REVIEW: Contra Anniversary Collection

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Title Contra Anniversary Collection
Developer Konami
Publisher Konami
Release Date July 11th, 2019
Genre Platformer
Platform PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One
Age Rating E for Everyone 10+ – Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Language, Use of Tobacco
Official Website

Contra AC | Game List

Every gamer has those series that helped define them. Games that spoke to your first perception of what made a game fun, and despite quirks or faults, are still seen through the rose colored glasses of nostalgia. One of those series for me was Castlevania, which I covered last year. But there’s another big series published by Konami that also helped define who I am, and that’s the Contra series. Admittedly, they’re both very different, since one focuses on precision and strategy and the other focuses on adrenaline pumping mayhem. Contra taught me patience and the importance of learning enemy patterns, amongst other lessons. It wouldn’t be fair to cover one series and not the other, so today I’m gonna review the Contra Anniversary Collection. Yes, it came out a while ago, but the gaming world has been ridiculously jam packed for a long period of time now, and it’s better late than never. So I’m going to cover the 10 main games in the Anniversary Collection, as well as the bonus features I spent time with. Unlike my Castlevania Anniversary Collection review, this one won’t have games listed in the order I played them. Instead, I will list them in order of preference, starting with my least favorite and working up to most. So go ahead and crack your knuckles and pop some drops in your eyeballs, cause this is gonna be a big one!

Game # 1Contra (Arcade version)

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I really wish I could say I loved the arcade version of the original Contra. After all, I had never played either of the arcade cabinets, so the opportunity to tackle them now seemed like a good idea. The graphics were definitely more impressive here than on the NES or Famicom, which should have translated to a better experience. Unfortunately, I ended up disliking both of these arcade variants. Sure, they’re pretty, but they’re also completely unbalanced. And that’s saying something considering how hard this series is. But there’s a difference between fair and unfair difficulty, and this Contra fell into the latter category.

Contra AC | Contra Arcade 3

For one thing, enemies move much faster than usual, and the turrets that track you are no joke. They are rapid firing mechanical death machines that track your every move and trip you up in streams of bullets. Worse, there’s not any invincibility frames in this game, so you’ll respawn and think you’re safe, just to get gunned down again. This happened many times during one boss fight, and even against the basic enemies I had a rough time.

Contra AC | Contra Arcade 4

Much like in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, I made use of the save states here to spend less time reviewing, and even then I was getting destroyed. While I did beat nearly all the other main games in this collection, I made an exception here. I just didn’t have the patience to beat this particular game. I’m happy I got a chance to see what the Contra arcade experience was all about, but I’m much happier that I don’t ever have to play this one again. Let’s move on with a step in the right direction.

Game #2Super Contra (Arcade version)

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Yes, I know I just said I didn’t like the arcade Contras, and while that’s largely true, at least this one felt a bit better balanced. So much so that I was able to actually beat it! Sure, it’s still a rollicking ride, and largely unfair, but not so unbalanced that it’s unbeatable. Especially with my good friend, save states. The biggest challenges I encountered here were in the top down stages, most notably the final boss. It managed to pin me in place many times with projectiles and other threats, and it took a good amount of practice to finally put it down. But at least I mostly had fun, and didn’t find the other bosses overwhelming.

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In many ways, this one reminded me of the first console versions of the original game put into a blender with Super C. Which sounds weird, but it does make sense. The thematic focus was more on organic creepy critters than robotic threats. But don’t worry, there’s still a good chance a surprise turret will take you out. I guess my biggest issue with this particular entry was it wasn’t clear which upgrades you were collecting. I grew up with Contra III, and I like knowing exactly what upgrade I’m picking up. But at least it took the sour taste out of my mouth after the last arcade experience.

Contra AC | Super Contra Arcade 10

Game #3Probotector

Contra AC | Probotector 1

I should point out here that until I bought the Contra Anniversary Collection, I had never played the European releases of the games. I honestly wasn’t even that familiar with them, and initially thought they were unique entries. Imagine my disappointment when I learned that both European entries were just remakes of Contra III and Hard Corps, but with some new quirks. For one, to get published they had to replace the humans with robots (probably cause blood was too scary for the rating board back then). More importantly, both Probotector and the other EU variant had a slower framerate. At first I didn’t notice that, but when I played the games they were based on, it became very apparent. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since both Contra III and Hard Corps are incredibly fast paced and challenging games. In a way, Probotector is a more laid back game.

