put my no-continue-using, no-30-guy-code Contra run at risk by purposely losing one of my remaining lives to get a better gun.  Just like real life!

I'm not worried.  I mean, if I die, I'll just start over and never tell you people this happened.

Here's the ending boss for level 7.  What you have to do is run in and blow up the blinking orange thing over the door (it doesn't blink in the picture...sorry).  If you're not quick enough, the guns on the bottom start unloading on you and bad guys run in from the left part of the stage.  If you're equipped with the Spread gun, like I happen to be, all you have to do is Zerg the orange thing and call it a day.  It's over pretty quick.


See how there's no medals in the upper left hand corner?  It's because I'm out of lives, other than the one I'm currently living (again, just like real life!).

Now for Level 8.  Observe my lack of lives.  It makes for good dramatic tension.


Why does it say Rest?  I don't know.  Also, drama!

I've heard many people say that Level 8 is a rip off of the movie Aliens, which it totally is.  But that's okay, because that movie was awesome. This bad guy here looks like a giant version of the jaw thing that pops out of a xenomorph's mouth, but I blew it up before I thought to get a screen shot.  I hope that description helps.

Victory dance!  I also got an extra life!

Here.  I played through the game again to get a few extra pictures, so now you can see what he looks like.

You're lucky I like you.  Also, look at all those extra lives!

Back to the playthrough.  This next picture is my favorite part in the whole game.  Those little mouth things spit flying globs at you, with most of them being at the top or bottom of the stage.  But these two are different -- you can get right next to them and unload on them with the Spread.  It takes less than two seconds to take them out, but it's the best two seconds you will ever live.  It's the little things in life.


Best day ever, starring meeee!

The final boss of the game isn't too difficult.  It's a giant beating heart with face hugger factories.  I usually take out the bottom two face hugger factories and then unload on the heart.

I'm striking a sexy pose.

And then you win, and you get to see a daring helicopter escape.  

0 stars on Trip Adviser.

That's the game, folks!  I think it would be cool to take the helicopter and go through the drive-thru at McDonalds, but since Dudes aren't wearing shirts, we probably won't get service.  Also, the helicopter would make a mess trying to get too close to the building.  This feels like a good place to say "just like real life," but I've overused that gag enough as it is.

I want to talk about the Rapid Fire power up real quick.  We had a lot of arguments growing up about whether or not it did anything.  Most of us felt it was merely a placebo effect, and that you only thought you were shooting faster because the game told you that you should be shooting faster.


Why you lie, bro?

It turns out the Rapid Fire works as advertised.  I found this out by experimenting with a controller using a turbo button.  The increased rate of fire is actually quite noticeable.  I guess we just weren't hitting buttons fast enough back when we were kids.

By the way: Spread gun with a turbo controller?  Actually not that cool.  The game glitches out, and you only get a three bullet Spread instead of the five.  That's what you get for cheating.

That's all I have to say about Contra.  Do you know someone who can beat the game without dying?  Are there a bunch of videos on YouTube of geeks beating the game without dying and commentating in their annoying nerd voices as they play?  That's nice.  You can tell me all about it in the non-existent comments section.

Next time: We're playing Nintendo Ice Hockey!

Thanks for noticing.