Contra RetroActive Review

contra picture


Original Release Date: 1987

The NES era was a transitional period, and among other things it marked the beginning of a shift away from arcades towards home consoles, as the capabilities of the latter were slowly catching up to those of the former. As a result, the NES received a number of ports of arcade games. One of those games was Contra, a run and gun action game that was very successful and is largely considered one of the best NES games of all time. But how well does it stand up today?

On the whole, quite well actually. The controls are very responsive and precise, the gameplay is fast paced and engaging, and while the game keeps you on your toes, its challenges are never unfair or unreasonable. The art direction and soundtrack are also quite good despite the limited capabilities of the NES, and the game is paced in a way that makes things gradually more difficult in a hard but fair way.

The only real problem with Contra is the lives system. Making a player start a level over again for making too many mistakes is reasonable. Making a player start the entire game over again, on the other hand, is not. Forcing the player to wade through the same content over and over again is just punishing, particularly with a game that’s difficult. Clearly this design choice was made in the arcade version in order to keep players pumping in quarters so they could continue, but retaining it in the console version is a rather questionable design choice.

Fortunately, the developers understood this, and so provided players with the Konami code, a code that gives the player more lives, and therefore more breathing room. While it doesn’t fix the flaw of the lives system, it does reduce the problem, and makes playing through the game more fair and reasonable. (Incidentally, anyone who thinks using the Konami code is “cheating” is officially an idiot with no understanding of good game design.)

On the whole, Contra is a tough but fun game that stands the test of time remarkably well.

How well it holds up       3/4

Overall quality                8/10


For further information about the game:

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