The Contra series is one that has kind of stood the test of time, but honestly, not quite as strong as other major franchises that began from the NES era. If you ask older gamers what their favorite titles were on the NES, Contra and Super Contra are almost always towards the top of the list.
Unfortunately, though, the series has not kept its audience’s attention very well, and although most titles since Super Contra have been well reviewed and received, the series as a whole has fallen behind and is not quite where it should be right now.
So what happened? What has happened to our beloved Contra series, and how did we end up with the rubbish Contra: Rogue Corps? Let’s talk about this.
The Contra series began in 1987 with both Contra and Super Contra, as Konami was already almost done with the sequel when they released the first title early in the year. That means that 1987 was the year of Contra, as two of the best in the series graced the NES on opposite ends of the year.
Surprisingly, Famitsu Magazine in Japan was the harshest critic about the Contra series, citing that the game lacked that special something and didn’t really do it for them. However, that was not the case for most the rest of the world, as the cooperative sci-fi war experience was something that set the table for games to come after it, like Doom, Quake, and even the Halo series.
The reception of the Contra series in the west was no joke, though. These games received tons of positive praise, with comments like, “[Contra] became the standard by which future platform shooters would be judged” and “an excellent game that a lot of hardcore gamers will never forget.”
Things continued to look up for the series once Konami turned up the graphics and released Operation C on the Game Boy and Contra III: The Alien Wars on the SNES. These two titles continued the legacy that the original two games started, and they provided intense gameplay that challenged players unlike other titles at the time. The cooperative play in Contra III was especially a step up!
From there, the series started to branch out more, and releases dropped on the SEGA Genesis, the Playstation, and Playstation 2, but these were mostly spinoffs from the series and not a continuation of the main series. We wouldn’t see Contra 4 until 2007, 15 years after Contra III: The Alien Wars released on the SNES, and the interesting thing is that the title released exclusively on the popular Nintendo DS handheld.
Contra 4 returned to form in all the right ways, and it received heavy praise for rebirthing the franchise and giving fans of the series a whole lot of hope. However, the next couple releases were a bit deflating, and they were the WiiWare title Contra ReBirth and the solid spinoff title Hard Corps: Uprising. Although both titles were good, they lacked that excitement that Contra 4 brought with it, so fans continued to wait for the next major entry in the series.
Since Hard Corps: Uprising, which released in 2011, there has only been one Contra title to grace gaming consoles and PC since, and that is the incredibly disappointing and damn-near insulting Contra: Rogue Corps. With Rogue Corps, the standard action gameplay was replaced with a fixed camera, twin-stick shooter with hideous graphics and beyond repetitive gameplay. It is the only title in Contra history that was universally lambasted.
So what exactly happened? How did a series that helped define the sci-fi action genre become more and more irrelevant over time? This is a serious question, because tons of other franchises from the 1980s and 1990s have stood the test of time and continued to pump out amazing games to this day, like the Super Mario series, the Sonic series, the Metroid series, the Zelda series, and so much more. How did Contra miss this, especially with such a dedicated fan base?
The short answer is the saddest one: money. In the beginning when there were so few action titles available on arcade cabinets, the NES, and the SNES, the Contra series was a breath of fresh air in a market flooded with games made for children and cookie-cutter crap that destroyed consoles like the Atari 2600. Once the Playstation and Xbox entered the scene, and PC machines were getting stronger, more and more action titles that challenged the Contra formula emerged, and before you knew it, Contra lost its relevancy in the wake of series like Halo and Gears of War. Sales simply diminished.
Some games stand the test of time because their competition just cannot keep up with it. The Super Mario series is probably the best example in this. Even though there are other great platformers out there, Nintendo has nearly perfected the genre and continues to find new ways to keep it exciting. Everything else just feels like white noise, even if they are comparable or even better. Mario has incredible staying power and will continue to do so as long as Nintendo pumps out the games… and movies… and other stuff.
But Contra lost to other games that took its place when it was taking long hiatuses. When Halo: Combat Evolved released in 2001, it basically showed the world what a 3D Contra should have been like. Many of those dedicated Contra fans jumped ship and became dedicated Halo fans, and to this day, Halo remains one of the more relevant sci-fi shooters while Contra is floundering thanks to its last release and Konami’s lack of attention to the series.
In reality, if Contra stuck to its guns and controlled the 2D sci-fi action side of video games, we could still be seeing Contras pumping out on the eShop today. Honestly, who would be up for Contra 5 right now? Because as a fan myself, I would buy the next game in the series in a heartbeat, as long as it returns to its roots and allows me to shoot up some aliens with some friends while equipped with the Spread Gun.
Thank you for stopping by Nintendo Link! What do you think of this Contra perspective? Do you agree? Would you like to play a Contra 5? Let us know in the comments below! Happy gaming, everyone.
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My name is Jason Capp. I am a husband, father, son, and brother, and I am a gamer, a writer, and a wannabe pro wrestler. It is hard to erase the smile on this simple man.