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The one downside that I saw very clearly when I was playing Probotector was the screen size. I’m not sure if this was originally the case or is due to faulty emulation in this Collection, but it’s odd. Everything looks fine, but it’s super tiny and scaled down, which hurts the eyes. And that’s a shame, cause Probotector is actually a pretty good entry, quirks aside. It just can’t live up to Hard Corps. Honestly, once I found out that both games were essentially the same experience, I stopped playing this one and moved onto the real deal. But we’ll talk all about that later. Next up, time for a portable Contra experience.

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Game #4Operation C

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Much like for Castlevania, Contra had a surprisingly great portable game. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was the best in the series or anything, but it does take many elements I associate with a real Contra and made them work. There’s various weapons, difficult bosses and long stages. In fact, the final boss in this game, some flying mecha that harasses you with missiles, was one of the harder bosses I’ve faced in this notoriously difficult series.

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Even with a limited color palette, Operation C was very visually impressive. I would even go so far as to say I liked the visuals more here than in either of the arcade games. Everything was more clear, albeit less colorful. The only real low points are that the game is relatively short, which was likely due to the Game Boy’s limitations, and that the music wasn’t that compelling. For better or worse, I grew up with fond memories of Contra III, so whenever I think about the series, I think about that game. And that game had some incredible music. Sadly, unlike Castlevania, the Contra series isn’t known for having consistently amazing music, but there are still some standout games. Operation C just wasn’t one of them. But, mechanically, this was a very solid entry, and one I’m glad I finally got the chance to play.

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Game #5Contra (NES)

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It was very cathartic for my childhood self to play through and beat this game. Because when it originally came out, I was a young whippersnapper, and I was not nearly as good then at gaming as I am now. I hadn’t yet learned true patience or developed the reflexes I rely on, which made the first Contra a real pain. Playing through it now, it actually holds up remarkably well. You could tell Konami was just figuring out what they wanted the series to be, and there are distinct influences from other sources, such as the Rambo tough guys, some levels that reminded me more of Ninja Gaiden, and some bosses that could have worked in the TMNT games.

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You wouldn’t be faulted for initially thinking the series was just about humans fighting other humans. Eventually you’ll come across some high tech crazy and start to wonder, and then the final level goes full Alien, with horrifying biological nightmares and monstrous entities. I feel that final stage really set the tone for later games, and how they alternate more fluidly between mechanical threats and the alien bastards behind it all.

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All in all though, the game which gave me so much trouble as a child was a lot more fun as an adult. Sure, it’s still a bit frustrating at times, and you can easily die from jumping at the wrong time, but overall this was a fun entry with the tight controls the series is known for. The biggest thing holding it back was the version that came out in Japan…

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Game #6Contra (Famicom)

Contra AC | Famicom Contra 1

A common refrain from gamers of a certain age was that Japan got all the best stuff. That ranged from swag to special editions to pre-order bonuses, but it also often applied to versions of games. The Famicom version of Contra was frankly the superior one. Not only was it graphically more impressive, allowing for effects like trees swaying or snow falling, but it was just more ambitious. This game has a full introduction, and even though I can’t read a word of it, it’s evident they put some real effort into making an interesting plot. One that was totally missing from the US version of the game.

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I especially found it interesting how this version has cutscenes after each stage, as well as a map that was very reminiscent of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. While most of the bosses and enemies are the same, those foes more dependent on speed are much harder, like the spiked tank in the snowbound stage.

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Though this entry is in most ways identical to the NES one, I am very glad I could finally compare the two. The only thing I wish this Collection had was a way to translate all the dialogue into other languages. But I know that’s a tall order, and ultimately the plot is the least important aspect of any Contra game.

Contra AC | Famicom Contra 9

Keep reading for the top 4 games plus more ->

About Josh Speer

Josh is a passionate gamer, finding time to clock in around 30-40 hours of gaming a week. He discovered Operation Rainfall while avidly following the localization of the Big 3 Wii RPGs. He enjoys SHMUPS, Platformers, RPGs, Roguelikes and the occasional Fighter. He’s also an unashamedly giant Mega Man fan, having played the series since he was eight. As Head Editor and Review Manager, he spends far too much time editing reviews and random articles. In his limited spare time he devours indies whole and anticipates the release of quirky, unpredictable and innovative games.

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