SHUMPS!
Day 3 - A Question of Contra
19.2.03 by Big D

A.D.'s Comment:
There has been a lingering question as to whether or not Contra - one of the action classics of the early Konami library - can be classified as a true SHMUP. Some maintain that it is a platformer due to its mixed action elements while others contend that it's quite SHMUPable. To help settle (or perhaps muddle) the debate, I asked our wrestling editor and local gadabout Big D to provide a review of this classic title.

Big D's Review
I thought that this might be kind of a tough piece to write for, if for no other reason than that I didn't really play a lot of this kind of game back when I had the NES, and haven't really played any outside of Smash TV since the SNES, but then it dawned on me - one of my all-time favorite games might actually fall into this category.

Contra.

But after I pitched the idea to the home office, it was met with a mixed signel. The contention was, that Contra may be more of a "platform" game than anything else. While they have come out with a number of sequels since the original, there is one problem: I haven't actually PLAYED any of them. So, for me at least, all Contra means to me is a fun game that pretty much throws an endless stream of enemies, much like Ikari Warriors or even any of the "plane" shooters out there.

So, on to the review!

The story:
This is one of the classic video-game storylines. You have to defeat some "alien". Or, in this case, his "heart". But you get there through fighting waves of wimpy enemies and mini-bosses.

However, this game was different than a lot of the games that were out around this time. Not only did it have the typical vertical-scrolling or horizontal-scrolling action, it actually had a couple of 3-D stages where you fight through a series of rooms.

Gameplay Premise:
As I just noted, the main idea here is to fight through a ton of wimpy soldiers, along with some mechanical guns...typical fare. All it takes to kill one one of the soldier is (if I recall correctly) a single bullet. Sounds pretty easy. But there is a big problem.

If you get shot by a bullet, or touch an enemy, you DIE. There's no health meter to save you. You also only have 3 lives at your disposal. Additionally, you only have 3 continues, for a grand total of 3x3=9 lives! Not good odds at all for a game that has EIGHT STAGES!

However, there is a rather famous secret code for this problem:

THE KONAMI CODE! HUZZAH!

Now, if you're younger than the NES days, you might not be aware of this code, which was not just for Contra, but some other Konami-designed games from that era as well.

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SIDEBAR
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You know what one of the best Konami games of recent history is?

DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION!!

If you've been to an arcade over the last few years, you may have seen this game. It's got two footpads with the up-down-right-left triggers, and the game sends up arrows corresponding to a particular piece of techno music, and you step on the corresponding pad at the right time. Fun stuff, although the songs at higher difficulty levels are REALLY HARD. Make sure you watch one of those whackos that spend half their life playing it, and you'll see some footspeed. I wish I had that kind of free-time.

But alas, the Konami code doesn't work for this game, if not for the reason that there's no "A" or "B" buttons.

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Anyways (heh), here's the code!

Make sure you write that down!

If you manage to work the buttons furiously enough at before the title screen comes up, you'll get 30 (!) lives to start with, instead of 3. So it's definitely worth trying to enter it. And, as an added bonus, you get 30 lives for each continue, so that's 90 lives. I certainly hope that's enough, unless you're just playing to die or something.

However, even if you can't press buttons fast enough to make it go, there is some other help out there. Although you start with a weak, slow-firing machine gun, there is help on the way in the form of powerups. You can get a laser, a flame-thrower, a rapid-fire gun, and quite possibly the best gun in the game, the SPREAD. In fact, this might be one of the best guns in the history of video games. It's pretty self-explanatory. It fires 4 or 5 larger bullets in an expanding arc. Sure makes it pretty easy to mow down a bunch of enemies, or hit muptiple parts of a single enemy, or even make up for bad aim, as the case may be.

General Thoughts:
Although the game is somewhat difficult without the code, it is still a lot of fun. And it was one of the first games to offer a quasi-3D perspective during portions of the game. Although these were kind of awkward, they didn't detract from the experience. The challenge was great, and it's a fast-paced game, which is almost never a bad thing. This game wasn't really all that "groundbreaking", but it was a hell of a lot of fun. This game has kind of a "cult" status, and rightly so. If you can't find it for NES, get it on NESticle or something. It's definitely worth a play. Or several hundred.

This is my old project, THROWDOWN.

A group of friends and I put together this little project in 2003 as an outlet of out collective rage and anger about the subjects that each of us cared about. I was the editor-and-chief and games writer back then.

It was a blast to do and it to be involved in a great collaborative effort using the strengths of my friends was simply amazing. I hope you have fun reading our work as much as we had in creating it.

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