Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#84 – Super C

This Contra sequel is just as good as the original.

This title screen enters from both sides together, pretty neat!

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Beat 3 loops
My Goal: Finish 3 loops with a no-death first loop
What I Did: Met my goal
Played: 5/11/18 – 5/14/18
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
My Video: Super C Longplay

Contra is a game that practically needs no introduction. A sequel would seem inevitable, but it may not be the one you expect. Just looking at the NES library, the obvious conclusion would be that Contra Force is the sequel. Contra Force as it turns out wasn’t meant to be a Contra game at all, and Super C is the actual sequel. It annoys me somewhat when connections aren’t always apparent. I can look past that here because Super C is a fun, solid follow up to the original smash hit.

The arcade game Super Contra was released in early 1988. It was developed and published by Konami. A home port of Super Contra came to the Famicom in February 1990, and the NES version was renamed Super C when it released in North America in April 1990. The PAL release in Europe and Australia was delayed until 1992. There it was called Probotector II: Return of the Evil Forces, and just like the PAL conversion of Contra to Probotector, the human characters were replaced by robots. Two home computer ports for Super C for the Commodore Amiga and IBM PC released in North America in 1990.

Super C is a side-scrolling action game. The story is a basic one. Bill and Lance, also known as Mad Dog and Scorpion, are taking a relaxing vacation a few months after defeating Red Falcon in the original Contra. Of course, Red Falcon wasn’t completely defeated, and now he has regrouped and is back at it again. You are thrust back into action as Earth’s only hope against evil. Just like last time, your journey will take you through eight stages of shooting action, and if you clear them all you win the game. The arcade version only has five stages, so hey, more bang for your buck in Super C.

Shoot the core!

The controls are identical to Contra. Use the D-pad to move around, press A to jump, and press B to shoot. You curl up during jumps so you have a smaller hitbox, and you are always moving sideways until you land. (I guess this is a Konami thing, since Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles also does this.) Hold Down to lay out on the ground and shoot. While holding Down, you can press A to jump down through some ledges. All your weapons have unlimited ammo, so you can mash the B button to fire away at everything. You can shoot in all directions, including diagonally, by holding the D-pad in the appropriate direction. You can fire diagonally upward and downward while either walking or airborne.

The powerups are almost exactly like Contra as well, and all of the same powerups are back this time. You shoot flying pods, or sometimes a large wall sensor, to uncover the bird-shaped upgrades. The letter on the item denotes what it does. The M gives you a machine gun that shoots straight ahead, and you can hold down the B button for continuous fire. The L gives you a laser that is one long, powerful shot. You can only have one on screen at a time and firing again removes the old shot if it’s still on screen. The laser beam is wider in Super C than in Contra. S is for the spread shot, which fires a fan of five bullets ahead. The F is the flamethrower. This weapon acts differently here. In Contra, it is a spiraling shot. In Super C, it is a large fireball that spreads out smaller flames when it hits something. You can even charge this one up by holding B, releasing a large fireball when you let go of the button. The R gives you rapid fire on top of whichever weapon you currently use. It makes your bullets faster so that you can fire more quickly. The B is for a barrier shield. This causes you to flash for a few seconds and enemies and their shots can’t hurt you. There is a powerup with no letter on it that destroys all enemies on screen as soon as you touch it. All powerups are lost when you die, sending you back to the fight with your standard gun.

Top-down levels give you a different perspective on the action.

Most stages in the game are played from the side scrolling view. Play usually moves to the right, but some levels are vertical, and some stages scroll in different directions at times. For example, the first stage has you walking to the right, but there are slopes upward and as you walk the view pans upward slightly to follow the path. Speaking of slopes, they are a new addition to this game. Simply walk straight ahead to go up or down them. The grade is somewhere around 30 degrees, and when you fire diagonally while walking on a slope, you will fire parallel to the slope instead of at the normal 45-degree angle. If you need to fire purely diagonally, you have to jump off the slope and shoot in mid-air.

Levels 2 and 6 are played from a top-down view instead of side-scrolling. Here you can walk in all eight directions and fire your normal weapons with the B button. The A button does nothing in this mode. Play proceeds upward for both stages. It’s more straightforward than the bases in Contra, and it is in line with the arcade version that also features these levels.

All levels end in a boss battle. The bosses seem a lot bigger and more dynamic in Super C compared to Contra. I believe this is tied to the game’s use of the MMC3 mapper chip. One of the capabilities of the chip is better handling of performing a screen splitting technique. Take the helicopter boss at the end of the first stage, for example. It is too large to display with sprites, so it is drawn on the background. The helicopter can move around independently of the ground that stays put. The game is programmed in a way where it can scroll the screen for the helicopter, but when it reaches a certain vertical position, it will stop scrolling and leave the ground alone. This is used to great effect for several screen-spanning bosses in the game.

