Konami has been releasing collections of games this year in celebration of the companies 50th anniversary. I covered the previous two titles earlier. I recently got to spend a weekend reliving more of my past with Contra Anniversary Collection. Collecting 10 games from the series, players can take a stroll down memory lane, experience some import versions for the first time, or enjoy a cool digital History of Contra book. Get your thumbs ready and prepare to die a lot.
I was 10-years-old when I first experienced Contra on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. I remember at the time that all my friends thought it was cool but so challenging that we couldn’t ever make it very far into the game. It was something we would pop in and play the first couple levels, die, then move on to the next cartridge. Then somehow we discovered the infamous “Konami Code” and never looked back.
If you are not familiar, the Konami Code (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start) gave us 30 lives and made Contra for NES a fantastic two player game that we could finally defeat with a friend in one sitting. These days I personally know the record holding speedrunner Angrylanks, who clocked in at 9m 50s 550ms just six months ago. That is the beauty of Contra for the NES, it was a challenge for those who wanted one and a fun experience for those who just wanted to mindlessly shoot bad guys with their buddy.
I was pumped to play Contra Anniversary Collection and see what, if any, improvements were made to the games. Sadly, just like the previous collections this year, not much was done in the porting. That has to be my biggest disappointment in these collections. There was a missed opportunity to not necessarily cosmetically improve these games (although it would of been cool), but to give the option to decrease the difficulty in these games.
Be it via more lives or the ability to rewind like many PC emulators do. Yes, Konami included a save state feature, but constantly saving and reloading in a run-and-gun game is just painful. Many of the games featured in this collection are notoriously challenging. This would just allow the games to find a larger audience like the Konami Code did for us on Contra for the NES.
The Contra series was really the Dark Souls games of their time in terms of how people describe a challenge level that still attracts a certain type of player. I can respect that. But just like I have a problem with lack of an adjustable difficulty level in that series, the same applies with Contra Anniversary Collection.
For many players the included games here will be just too damn frustrating to be fun. To be fair the European games are easier due to the speed difference of 50hz with an option for “Turbo” mode at 60hz to bring it in line with the North American counterparts. So the only changes I saw were to make the easier games more challenging. I just do not understand this.
I did find it enjoyable to play the Probotector games for the first time. In Europe, at the time, there were a ton of rules about violence in video games. So, in that region, all the characters were turned into robots of some kind, because blowing up soulless machines was okay. The lack of the EU NES Probotector did make me sad, why not include them all?
The other interesting thing for me personally was playing the Japanese release of Contra for the Famicom. There are cut scenes (in Japanese still for what reason? Authenticity? Laziness?) and a map between levels. The backgrounds have some interesting details the North American release lacked, like the trees sway and snow actually falls in the winter level. Overall it is just a superior version.
I had never played the original arcade Contra or its follow up, Super Contra. I was looking forward to experiencing them. They did not age well. The controls are clunky and they are very difficult. The difficulty I expected with it being a Contra game, plus the fact they were in the arcade and designed to suck up quarters. Then I found after continuing three times, you have to start over. Maybe this was intended to make sure players keep inserting coins, but even then I don’t see this as a great incentive. Wouldn’t it make more sense to allow unlimited continues if the player just keeps handing over quarters? I personally would have played once and walked away after having to completely restart, so it’s not surprising that no arcades in my area had these games. The real tragedy though is that there is no option to change this in the Contra Anniversary Collection. How hard would it have been to include unlimited continues so players could actually experience these games?!
There are some different background choices, the save state feature, different visual options like scanlines or expanding the screen, but really Contra Anniversary Collection is just like the previous collections and are just pure ports of the original games. This just seems like a missed opportunity to really revive these games and instead it just feels lazy and like a nostalgia cash grab.
Contra Anniversary Collection has some fantastic games though and Contra III: The Alien Wars would be the highlight for me. The title improves on the previous games in every way. Just like the original release, the addition of an adjustable amount of lives and difficulty level was why I liked it so much back on SNES as well. Super C, however, just brings back horrible memories due to its extreme challenge.
Contra Anniversary Collection is my least favorite of the Konami Collections this year. If you are a huge fan of the series and/or enjoy the challenge, then sure, it is a perfect fit for that type of player. For the rest of us who are just looking to shoot things and have a good time, the choices here are very limited.
The nostalgia is nice for a bit and getting to input the Konami Code and play Contra for NES with a friend is still a blast, even 30 years later. I just feel like more should of been done to revive these amazing games and bring them to a larger audience.