We don't really need to sum up what Contra is. It's a legendary franchise that's spanned across three decades of alien-shooting mayhem. But for the unfamiliar gamers who may not have dipped their toes into the Contra pool (or were born in the 2000s), you play as one or two shirtless, muscled up dudes who grab a bunch of guns and shoot a whole lot of bad guys. It's gaming boiled down to its truest essence.
Contra is still a lot of fun, and when Konami announced that they were going to stuff a whole bunch of Contra games into one package, needless to say, it sounded like a pretty great deal. Contra Anniversary Collection contains a whopping ten games from the series, and it's very possible that you may overdose on all the raw machismo available in this anthology.
So, what games do you get? Well, there's the original Contra from the NES, the immediate followup, Super C, the SNES sequel, Contra III: The Alien Wars, and the strange but fun Sega Genesis spin-off, Contra: Hard Corps. Upon going through this collection, it's safe to say that these games hold up, and play quite well. I didn't notice any immediate issues with framerates, or any kind of bugs or glitches from the ports of these games.
One thing I did notice that was kind of bizarre, is that no matter how I did it, or where I did it, the Konami code just wouldn't work. I played these games a lot in my childhood, and unless nostalgia is playing tricks on me, that code usually gifted me with those necessary extra lives. These games are fun, but they're also as notoriously difficult. You only get three lives and a handful of continues, so without those 30 to 99 extra lives you get from the code, you might find yourself starting over quite a bit. Unless of course, you're some kind of Contra wunderkind and not a complete scrub like me.
That being said, this is a collection of old games, which means that it does have save state functionality. Even without the code, you can still cheese your way through the game by constantly saving and loading. However, for some reason, you only get one save state per game, which means if you saved in a bad spot, you're either going to have to load that save again and again, or just give up and start over.
The Contra Anniversary Collection is actually a bit of a bare-bones package in some respects. It does come with a pretty cool extra, which is a kind of digital book that you can access from the main menu. It gives you tidbits of info on each included game, interviews with Nobuya Nakazato, who is the director and designer of several of the Contra games, and Tom duBois, who did the cover art for some of the games. You also get to see some original concept art, and there's a look at the official Contra timeline.
Aside from that, you can play the games how they appear in the package, or how they appeared on their respective systems, complete with the right aspect ratio and CRT scanlines. There's also some border art in case you don't want two black bars on the side if you're playing in a 4:3 ratio. It's also important to note that you can't remap the controls at all, which can get pretty irritating when you're switching between these games, and having to re-learn which button jumps and which button shoots.
Now, you may remember I said that this package has ten games in it, but I've only mentioned four so far. That's because even though the Collection has ten Contra games, five of these games are actually just alternate versions. The package includes the arcade ports of Contra and Super Contra, and they have not aged all that well. The NES games actually play way better and tell the exact same kind of story. They're also full on ports with little to no work done on them, meaning there's some weird graphical glitches when they load up.
There's also the Famicom version of Contra, which does have a few graphical differences, and cut scenes in between the action that tell the story of Contra. However, these cutscenes are in Japanese and haven't been translated at all, so unless you speak Japanese, you're probably not going to understand what's happening. Thankfully, knowing the story isn't really an important part of the Contra experience.
Then there's Probotector and Super Probotecter, which are literally just the European versions of Contra: Hard Corps and Contra III: The Alien Wars. When these games came out, certain countries like Germany had laws prohibiting the sale of games with extreme violence, or allusions to war. In order to get these games sold in those countries, Konami took out all the human characters and replaced everyone with robots. It's pretty weird because they also replaced Fang, who's some kind of wolfman, with a robot version as well. Probotector does at least give you the option to play as a robo-werewolf, which is pretty awesome.
Aside from those entries, there's Operation C, which is actually a whole other game. The only problem is that it's a whole other game from the original Gameboy. It's not really the best Contra game, seeing as how it has to deal with the technical limitations of a black and white handheld device, but at least it's a different game and not just an alternate Contra.
The fact that half of the ten games included are just the same game only from a different system is honestly pretty disappointing. Sure, it's great to have these games in the collection as historical artifacts or curiosities, but there are several other lesser known Contra games that could have been put in here instead.
We could have had Contra: Shattered Soldier, which was a pretty solid update of the series for the PlayStation 2. There's also Contra 4 for the Nintendo DS, which was made by Wayforward and was a ton of fun. Contra Rebirth only came out as a WiiWare game, so it's hard to find these days, and a re-release here could have helped to raise its profile. Finally, there's Hard Corps: Uprising, and while it may not have a ton to do with Contra, if they can include Probotector, then they definitely could have included this.
Adding any one of these games would have given Contra fans something more from the Contra Anniversary Collection than the same games they've already played ad nauseam. As it stands, the Collection is a good selection of classic Contra games, but it feels like it could have been more than that.
If you're a long-time Contra fan, you're likely not going to get much out of this, as you've probably played these games to death. Unless you really want to read some developer interviews, or check out the arcade or European versions, there's not much else to do. However, if you've never checked out the Contra series before, then you should definitely pick this up. They're still fun to play, especially with a friend (although it's couch co-op only, sorry online friends). Plus, the quick action makes for a great game on the Switch to play on-the-go.
So, if you're hungering for a dose of classic, testosterone-filled, 8 to 16-bit action, the Contra Anniversary Collection should be enough to satiate your inner Commando.
3.5 out of 5 stars
A copy of Contra Anniversary Collection was purchased by TheGamer for this review. The game is available now for the Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and PC.