Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!
Contra Box Cover

#2 – Contra

One of the most popular games on the NES is regarded that way because it is still one of the best games around.

Contra Title Screen

Musical accompaniment by the sounds of controller mashing for the Konami Code.

To Beat: Reach the ending
My Goal: Loop the game twice
What I Did: Reached Loop 3, Stage 7
Played: 11/24/15
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 2/10

Konami was responsible for many of the best NES games made and Contra may very well be the cream of that crop. It is based on the arcade game of the same name that released in 1987 but the NES version of Contra is widely regarded as the better version at a time when arcade machines were at the bleeding edge of video game technology. I played through the arcade Contra earlier this year and I can personally attest that the NES version is much more fun to play. The main difference is in the physics and in particular the jumping. The jumps in the arcade have more float to them than the NES port and it is more difficult to dodge anything oncoming since the hangtime is longer. If I remember right the NES port has a bit more content as well.

One of the most famous things about Contra is the Konami Code. It did not make its first appearance in Contra but it is almost certainly used most often in this game to get started with 30 lives. This is nearly essential for the new player because with bullets flying all over and one hit kills it means death is all too common. The Konami Code definitely helped me when I was younger. I haven’t used the code in years in single player because I don’t really need it but it would have been a lot harder to get good at the game without using it early on.

Contra has 8 missions in total: Jungle, Base 1, Waterfall, Base 2, Snowfield, Energy Zone, Hangar, and Alien’s Lair. I recited that from memory! I would say that most players could get enough practice quickly to make it up to the Waterfall level, which is where the game bumps up in difficulty mostly because the screen only scrolls up and falling back down gets you killed. That happens a lot.

Contra Base Level

There is nothing more “video game” than shooting at walls

The base levels are played with a behind-the-shoulder perspective instead of the side view in all the other levels. It can be a bit tricky to dodge attacks from that perspective but fortunately the levels are short enough that it’s not too bad. Well, the first base is short. The second base feels at least twice as long as the first!

The latter half of the game features some sort of gimmick in each level. The snowfield mission’s background chucks these weird baton-shaped grenades all over the place. The Energy Zone has plumes of fire that blast out of the background pipes conveniently timed to when you are in the way. The Hangar has spikes that drop down and spike walls that pop up. Finally the Alien’s Lair features a fight against a huge alien head right off that bat. That one is especially intimidating and awesome the first time you see it.

Contra Alien Fight

This isn’t even the final boss!

Contra also has a pretty nice set of special weapons that usually fly in on these little pods. There’s a machine gun, a spinning fire shot, a laser, and a spread shot. There is also a bullet speed upgrade, temporary invincibility, and a smart bomb that kills all enemies on-screen. Surprisingly to me there is debate about which weapon is the best and frankly I don’t get that at all. Spread shot is my weapon of choice and the others don’t come close.

I have played this game dozens of times over the years and I expected it to be a cakewalk this time, and I was sorely mistaken. For the first 15-20 minutes I played downright awful by my standards. I got Game Over in the Waterfall stage TWICE! It was some kind of rust I had to shake off and I hope this is not a trend going forward. I simply don’t accept using continues on a game I am so familiar with so I chose to start all over. The third time was indeed the charm and I cruised through the game after that.

Contra Energy Zone Boss

Just one of the huge memorable boss fights

When you beat the game and go through the credits the game starts over with your lives and score intact (maybe your weapon too but I don’t recall what happened to me on that) and a corresponding bump in difficulty. I had not played through the game more than once at a time until this run. As I understand it it takes a few loops before the difficulty becomes evident. For me the second time through wasn’t that much different than the first, and the third time through I only noticed it getting harder a few times. I think the game pushes out more enemies each time through and the bosses require more damage. I noticed it for sure at the end of my run at the end of the Hangar level in the third loop. I got pinned between a turret gunner and enemies constantly spawning from behind and I wasn’t able to take advantage of a brief window in between attacks to finish off the gunner.

Contra Famicom Level Map

This is what we missed out on in the US

Contra was also released on the Famicom about the same time it was released on NES. The Famicom version is even better than the NES version if you can believe that. It has extra cutscenes between levels and some other visual effects not present in the NES version. The difference has to do with a custom chip on the Famicom cart not present on the NES cart that allowed for the extra content. I have yet to play it but I hope to own a cart of my own someday for the best possible experience.

