A handful of franchises come to mind when talking about early NES standouts, and this is most definitely one of them.
Contra was one of those games that had actually been ported from the Arcades, but the NES version actually stands out on its own as a vastly superior game… well, at least I think so, anyway. In any case, I have vivid memories of playing both versions.
Remember the days when you’d find Arcade cabinets in random stores, mall hallways or entryways? I really miss those days… in fact, I miss having full-blown Arcades around town. Fredericton used to have 3 all at one time, but they all shut down in the late ’90′s. Before them, however, came the ol’ “Random Game of the Month next to your local grocery store!”
I was only about five or six years old, and barely tall enough to see the buttons, but I could see the screens. As my mom wandered the aisles of the grocery store (called “The Village”), I would escape just outside to the mall and see if there were any new games. One of them was Contra.
I know every kid who has ever played video games has done it at least once… you know, let the game get to the demo portion, then pretend to play the game? Yeah, I’d have it memorized to the point where it actually looked like I was playing the game. I mean, there was no music, or sound effects when I was pretending… and my ruse was uncovered every time the demo looped back around to showing the title screen again, right in the middle of my “game playing”… but damn, those were fun, and much simpler times in life.
There were also the rare occasions that I would stash a few quarters in my pocket to sneak in a game or two while mom did the shopping. They were always short-lived, because I’d always find a way to die pretty quickly, but it was much, MUCH better than just pretending to play the game.
As for the NES game, it was while I was playing it that I learned one of those essential “kid lessons”.
Back in Baie Sainte-Anne (I sound like a broken record talking about that place, but hey, it’s my blog!), we would often visit a family we have been friends with forever. The parents were godfather and godmother to one of my sisters, and they had a son who was a good 4-5 years older than I was. He just so happened to love video games, too; he owned a Commodore 64, which I thought was awesome, but he also owned an NES… with Contra.
As we played through the game once, we took turns beating the levels. We made it to the Energy Zone level, and it was my turn… I had never beaten it before, but I was determined to show off my skills! Of course, I get to the level’s boss… who I can only describe as an alien football player…
Anyhow, I miraculously avoided his erratic jumping patterns and defeated him. I was overjoyed! It was great! Final level, here we come! Oh man, I am SO GOOD AT THIS GAME!!!
Then, the guy said to me, in good ol’ Acadian French; “Brag pas!”
“Brag”?? What did that mean? I really had no idea. As he told me what it meant, it actually did sink in that it was somewhat rude to do. Evidently, about 20-some-odd years later, it has stuck with me.
For the record, I am not awesome at Contra, or games in general. I’ve beaten it and several other games, but can’t breeze through them like other people seem to be able to. Genuine speedruns make me wonder just how long people have perfected their skills, because I sure wouldn’t be able to pull something off that quickly. I’m a “take your time, eliminate everything” kind of gamer, and I enjoy it that way.
This really isn’t the version of Contra I grew up with, but that’s OK with me. Like many other titles, Contra was localized in different parts of the world, and was even titled differently – Probotector in Europe, and Gryzor in Asia. Unfortunately for us North American and European gamers, Gryzor was a bit more dolled up compared to other releases… there was a lengthened intro, an area map to give a sense of perspective on the island you were navigating through, as well as dialogue sequences between levels.
Thankfully, I was able to find a translated version of the game to record. Check out Bill and Lance as they free New Zealand from the tyranny of the Red Falcon…
…by blowing the country off the face of the earth.