The Contra series is one of the most brutally difficult video game franchises of all time. These games do not pull any punches. You have no reason to take your finger off the fire button, as hordes of aliens will descend upon you from all directions. When you are playing a Contra game, you have to be ready to dodge enemy fire at all times, as one hit will kill you.
What makes the Contra games so great is the sheer thrill of victory against all odds. With extreme difficulty comes an equal amount of satisfaction. The Contra series was born in an era of machine gun-wielding action heroes, who mowed down their enemies on the big screen. Games like Contra gave us a taste of what it must be like to be an Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone character.
We are here today to look into the history of the legendary Contra series. From the numerous attempts to censor the franchise, to travelling back in time to marry a monkey.
Here are 15 Things You Never Knew About Contra!
15 The European Censorship
Germany has some of the strictest rules when it comes censorship in the media. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the video game industry. A lot of games need to have their blood removed or changed so it looks green in German editions of games. The original version of Doom was totally banned there until 2011. It was as against the law to own a copy of Doom for a long time in Germany.
In preparation for Germany's strict censorship policies, the Contra games received a major overhaul in Europe and Australia. Many of the Contra games had their names changed to Probotector in these regions. The human characters (both player and enemies) were all replaced with robots. The Contra games don't actually have much blood or gore; it was just the imagery of humans shooting each other that may have caused an issue. The alien monsters were left unchanged.
There have been references to Probotector in the Contra games since then. You could even play as one of the Probotector robots in Contra 4 for the Nintendo DS.
14 Red Falcon Did Nothing Wrong!
It might seem silly for a game like the original Contra to have a story. The game involves one or two soldiers invading an island and massacring hundreds of aliens. Does that really need an explanation?
The plot of Contra involves the evil Red Falcon Organisation taking over a facility on an island off the coast of New Zealand. Two elite soldiers from the Contra guerilla warfare unit are sent in to stop them. The Red Falcon is actually the name of a powerful alien entity, who wants to take over the world.
When the Contra series reached the PlayStation 2 era, the games started taking themselves a little too seriously. In Contra: Shattered Soldier, it was revealed that the Red Falcon actually had a good reason for invading Earth. There are apparently three ancient humans in the Contra world, who refer to themselves as the Triumvirate. They stole a powerful alien item, known as the Moirai Relic. The Red Falcon came to Earth to get it back.
13 The Konami Code
The Konami Code is one of the most universal concepts in all of gaming. It has managed to extend beyond video games and become part of pop culture.
For those unfamiliar with the Konami Code, it involves pressing Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B and A (sometimes with the Start button being pushed afterwards, though this is not officially part of the input). This code became famous in the original Contra game, as it gave the player an additional thirty lives. Due to Contra's sheer difficulty, this code saw a lot of use. It bears mentioning that the code did not debut in Contra. The Konami Code first appeared in a game called Gradius, where entering it would give you most of the powerups in the game.
The Konami Code became so famous that it will actually work on certain websites. You can type the Konami Code into sites like Facebook, Reddit, the U.K version of Vogue and Buzzfeed. These will unleash humorous effects, which we won't spoil for you.
12 The Action Star Plagiarism
The original Contra was a direct attempt at emulating several popular action movies from the '80s. The main characters were muscle-bound soldiers who never took their finger off the trigger of their machine guns. They shot down armies of enemy soldiers in the jungle, like Rambo: First Blood Part II or Commando. When you add aliens to the mix, then the game starts to resemble Predator. Once you infiltrate the Red Falcon's stronghold, Contra begins to look a lot like Aliens.
It seems that the artists who created the box art for the game agreed with our assessment. The two soldiers on the box of Contra bear more than a passing resemblance to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. Some of the later Contra games would repeat this and use a blatant copy of Rambo on their box art.
The Contra box wasn't just stealing the likeness of real actors. The alien in the background seems familiar too...
11 The H.R. Giger Plagiarism
The Xenomorph is one of the most terrifying monsters in all fiction. It was originally created by H. R. Giger, who was a Swiss artist who was known for his surreal and unsettling work. The design for the Xenomorph first appeared in one of Giger's artbooks, called Necronomicon. This was used for the design of the monster in Alien, which led to the Xenomorph becoming one of the most iconic creatures in movie history.
Xenomorphs would go on to be parodied and copied in numerous franchises, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Red Dwarf, Metroid and Spaceballs, to name but a few.