Lastly, Contra was released in PAL regions in late 1990 but this is the weakest of the releases in my opinion. It was renamed as Probotector and the human sprites were replaced with robot sprites. The game is still the same fun but with different visuals. I guess it does make more sense for defeated robot enemies to explode instead of human enemies.

Update 5/27/16: Contra has a reputation as a difficult game, and while the game is challenging I don’t think it’s nearly as hard as the general perception says it is. With limited lives and limited continues, it does take some practice to learn how to deal with the enemy spawns and bosses. I believe many people, myself included, made themselves better at Contra by using the Konami Code to have enough lives to beat the game. It’s a good method of practice and after a few runs through it that way, I imagine many players are equipped to take on the game with the normal allotment of lives.

It’s really no secret why Contra is just as fun today as it was back in the NES heyday. It has a good amount of challenge, impressive visuals and effects, fun powerful weapons, and awesome boss battles. It’s also really fun in 2-player mode that I completely failed to mention until now. I had a blast going through the game again just like always.

Contra Ending Alt

I like this shot better than the end of the credit roll.

Contra Ending

#2 – Contra

Super Mario Brothers Box Cover

#1 – Super Mario Bros.

Let’s get it started with the game that got me started on Nintendo.

Super Mario Bros Title Screen

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this screen!

To Beat: Finish World 8-4
My Goal: Beat both 1st and 2nd quests
What I Did: Beat both quests
Played: 11/23/15
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 2/10

Super Mario Bros. is a game that needs no introduction, or at most a short one. It is classic, iconic, and beloved to this day.

This is the game that got me hooked on Nintendo for good. I don’t exactly remember when I first played but whenever I did I knew we had to have a Nintendo at home. I believe my grandparents purchased the NES Action Set for my family for Christmas when I was 5. Everyone was hooked and we played for months. We even called the Nintendo tip hotline because we couldn’t figure out how to do running jumps. I was the only one in the family to beat the game and I did it at age 6. Since then I’ve beaten this game dozens of times and I know just about every secret and trick from memory. This was an easy choice for the inaugural game of Take on the NES Library.

My run this time was pretty ordinary. I was hoping I could do a no-death run but that ended in World 4 because I foolishly decided to try jumping on top of a platform while it was moving up and couldn’t reach it. I have done a no-death run before but I have only done it once, and interestingly enough I did it as Luigi! A friend wanted to play SMB 2-player style. I took over after he lost his life in World 1-2 and I ran the table after that. I really coasted through the game that time and it was pretty neat to do that if only once!

This time however I was pretty rusty and died 4-5 times on the 1st quest and quite a bit more during the 2nd quest. As a matter of fact, I nearly got Game Over toward the end of the 2nd quest. I was trying to sprint through World 7-3 and bit the dust several times in a row. I was down to only two lives before I hunkered down and made sure I wouldn’t make any more mistakes. Fortunately I made it through the rest of the game unscathed and sealed the victory!

Super Mario Bros Killing Bowser

I didn’t actually kill Bowser with fireballs but that’s okay!

Some other miscellaneous highlights of this run included pulling off the infinite 1-up trick in the first quest, performing an unintentional wall jump, and visiting the Minus World the third time through just for fun.

Here’s an interesting tidbit about the game that isn’t very well known. The first level of each world holds an invisible block with a 1-up mushroom inside. Sometimes the 1-up block is completely missing and there’s a reason for that. To ensure that the hidden block is there, you need to either warp to that world or collect all the coins in the 3rd level of the previous world. For example, to trigger the hidden 1-up block in World 3-1 you must collect all the coins in World 2-3. That is a pretty clever and obscure secret that I’m surprised anyone was able to figure out.

Update 5/27/16: I’ve played this game so many times that it’s really a breeze for me to play, but the game as a whole is actually quite challenging and I would consider the game to be slightly above average in that department. Without using the continue code, there are only so many lives to collect and it takes some practice to be able to clear the whole game. It’s just that so many people have played this game so many times that I don’t think many people realize that the game is not a cakewalk.

I really enjoyed sitting down and playing this classic game from start to finish once again. I think this was quite an appropriate way to hit the ground running. One down, only hundreds more to go!

Super Mario Bros Ending Screen

#1 – Super Mario Bros

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