Contra Anniversary Collection

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: June 11, 2019


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Xbox One Review - 'Contra Anniversary Collection'

by Adam Pavlacka on Jan. 10, 2020 @ 12:01 a.m. PST

The Contra Anniversary Collection is part of Konami's 50th anniversary celebration and compiles titles from its beloved franchises and retro games.

The Contra Anniversary Collection is the final entry in the collection line of titles released by Konami this summer. The first, the Konami Arcade Classics: Anniversary Collection, focused on arcade releases. The second, the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, delivered many (but not all) of the 2D Castlevania games. The Contra Anniversary Collection does the same with the Contra games, but it's a bit lighter on content than the previous releases.

On the store page for the collection, Konami advertises the inclusion of 10 Contra games. While correct from a purely legal perspective, it would be a lot more honest to say there are seven Contra games included, along with a few variants.

The individual games in the collection are:

  • Contra (1987 - Arcade)
  • Super Contra (1988 - Arcade)
  • Contra (1988 - NES)
  • Super C (1990 - NES)
  • Contra III: The Alien Wars (1992 - SNES)
  • Operation C (1991 - GB)
  • Contra: Hard Corps (1994 - GEN)

Also included on the main title list are:

  • Contra (1998 - Japanese Famicom) - NES version with enhanced animation
  • Super Probotector: Alien Rebels (1992 - European SNES) - Sprite swap with Contra III
  • Probotector (1994 - European Megadrive) - Sprite swap with Contra: Hard Corps

Because these three games are merely regional variants, it is odd to see them listed as "separate" games in the main game list and in the advertising. While their inclusion is great from a completeness perspective, someone unfamiliar with the series might be disappointed to realize that three of the games are duplicates. They really should have been included as bonus games, just like the Japanese variants of the remaining six titles.

Contra (Arcade)
Released in the late '80s, Contra wears its inspiration on its sleeve. If someone tried to make a game based on "Rambo" and "Aliens," they'd probably come up with Contra. Your heroes are two muscle-bound special-ops guys with big guns. They don't know diplomacy, but they do know how to shoot, and with bloodthirsty aliens invading the planet, shooting is the best solution.

The run-and-gun, shoot-'em-up style is the basis of the Contra franchise, along with the different power-ups for the gun. You can't select a specific power-up. You simply pick one up, and it activates. If you already have one, the new power-up replaces the old.

What stood out about the game back in 1987 was its shift in perspective. Although it started out as a side-scroller, Contra also uses a basic forward-facing, over-the-shoulder view for various levels.

Super Contra (Arcade)
No good alien invasion is ever completely destroyed, so Bill and Lance are back for more alien shooting action in Super Contra.

For this installment, a few new features are added, such as inclined slopes, and the ability to power up a special weapon by picking up the same power-up twice in a row, but the core gameplay is still the same. You need to shoot everything in sight, kill all the alien invaders, and save the world.

Contra (NES)
Although the series "started" in the arcade, it is the NES version of the game that most players probably think of when they hear the name Contra. Based on the arcade version but scaled down to the NES hardware, this version of Contra keeps the same core gameplay, while looking brighter (if less detailed) due to the color palette used.

The Japanese version of the game used a custom mapper chip, so it features a handful of extras in the visual department, such as maps and story sequences between levels, and better animation during play. These are all small tweaks, but they are worth checking out. The European version of the game doesn't make an appearance.

In addition to being a run-and-gun classic, Contra is also the game that made the "Konami Code" famous. Enter "Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, A, B, Start" using the Xbox One controller at the title screen to start with 30 lives instead of the stock three. The A and B buttons have their labels reversed on the Xbox One controller compared to the NES controller, which is why A and B are flipped in the code.

Super C (NES)

A home port of Super Contra, Super C brings the improvements of the arcade version to the NES. Much like Contra, the palette and visual details are simplified, but much of the gameplay stays true to the original. This includes the angled slopes and the overhead view stages.

Both Contra and Super C are good examples of the sacrifices that needed to be made to bring arcade games home on early-generation consoles.

Contra III: The Alien Wars (SNES)
If you were a gamer during the 16-bit generation, this was one of the must-have games of the SNES. An original Contra game that wasn't based on an arcade version, Contra III was difficult and challenging, but it also looked good. The step up in power to the SNES allowed for much more detail than the NES, and as a result, the pixel art on display here is in top form. Contra III also made use of the Mode 7 scaling effects on the SNES, which was an impressive effect at the time, especially when used for a full level.

On the gameplay side, Contra III introduced swappable guns, which allowed the player to carry two separate power-ups at the same time. Dying means losing the active power-up, but not the one in reserve. This way you never start empty handed. A spinning jump shot was added, giving you another way to spray the field with bullets.

Contra III pushed the series in look and feel, but it also pushed the hardware. One of the neatest tricks in the game is when you are navigating a level by hanging on to flying missiles. The SNES didn't have the horsepower to pull this off with traditional sprites, so the programmers used a hardware trick to make background tiles look like regular sprites.

Of all the games in the collection and the Contra franchise as a whole, Contra III is likely the best of the bunch. It's not only a franchise classic, but it's also a standout title for the 16-bit era of gaming.

Operation C (GB)
A fast action shoot-'em-up on the Game Boy? You'd be forgiven for thinking it was a lost cause, but after a few minutes of playing, it's obvious that the team managed to produce a game that was faithful to the series and fun to play.

Pulling elements from both Contra and Super C, Operation C is an original title designed expressly for the Game Boy hardware. It was the first Contra game to include auto-fire as a default, and it was also responsible for introducing the homing gun, which is a lifesaver in Contra III. While it may not be the best game in the series, Operation C was an impressive portable effort for its day.

Contra: Hard Corps (GEN)
The first Contra game for a SEGA system, Hard Corps takes the insanity of Contra and jacks it up to 11. Seriously. Even if you're a veteran of the prior titles, jumping in here is likely to result in a whole lot a "Game Over" screens at first. The learning curve is harsh but fair, and the game demands crazy reflexes due to the speed. Chug a few Red Bulls before playing, and you've got an idea of what to expect.

Once you manage to get over that initial hump, Hard Corps can be quite satisfying, but it is punishing on the way there. This was one of the seminal "git gud" games of the Genesis library.

Super Probotector: Alien Rebels (SNES)
This is nothing more than Contra III: The Alien Wars with all of the humans and human-like creatures removed and replaced with robots. Yes, this includes your heroes. It was a decision made to get around the censorship laws of the day. You can play in the original (slower) 50Hz mode or play in 60Hz mode, which is the same speed as the North American release of Contra III.

Probotector (MD)
This is Contra: Hard Corps with the robot replacement treatment. Like its predecessor, you can play in the original (slower) 50Hz mode or play in 60Hz mode, which is the same speed as the North American release of Hard Corps. If you're having trouble with Hard Corps, playing Probotector in 50Hz mode may give you a slight edge.

All of the games in the collection share the same set of quality-of-life features across the board. There are multiple video options for each game, but the 16:9 stretch isn't something anyone should ever be using. These games look their best in the original aspect ratio. Personally, I prefer virtual scanlines, as the pixel art was designed around that, but it still looks good even without the scanline effect.

Operation C, the one Game Boy game in the collection, is the exception to the scanline rule. The original hardware never had scanlines, so it's best to view it without here. You can play in black-and-white, or in a dot matrix filter that emulates the look (and greenish tint) of the OG Game Boy screen. There's also a color option, but it is just a flat palette change. Despite the fact that a native Game Boy Color version of Operation C exists, it wasn't included in the collection.

The default button layouts work well for each title, but custom button mapping is available in case you prefer a different layout. This can be useful if you're using a fightpad instead of a stock controller. The improved d-pad on a fightpad provides a noticeable difference in control. It's not a massive difference, but it's enough to make the challenge feel slightly less insurmountable.

For the Gen Xers who grew up with these Contra games, the difficulty was always an integral part of play. Repeatedly dying and trying again was expected. Someone who is just playing them now for the first time may be a bit surprised by how hard they can be, especially if they've never played Contra: Hard Corps. While all of these titles are worth playing, they are all from a time when difficulty was praised and overall game length was relatively short.

If you just want to see what the games are all about and don't mind skirting the difficulty, each game has a single save state that can be used at any time. Creating a new save state overwrites the old one. You can also record a video replay to preserve a key accomplishment. Like the save state, there is only on replay slot per game, so you can't record a new one without overwriting the old one.

Wrapping up the features is the digital bonus book that covers the history of the franchise. Of particular note here are the two developer interviews and the game design documents. It's not as in-depth as a printed book might be, but it does provide some insight into development challenges.

The Contra Anniversary Collection isn't perfect — the omission of Contra 4 and Contra ReBirth is a disappointment, and more save states per game would have been nice — but it is a solid collection of quality games at an attractive $20 price point to boot.

Score: 8.0/10

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