Nothing says “nostalgia” to me quite like Contra on the NES. As far as video games that got me into the medium, Contra is right up there with Super Mario in terms of influence. As an impressionable youngster with an itch for action, big guns and explosions, Contra was right up my alley. The scenario of two guys with big guns saving the world from an alien apocalypse was so appealing to me at the time, especially when I was watching Saturday morning cartoons pre-Ninja Turtles, which were relatively G-rated. Contra at the time seemed edgy and beyond my age. I loved it for that.
I also loved it for the fact that the game was (and still is) awesome. With one player or two, the run-and-gun action of the NES Contra is legendary. Graphically, it was awesome for the time and still holds up in terms of 8-bit charm. In terms of gameplay and control, the game was air-tight. The feeling of running, shooting and jumping was second to none, and the spread gun is still one of the greatest video game weapons of all-time. Don’t forget about the music, either. The soundtrack is one of the best examples of great 8-bit music. I actually have the Minibosses cover of the Contra soundtrack on my iPod.
For all the things it does great, it’s probably most remembered for making the Konami code popular, which of late has popped up everywhere from ESPN to Facebook. In Contra, you only had three lives to beat eight levels on insane action. With the game featuring one-hit deaths, you basically had to go the entire game without being touched by anything. Not easy to do with bullets flying at you from every direction, aliens charging at you and pits to fall into. As a kid, I couldn’t beat the first level without using all three lives. I’ve improved to the point where I can go over half way without dying. My ability peaked though at being able to go half way without dying. Without the Contra code, I would have never beaten that game.
Since the release of Contra in 1987, Konami has put out a number of Contra games, including the recently-released Contra Rebirth on WiiWare. As good (or bad, mostly bad) as those other iterations of the series are, nothing will ever shake the runaway success or nostalgic value of the original. I know I’m far from alone when it comes to people that have a soft spot in their heart for this game. When I wear my Contra t-shirt out in public, I always get comments from strangers about how awesome that game is and how the spread gun beat everything. It’s good to know that I’m not alone in this sentiment.