Contra is a run-and-gun shooter video game developed and published by Konami, originally developed as a coin-operated arcade game in 1986 and released on February 20, 1987. A home version was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988, along with ports for various home computer formats, including the MSX2. The arcade and computer versions were localized as Gryzor in Europe, and the NES version as Probotector in PAL regions.
The arcade game was a commercial success worldwide, becoming one of the top four highest-grossing dedicated arcade games of 1987 in the United States. The NES version was also a critical and commercial success, with Electronic Gaming Monthly awarding it for being the Best Action Game of 1988. Several Contra sequels were produced following the original game.
Contra employs a variety of playing perspectives, which include a standard side view, a pseudo-3D view (in which the player proceeds by shooting and moving towards the background, in addition to left or right) and a fixed screen format (in which the player has their gun aimed upwards by default). Up to two people can play simultaneously, with one player as Bill (the blond-haired commando wearing a white tank top and blue bandana), and the other player as Lance (the shirtless dark-haired commando with a red bandana). The controls consists of an eight-way joystick and two action buttons for shooting (left) and jumping (right). When one of the protagonists jumps, he curls into a somersault instead of doing a conventional jump like in other games. The joystick controls not only the player’s movement while running and jumping, but also his aiming. During side view stages, the player can shoot leftward, rightward or upward while standing, as well as horizontally and diagonally while running. The player can also shoot in any of eight directions, including downwards, while jumping. Pressing the joystick downwards while standing will cause the character to lie down on his stomach, allowing him to avoid enemy fire and shoot low targets. When the jump button is pressed while crouching on a higher platform, the character will drop down to a lower level.
The player’s default weapon is a rifle with unlimited ammunition that can be upgraded into one of four other guns. These can be obtained by destroying the pill box sensors and flying item capsules containing them, or by defeating the red-clad guards in the enemy bases. These consist of a machine gun that fires rapidly when the fire button is held down, a laser gun that shoots a powerful beam, a fireball gun that shoots its rounds in a corkscrew pattern, and a spread gun that shoots five individual bullets in individual directions. There are also two auxiliary power-ups that only appear in certain areas when the character is armed with his default gun: a rapid-bullets upgrade that increases the firing speed of the gun’s shots and a barrier that makes the character invulnerable for a limited period. With the exception of the machine gun and the laser gun, each item comes in the form of a Falcon-shaped symbol marked with a letter representing its function (F, S, R, and B).
The arcade version of Contra consists of seven stages (the number of stages and level structures vary in later versions). The first stage is a side-scrolling level where the player character is dropped into the jungle and must fend off the enemy’s initial line of defense until he reaches the entrance of the first base, where he must destroy a large sensor to enter the base. The game switches to a 3D view for the second stage, where the player character must fight his way through a series of passageways inside the base before time runs out (a display at the top of the screen shows the map of the base and the time remaining). The player must destroy a generator at the other side of each passageway in order to deactivate the electric current preventing access. The third stage is set in the core of the base in a fixed screen, where the player must destroy the enemy’s defense system in order to expose the final target, a giant eyeball that shoots fireballs. Stages 4 through 6 proceed similarly to the first three stages. Stage 4 is a vertically-scrolling level where the player must jump their way to the top of a waterfall until reaching the entrance of the second base, where the player must destroy a large diamond-shaped sensor guarded by a defense system in order to clear the stage. Stage 5 is another 3D stage set inside another base, while Stage 6 is another boss battle, this time against a pair of heads that split into two images each. The heads can only be damaged when their split images align together.
The seventh and final stage returns to the side-scrolling format of the first stage, as the player fights through the enemy’s final line of defense (which includes a hovercraft, armored trucks, and giant helmeted soldiers) while proceeding through areas such as a snowfield, an energy plant and a hangar, to eventually reach the alien’s lair, where the regular enemy soldiers are replaced with otherworldly creatures. The player must fight a giant alien head that spawns larvae from its mouth before reaching the final target, a cardiac creature that must be destroyed in order to complete the mission.
The player loses a life if their character (Bill or Lance) comes into contact with enemies or their missiles, fails to complete a base stage before the time limit, or falls into a bottomless pit. When that happens, the character will revert to his default weapon on his next life. After losing all lives, the player can continue by inserting more coins (if necessary) and pressing START, but only up to three times. A second player can join in anytime, but if one player loses all of their lives, they must wait until the other player loses their lives as well to continue together.
The arcade game was released in three versions. The Japanese and American versions are virtually identical, aside from the Japanese version using kanji characters to spell the game’s title. However, the European version, titled Gryzor, only allows two players to play the game alternating rather than simultaneously.