This walking robot isn’t even the boss of this stage.

Super C has some other features. The most notable is the two-player simultaneous play. Player 1 plays as Bill with blue pants, and Player 2 is Lance with red pants. The game has a scoring system. Points appear on the screen between levels, as well as the second player’s score, the high score, and the level number. During gameplay, there are flags in the corner for how many lives you have remaining. It will only display up to four flags even though you may have many more in reserve. You can earn extra lives through scoring points. I could not determine exactly when you get new lives, even after reviewing video, so I just have to guess. You get an extra life for around every 25,000 points scored.

Our heroes are quite fragile, so they die instantly from taking a bullet or colliding with an enemy. You respawn right where you left off without a break in the action. Should you lose all your lives, you can continue from the start of the stage with three new lives. You can only continue twice before needing to restart the entire game.

I have played a lot of Super C and have beaten the game many times before. I wasn’t aware that this was the sequel to Contra for quite some time. I picked the loose cart up sometime in the mid-90s, probably at my local used game shop. I imagine it didn’t take me too long back then to figure the game out and beat it, so it was a game I went back to often. I even played the game recently for the NintendoAge NES contest and performed relatively well. It is a common cart that sells for around $15.

One of the rare games where bubbles are a viable threat.

For games I know quite well, I like to go above and beyond just beating the game. I set two personal goals for Super C. First, I wanted to beat the game without dying, and second, I wanted to complete all three difficulty loops. I knew I wouldn’t have any trouble beating the game three straight times since I can comfortably beat the game once with a bunch of extra lives, and that part held true. Beating the game without dying was much harder. Super C is a relatively quick game to play, but death is swift and one mistake means restarting. I needed around 30 tries over a few nights to finally get the no-death run I wanted. Now this only applies to just the first loop of the game. I allowed myself to die in the other two loops, and that occurred more than I would have liked. Those deaths were mostly from mistakes I made. I didn’t find Super C to be much more challenging in the later loops. I could tell that the basic grunt type enemies appeared a little more frequently, but that’s the only increase in difficulty I noticed.

Super C is a must-have NES game. The graphics, gameplay, music, and controls are all top-notch. The game runs with very few if any graphical glitches or slowdown. There are several neat surprises as you play and more interesting level design this time around. I really like the boss battles and the well-used technical effects. The weapons are all helpful and fun to use. The two-player mode makes the game all the more sweeter. It is a challenging game, but it’s also one that many players have already beaten. A 7/10 difficulty rating seems right to me, but I could see the argument for going either direction with it. I think it’s a game that is fun to keep learning and improving on. The only downside I can see is that the game almost feels like a Contra expansion pack. Re-read this review just to see how many times I said Super C is just like Contra in this way or that way. I understand that might be a turn-off to someone looking for something a bit more advanced or expansive. My viewpoint is real simple: “What’s wrong with more of something good?”

#84 – Super C


Loads of Site Updates

One advantage of having the blog format is that it is very easy to make updates to both correct information and add new content where appropriate. I have been focusing so much on writing up my recent game finishes as well as actually playing the games that I have been neglecting several updates to correct and clarify some things. I will always be picking up new and interesting information on NES games and some of that will make its way back to the blog. Now is a good time to post all the updates that I finally got around to writing!

These are the changes I made:

  • Dates played have been added to all completed NES games.
  • Difficulty rankings have been added to all completed NES games. I added them to the posts for Super Mario Bros, Contra, and Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! In addition, I added a small paragraph to the end of each of those posts explaining my difficulty assessment a bit. Definitely go back and check them out!
  • The Tetris post has a new paragraph about the documentary Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters. I also included a new paragraph about my decision for the difficulty rating.
  • The Castlevania post has a new paragraph about the difficulty loops.
  • The Lemmings post has a new paragraph about the developer.

I am still working every day on Ikari Warriors. I have been getting much better at repeating Level 1 and I am starting to make headway in Level 2. If Level 2 is roughly the same length as Level 1, then I estimate that I have reached the midpoint of the second stage on my best attempt. It’s a little bit sad that I have been playing for a little over a month and I haven’t even beaten the first half of the game yet, but it just goes to show how difficult and unrelenting this NES port really is. Since I started playing I have only skipped one day of making attempts and I am going to try my best to keep at it every day until I beat it.

Next week I will have an all new full length blog post about a new topic. I have decided what the next post will be written about and I think it will be a nice diversion while I keep working on my main goal. In two weeks I will have another progress report on Ikari Warriors with hopefully some good news!

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