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[Review] Contra Anniversary Collection – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: M2
  • Publisher: Konami
  • Release Date: 11 June 2019
  • Price: £15.99 / $19.99
  • Review code provided by Konami

The Contra Anniversary Collection is the third of Konami’s releases in celebration of the company’s 50th birthday. Prior to the release of this collection they also put out an Arcade Classics Collection and the Castlevania Collection. This package has been developed in conjunction with M2, so you know from the get-go that this is going to be a perfectly polished collection which respects the originals!

The collection was announced in advance of its release, but no date was given. The game was then announced as a shadow drop during the 2019 E3 Nintendo Direct presentation. A brilliant moment for Contra fans where Konami announced the collection would be released following the presentation and also announced a new game in the series, Contra Rogue Corps, to be released in September.

Bullet Heaven

For anyone unfamiliar with the series, the Contra games are old-school fast paced run and gun shooters. In most of the games you play as a topless, bandana’d up soldier, fighting against the hordes of the Red Falcon. The enemies initially seem to be just another human military force before transforming into a range of Giger-esque abominations, not unlike those found in the Alien series of movies. The Alien references also extend to the names of the main protagonists, Bill Rizer and Lance Bean.

Sly and Arnie must have been looking for their royalties!

The series charts the course of the ongoing battles between the Contra and the Red Falcon, from the original Arcade release through the 8-bit era and finishes in the 16-bit era with the SNES and Mega Drive incarnations.

The collection is made up of 12 games in total, but there are multiple versions of some games, so the actual total isn’t quite as generous as it initially looks. The full list of games are:

  • Contra (Arcade)
  • Contra (NES)
  • Contra (Famicom)
  • Super Contra (Arcade)
  • Super C (NES)
  • Super C (Famicom)
  • Contra 3: The Alien Wars (Super Famicom)
  • Super Probotector (SNES)
  • Contra: Hard Corps (Genesis)
  • Contra: Hard Corps (Mega Drive – JP)
  • Probotector (Mega Drive)
  • Operation C (Game Boy)

The inclusion of multiple versions of the same games is actually quite an interesting opportunity to see the differences between systems. The Arcade version of the original game looks much better than the NES version, but suffers from slowdown which isn’t present in the NES and Famicom versions. The differences also extend between regions, with the Famicom versions of Contra and Super C offering additional cut scenes between levels and improved music due to the abilities of the Famicom.

Does this look familiar?

Hard Corps Indeed

The 16-bit entries also have some interesting differences, with the Western versions of Contra: Hard Corps and Contra 3 rebranded as Probotector and Super Probotector. Interestingly also changes depending on which regional variation you play, with the Japanese versions of some games offering unlimited continues and in the case of Hard Corps (and Probotector) offering a health bar which is completely removed for the Western releases. Apparently this was a result of the huge trend of stores in the 90s offering game rentals in the West. The games were modified for these regions to make them more difficult to stop people renting the game once, completing it and then returning it. When you are inevitably getting smashed whilst playing the Probotector games you can thank Global Video! These particular changes present an interesting question as to what the “real” vision for these games was.

A rare moment of calm in Contra: Hard Corps

Each game offers a selection of visual filters and other options to modify how they look and play. You can add in scanlines and modify the aspect ratio, including a pixel perfect option where everything is displayed 1:1 making the games look super crisp. The Arcade versions are displayed in their original portrait orientation and can be rotated, making them ideal for anyone with a Flipgrip to play in TATE mode. The Western releases also include a mode to boost the original versions from 50 to 60hz to bring them up to speed with the Japanese versions. This would have been a great feature to add to the Arcade version of Contra, as the slowdown really hurts it! M2 have added additional features since launch, such as some games which were not there on day one, so further updates may be possible.

In addition to all of these games and the suite of customisation options, the collection includes access to a 73 page e-book. The book includes behind the scenes interviews with key figures in the Contra series and includes a huge amount of concept art and development documents as well as tips and trivia on each of the games. Some of these give a really interesting insight into the thinking of the team in developing each of the games.

Design documents for the original Contra

The full package

The collection has a lot to offer, despite the multiple versions of the different games. I actually really enjoyed seeing the differences between versions and found the 16-bit games a good way to see the different strengths that Nintendo and Sega’s consoles offered at the time. Contra 3 offers a wide range of gameplay styles, with top down sections and lots of rotating and rescaling of sprites, taking advantage of Mode 7. Hard Corps on the other hand runs ridiculously fast, owing the the higher processing speed of Sega’s console. Hard Corps however lacks the different gameplay styles as seen in Contra 3, as Nintendo was able to take advantage of Mode 7. The inclusion of the Game Boy game Operation C is interesting and shows how the team were able to work wonders in delivering a full-fat Contra experience on Nintendo’s diminutive machine. 

A wide range of palette options allow original GB or GBC style colouring

The Contra Anniversary collection is a brilliantly put together package and offers a selection of absolutely classic shooters. How much you get from it will depend on how much you like old-school run and gun games, but the additional features and e-book add a lot and really round out the offering. The games are relentlessly hard, but can be mastered with time and patience (and liberal usage of save states!). The earlier games may seem a bit simplistic, but offer a brilliant insight into how the genre has developed over the years. Some sections in the early games use different perspectives in a really clever way, to deliver a range of different gameplay styles. These changing styles have gone on to become a signature feature of the Contra series.

Contra 3 introduces climbing mechanics

Pros

  • Brilliant collection of run and gun classics
  • Emulation is spot on, as per usual with M2
  • E-book provides amazing additional insight

Cons

  • Some may be disappointed by multiple versions of the same games
  • No turbo mode on Arcade versions
  • