If you’ve read ANESthetized (and if you have, thank you), you know that I love the video game Contra. I don’t know that it was my favorite game, but it clearly was and is one of my most beloved games, a game that was and is very important and influential to me.

What I call Contra, though, is really just one version that game: the Konami NES port version. There were many others. For example, there was the Contra arcade game. I never saw nor played this game in arcades. I didn’t even know it existed. I did not know Contra was a port of an earlier arcade version or that there was an arcade version. I didn’t find out about it until later (much later, in fact). And that’s probably a good thing because it was very different from my beloved NES version. The graphics are different; I’m not sure if they’re better, but they’re definitely different. The sprites are bigger and jump in much looser somersaults. The characters are named Bill and Lance on the title screen. And, perhaps most off-putting, the color palette is significantly different (and definitely not better). I probably would have liked this if I had found it in the arcade at the time (I kind of liked Super C), but I don’t like it as much as I do the NES version today.

There was also the MSX home computer version of Contra. This version not only has widely different graphics from both the NES and the arcade versions, but is also not scrolling. You do not move your sprite across a scrolling terrain but instead move from screen-sized board to screen-sized board. This greatly affects game play as you can easily avoid dangers, especially on vertical levels; you can just jump or drop to the next board and out of harm’s way. There are different names for some of the levels (Asphalt Jungle?) and completely new levels (a cavern, a volcano). There is also a health bar, the ability to save and switch between weapons, completely different bosses, and no two-player option (single player only!). It’s like Bizarro Contra; it kind of looks and plays the same but is definitely not the same.

And then, perhaps weirdest of all, was the European version of the NES port. It was called not Contra but Probotector. And the changes didn’t stop there. The human and/or humanoid sprites of the game were all replaced by robots. Bill and Lance are robots in this version (pretty cool robots, actually), and so are all their enemies. Apparently, this was the result of some sort of censorship issue; I guess the European governments didn’t like human-on-humanoid violence but were fine with robot-on-robot violence. Other than that, it is the same game: same levels, same graphics, same music, same feel.

So Contra didn’t stop with Contra. It went on to arcade Contra and MSX Contra and European Contra. Now I won’t be trading in my NES version any time soon; it’s the best version in my opinion as well as my version, the version I grew up with. But I can’t say I hate the other versions, either. They are more Contra, and that’s never a bad thing.


Doug is a child of the 80s who was raised in Ohio and is now living the life of oblivion in the bay area of California.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Contra is really special to me, too. I think it may be the first game I ever finished, and probably my first cheat code experience. In fact, I distinctly remember the evening when my cousin called me to tell me about the code. I was incredulous, but tried it mostly just to prove him wrong. Boy was I surprised!

    Within the hour — for the first time ever — I was able to make it all the way to the end of the game with my 30 lives in reserve. At that time, when I was around 11 years old(?), I was very unprepared, with my heart pounding, palms positively dripping with sweat, and my face throbbing from intense heat. By the time I got to Red Falcon’s heart — maybe even before that — I couldn’t go on, and had to turn the NES off just to let myself unwind for a while.

    That wasn’t the first time, I saw the end of Contra, though, not if you count the arcade version. My memory of that day is still fairly clear, too. At my local mall arcade, I stepped up to the machine to watch someone else play this game that never really grabbed my attention much. Little did I know it was secretly an alien invasion game. Enthralled, I stared at the screen while this very focused, very nerdy-looking older kid diligently forged ahead with his supply of tokens lined up all across the front of the panel until that heart exploded.

    After that, I literally walked out of the arcade, right down to the toy store where I was stunned to find just what I hoped for: there was indeed an NES version! I took it home that same day!

    In my case, I found the graphics to be disappointing compared to what I’d just seen at the arcade, but it was still very nice for the little 8-bit toaster, so I tolerated it. Over the years, I’ve come to really appreciate the look and feel of the NES adaptation, and I’m especially glad they managed to out-class the gameplay. I’ve spent countless hours, both alone and with a 2nd player co-op, mastering every bit of the game until it became effortless to finish the game without a single lost life, and not a hint of jitters.

  2. I see you’ve finished it with just the pea-shooter. How did you get passed the tanks?

  3. There’s really nothing to that. It’s as simple as moving back as far as possible, turning around without losing more than a pixel or two, and having balls of steel. From far enough away, the tank’s bullets will skim your toes without fatal contact. You can stand and deliver, and as long as you have a solid rate of fire, the tank will explode barely before it touches your gun barrel.

    However, back when the game was new and I lacked the confidence to rely on something like that, I developed a technique (very similar to that of the famous Takahashi Meijin) for very rapidly pressing the fire button in exactly those situations.

    I hold the controller with just my left hand, freeing up my right to press the fire button with my extended index finger. Doing so allows me to press it by tensing up my entire arm and allowing my arm — from the elbow down — to kind of shiver, which is much, much faster than I can approximate with my thumb or anything; even faster than my NES Advantage turbo function if I recall correctly. Pea-shooter rounds are so close together its almost exactly like using the laser gun.

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