In Depth Review: Contra [NES]
That's basically all you need to know. But knowing how I like to blabber endlessly with no regard for the attention span of weaksauce gamers, I'll tell you why I've always loved Contra and still play it endlessly to this very "128-bit" day.
Contra is not really a very deep game, by any means. Gamers who always hunt around for games that require oodles of brainwork and strategy may look at Contra and write it off as some old fogey's nostalgic game that has no gameplay worth the time of day. Well, sometimes simple is better. And more fun, to boot.
Contra is a one- or two- player shoot-em-up with loads of soldiers running at you. It's a world of one-hit kills, different guns and carnage. While dying when a soldier shoots you only once -- or even worse, when a soldier even touches you -- may seem frustrating, actually getting into the action reveals it as a butt-clenchening facet of the game to keep you on your damned toes. Bullets will be flying at you from all directions, from all sources, and at all times. You'll have to jump over the bullets, between platforms, and duck under water to avoid them.
Thankfully the came doesn't stick you with your pithy little pea-shooter, which is still a blast to use. Power-up pods fly around every so often, and you can collect from a range of gun upgrades such as rapid fire, the machine gun, the fireball gun, the laser, and the spread rifle. The last upgrade you collect will determine what gun you have, so you can't stockpile weapons like you can in a ifrst person shooter, or Contra's second sequel for SNES, Contra III. You'll keep the weapon as long as you can stay alive... which is, in this world, probably not very long unless you're a ninja gamer.
Fortunately, the gameplay is balanced. You can die in one hit, but soldiers can too. Bullets do fly in from everywhere, but they're slow compared to yours. The really fun part comes when you have to destroy a boss or something else requiring multiple hits. Bullets will mercilessly come at you, requiring you to keep a balance between rapid-fire thumb action (unless you have the machine gun) and wired reflexes. This is all possible thanks to the game's incredibly responsive and accurate controls, and generous if unrealistic allowance of jumps that can be controlled in midair.
Contra's stages were varied -- there was the general side-view, in which you either ran from left to right, or you had to climb mountains from bottom to top. There was also a nifty first-person-ish variety of stage where you ran back and forth, 'Nam 75 style, behind an electric barrier. You were required to destroy all the sensors in each room before the barrier died and allowed you to move to the next room. It was a fun combination of gameplay elements that didn't make it to the sequels.
Contra's graphics were cool back in its heyday. What with all them soldiers running around, it made the screen a world of chaos but just glaring at all the activity was thrilling. Characters were small, but they were pretty well detailed and well defined. The environs were lively and colorful. Of course this was the NES, and its limitations resulted in some major flickering when all hell broke loose. Still, it was pretty to look at.
I felt that the sounds were better than the graphics. There's a mishmash of sounds for the different guns you can use, and the explosions are decent if not great. What really makes Contra a thrill to listen to, however, is the pumping soundtrack that accompanies each of the eight stages. Fittingly for this action game, none of the music is drab, and it also avoids sounding like blips and bloops usually found on the NES.
Unfortunately, Contra tops out at 8 stages and only one difficulty level. However, its addictive simplicity kept me coming back for more and more. Contra is a great game to just plug away at, and can very well become a daily tradition for when you need to take a break from working or other "complicated" games that draw your attention. The game is just such a blast to play, and is arcadey action at its finest: unlimited ammo, endless enemies, and big ugly bosses. Contra is a true classic, and should be played by everyone into games.