The Contra games have made little attempt to hide the fact that many of the aliens you fight are based on the numerous life cycles of the Xenomorph. The Crawler enemies are very similar to Facehuggers. The Metal Alien boss is literally just a Xenomorph with wings. The Shadow Beast and Red Falcon are heavily inspired by the Alien Queen.
10 The False Contra
It is not unusual for a video game to undergo many different changes over the course of its development. Final Fantasy XV was originally called Final Fantasy Versus XIII. It was going to have a story that had thematic links to Final Fantasy XIII. These connections were scrapped over the game's ten-year development cycle, in favour of a more unique story. Super Mario Bros. 2 was originally a completely different game, called Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic. The game was reworked for the international market, with Mario characters replacing the originals.
This was how one of the Contra games came into existence. There was a game called Arc Hound that was intended to be released on the Famicom in Japan. Arc Hound would eventually be cancelled. The game was still released in America, where it was rebranded as Contra Force. This game linked to the other Contra titles by name only. In Contra Force, you battle human terrorists instead of aliens.
9 Hitler The Salamander
The Nazis have been used as villains in video games on many occasions. Wolfenstein 3D, the game often regarded as the original first-person shooter, involved a single soldier running around a castle and battling Nazis. This has extended to Adolf Hitler himself, who has shown as a final boss on several occasions. Killing Hitler is about as guilt-free as a final boss can be.
With Adolf Hitler being such a reviled historical figure, his appearances in games have occasionally been censored. In the original version of Persona 2: Innocent Sin, Adolf Hitler showed up as a character in the game. When the game was ported to the PlayStation Portable, they threw a trench coat and sunglasses on Hitler and called him the Fuhrer (as if no one would notice).
In Contra ReBirth, the character of Cheif Salamander was shown to look vaguely like Hitler in the original Japanese version of the game. This was changed to making him look more lizardlike in the international versions of the game.
8 The TMNT Cameo
This might be one of the most peculiar cameos in video game history.
When the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon became a smash hit in the early '90s, the licence for developing video games based upon the series was given to Konami. This led to the creation of many awesome games that are still loved by fans to this day.
In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game, once you reach the second level of the game, there will be a brief break in-between the battles against the Foot clan. A girl will skateboard across the screen, seemingly for no reason. If you try and attack her, then she will cower in fear.
In Contra ReBirth for the Nintendo Wii, the exact same cowering skateboard girl is seen again. She will be escaping amongst a group of scared people that are fleeing the alien invasion of the city. This is about as obscure a cameo as you will ever see.
7 The Depressing Amstrad Ending
If a video game is going to have a sad ending, then it needs to earn it. You can't just slap a message saying "Then everyone died lol" over the credits, as it will just infuriate the player who spent time and money to reach that point (we're looking at you Neverwinter Nights 2). If a game has a sombre and melancholy tone, then a dark ending might be the appropriate way to finish the story. Games like The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, The Walking Dead and Shadow of the Colossus all did a masterful job of ending the story on a sad note.
The Amstrad CPC version of Contra is not one of those games.
As mentioned earlier, the European and Australian versions of Contra were called Probotector. This was only true for the Contra games on Nintendo consoles. On other systems, the games were renamed Gryzor. The Amstrad CPC ending of Gryzor shows the aftermath of Red Falcon's defeat. By killing him, you activated his "blow up the world" switch. You just destroyed the planet by winning the game. The only thing worse is that you had to pay money to do it.
6 The Real Life Contras
The name Contra comes from a real life group of soldiers. While it is not 100% confirmed that the games were named after this group, there are a few pieces of evidence that point towards a connection between the two.
Throughout the '80s, there was a resistance group in Nicaragua that was being funded by the CIA. They were known as Contras, which is the Spanish word for "against" (as in, opposition). They opposed the socialist government that was in control of Nicaragua at the time and committed hundreds of terrorist attacks against them. This campaign lasted for over twelve years. When Congress blocked funding for the group, the Reagan administration began financing them in secret. This led to the event that we now refer to as the Iran-Contra affair.
So why was this name chosen for a video game? The Contras had been in the headlines throughout the '80s, so it is entirely possible that the people at Konami decided to emulate the group for one of their video games. The biggest clue to a connection between the two groups can be seen in the soundtrack of the arcade version of Contra. The eleventh song in the game is called "Sandinista", which is the name of the group that the real life Contras were opposing.
