This year marks Contra’s 30th Anniversary globally, which is rare especailly for this era. There are no known dates for the North American and European releases other than 1987, but the Japanese version launched on February 20, 1987. I should mention the title in Europe and Oceania was changed to Gryzor. There’s no official reason why, but Contras were U.S. funded rebels in Nicaragua so to avoid political controversy that’s probably one of the more valid reasons why it was changed even though you’re fighting aliens and not a dictatorship. This name was kept for further European ports of Gryzor on the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum in 1988. In that same year Contra was also ported, more importantly, to the NES in both Japan and North America. This version wouldn’t be released in Europe until 1990.
By this point Germany had laws against violent video games set by a fun little organization known as Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien, or simply BPjM. It was essentially set up to monitor youth targeted products like video games. To avoid controversy a lot of Contra was altered aside from just the title this time. Probotector became the new name for the series going forward in the PAL regions until the first PlayStation game debuted, which I’ll touch on later. The heroes and enemies were transformed into robots because as everyone knows there are no laws against machine on machine violence. Shocking for our future generations who all have robotic spouses I’m sure, but regardless of which it was a smart move at the time.
Getting back to basics Contra is a run and gun side-scroller highly inspired by classic films of the 80s like a splice between Rambo and Alien. Players can tackle the game alone, or with a partner, blasting away aliens, or robots my PAL friends, in order to save Earth. Powerups are dropped in-between giving us awesome weaponry like the spread gun. And, well, that pretty much sums up every game from here on out. Truthfully I’m not that familiar with the series, but everyone I knew that had a NES owned Contra and yet I didn’t know anyone who had the sequels. I wouldn’t touch Contra again until Contra 4, developed by the ever-amazing WayForward Technologies, on the DS in 2007 and it felt pretty much the same. That’s why for the purposes of this retrospective I played every single one. Well, all for one, which is renown for being one of the worst entries.
Contra: Legacy of War, which was the first PS1 title and the first to be developed outside of Konami internally. Appaloosa Interactive also worked on the PS1 sequel, C: The Contra Adventure. Now despite being a Konami property, one based in Japan need I remind you, both of these games were not released over there and C: The Contra Adventure was a North American exclusive. This wasn’t the first time this happened either. The fifth game in the series, Contra Force on the NES, was also a North American exclusive. It was slated to launch in Japan under the new name of Arc Hound, but was eventually canceled.
Not including remakes there are thirteen main games in the franchise across multiple platforms. The last game was a prequel to the sixth game, Contra: Hard Corps for the Sega Genesis, entitled Hard Corps: Uprising. It debuted in 2011 as a downloadable title for Xbox 360 and PS3 owners. True to the name of Contra, and the actual title, it’s hard, but also beautiful. Unfortunately that’s where the saga ends, but even though Konami is in a fragile state right now in terms of developing video games all hope is not lost. I’d love for WayForward Technologies to tackle the series again. I’d even enjoy a collection on current consoles. Please, for the love of Earth, just do something in celebration of one of your most classic franchises Konami. Groveling aside I bid Contra a happy 30th Anniversary.
Contra Series Timeline (based on NA names and dates)
- Contra (Arcades 1987)
- Super Contra (Arcades 1988)
- Operation C (GB 1991)
- Contra III: The Alien Wars (SNES 1992)
- Contra Force (NES 1992)
- Contra: Hard Corps (SG 1994)
- Contra: Legacy of War (PS1 1996)
- C: The Contra Adventure (PS1 1998)
- Contra: Shattered Soldier (PS2 2002)
- Neo Contra (PS2 2004)
- Contra 4 (DS 2007)
- Contra ReBirth (Wii 2009)
- Hard Corps: Uprising (360/PS3 2011)