Monday, 5 August 2013

NES: Contra/Probotector

Jungle, Base, Waterfall, 2nd Base, Frozen Wasteland, Industrial, Alien.

Some people may recognise this order of levels, they tend to be recognisable in most games where there’s a sequence of levels set in different planes and atmospheres. (Including a sewer level... everyone seems to have those). I can go one step further and list the following UUDDLRLR and most people will recognise this in various places. If I say to add 30 lives, then it’s almost obvious to those in the know that I’m talking about Contra/Probotector.

Some might ask why I say Probotector and that’s because the European versions of the games back in the day had robots instead of humans to avoid restrictive issues of “non violence to humans” so it’s a quick little work around and the evidence of which come back in later Contra games when the Probotector label was dropped after the planet and legal people had decided to grow a pair and stop pratting about.

It’s all very well to have a little background pointless history but on to reviewing this thing. It is without doubt one of the core and principle examples of a run and gun game done VERY well. Controls are simple, effective and critically, responsive. If at any time a player dies it is most likely through their own fault rather than coding and poor control implementation within game. Run left and right, shoot in 8 directions when jumping, 7 when standing (can’t shoot down, you just lay down and shoot lower), jump button, shoot button and that’s it. The game changes slightly on the 2nd and 4th levels where it takes the guise of a pseudo 3d game where the player shoots into the background similar to games like Cabal, Alligator Hunt, Blood Brothers and other such games of similar ilk.

The game has powerups in the forms of a barrier offering temporary damagelessness (yes I’m now making it a word) rather than killing everything on touch like an invincibility star in Mario games. Machinegun fire, flame thrower (avoid...) rapid shots (faster projectiles) Spread/Scatter gun and Lasers, it’s debatable as to which gun is better overall between the Spread and Laser, I find it all depends upon the circumstances.

Do you like regenerating health? Where you take some damage, hide behind a wall for a bit, then come out as fresh as a daisy? You don’t play this game. You like to find health packs around for replenishing your health when you get careless and take the occasional love-tap here and there? You don’t get to play this game. Do you however like to have one hit kills, have to avoid everything without fail since the lightest touch, the slightest collision between you and a projectile spells a big fat DEATH for your game. Then this is your game, you may appoint yourself one hard-ass token and wear it proudly.

Yep, no regens, no health packs, you got lives and that’s it. Given some of the boss attacks and some of the set ups within the game, you can find yourself happily losing lives and resorting to continues to progress until you learn the boss patterns to kill them or you have some outstanding reflexes to fall back upon. The game is unrelenting and fights can be difficult (though not as difficult as in the 2nd game, which I may review later). However the game is rewarding for the effort put in (except when you get the barrier on stage 7 and can just RUN the first sub boss of level 8 and then you can stamp the phrase “cheap git” on your forehead.) and the levels can be beaten with a bit of due diligence and care. Oddly, playing through the earlier levels is not as much of a chore as it has been with other games as you’re playing to gain the more preferred weapons to keep them for the upcoming fights and make the bosses easier.

Even as I write this now, the game’s music is ringing in my ears (always liked the Base level music topped by an even more impressive boss music). Memorable even after so many years of playing, that revisiting this game, is like retuning to an old home you once left years ago and find that it’s still the same place you always knew and loved. 

You can always get another player to join in too if you want and have the pair of you go at the enemies together, “borrow” read: steal each others’ lives, fight over who gets the weapons and stop the other player from moving forwards just at the right time to let them drop to the bottomless pits. BUT, if you both get past the nagging little issues of lacking teamwork, you can enjoy a rather thrilling game and one of the best examples of co-operative play done right.

And with the cheat, that’s 120 lives each to just butcher your way through the game.

I’ll try to manage it in just one.