5 The Rocket Knight Cameo
In 1993, Konami released a new platform game for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, that was called Rocket Knight Adventures. The game starred Sparkster, who was a cute animal mascot dressed in a badass suit of armour. Despite being one of the best games on the system, Rocket Knight Adventures never saw the same level of success as Sonic the Hedgehog. The game spawned a sequel and a spinoff on the SNES, before being shelved. We would not see a new Rocket Knight game for seventeen years.
The series would be revived in 2010 when a new Rocket Knight game was announced for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows. The game was well received, but it has yet to fully revive the series. If you manage to achieve the Gold Sparkster ending, then Bill from Contra will show up and fire his Spread Gun bullets at him. Fortunately for Sparkster, his gold suit protects him from damage.
4 The Konami Crossover
Nintendo has become known for their numerous crossovers. If Mario isn't hanging out with his enemies on the Go-Kart track, he is engaging in sports with Sonic the Hedgehog. This is to say nothing of the Super Smash Bros. series, which has managed to tie in most of the classic video game franchises (in some form or another).
The video game company that has been doing crossovers of their characters for the longest time is Konami. They didn't even leave the NES era before they pulled a Smash Bros. In 1988, Konami released Konami Wai Wai World for the NES. This game crossed over series like Goemon, Castlevania, Gradius and for some reason, The Goonies.
In 1991, Wai Wai World 2: SOS!! Parsley Jō was released. This game allowed you to play certain levels from the titles that were included as part of the crossover. As Contra was included this time, you could play the first level of that game using other Konami characters. You can finish the first stage of Contra with Simon Belmont of Castlevania if you so desire.
3 The Expendables
The action film genre of the '80s and '90s that spawned movies like Rambo and Predator has pretty much died out at this point. There have been attempts to revive the careers of older action stars, which has usually involved trotting out an ancient Arnold Schwarzenegger and making him seem threatening. These haven't been financially successful enough to revive the genre. Unless tastes drastically change, or China suddenly demands Terminator vs. Rambo, then the old action heroes will remain in their retirement home.
One of the biggest attempts to revive the genre has been with The Expendables franchise. These films are all about bringing all of the old action stars together. While not loved by critics, The Expendables movies have been financially successful enough to ensure sequels.
When the first Expendables movie was being promoted, a free flash game was released online for fans to play. The Expendables game was basically Contra, it made no attempts to hide that fact. The game allows you to play as the characters played by Sylvester Stallone, Jet Li and Jason Statham in the movie.
Despite the obvious similarities, Konami never complained about the game. This might be because it was a free game that was as much a loving homage to the action games of old (as The Expendables was to the films of the same era). It was either that, or Konami felt guilty about all of the stuff they plagiarised in the Contra games.
2 The Castlevania Cameo
The Contra series has had titles on many different systems. The Sega Genesis/Mega Drive was home to Contra: Hard Corps, which is regarded by many as being the best game in the franchise.
When you reach the door that leads to the boss battle of Stage 3, you can climb the wall above it to reach a secret arena. The first foe within this colosseum is a bizarre version of Simon Belmont from Castlevania. This iteration of Simon has dark coloured skin, an afro and eats a fish before battle. These elements are intended to be a reference to Simon Masato, who was a famous Japanese musician. The fish thing is a reference to a song of his, that was about taiyaki, which is a cake in the shape of a fish. Masato had dark skin and an afro, which was given to Simon Belmont.
Despite his odd appearance, this version of Simon Belmont is still a force to be reckoned with. He still carries his powerful whip and can throw his fishcakes like the cross weapon from Castlevania. The theme that plays in this stage is a remix of the track called "Vampire Killer", which is from the Castlevania series.
1 The Monkey Queens
The secret battle arena that holds Simon Belmont is also host to another bizarre secret in Contra: Hard Corps.
After defeating Simon Belmont, you have to defeat two other bosses in the arena. Once the third is defeated, the inter-dimensional portal within the area will be damaged. This sends your player character back in time, to a theoretical era where both primates and dinosaurs existed at the same time.
A few years later, your character is shown to be the ruler of these primates. They are sitting on a throne, with an adoring monkey girl with a skirt & bow staring lovingly at you, with hearts above her head. You presumably become one of the ancestors of the human race. The monkeys can't complain, as they don't have a Spread Gun like you do.
The thing is, you can also get this ending if you are playing as Sheena. Who knew Konami were progressive enough to include a lesbian inter-species relationship in a video game in 1994?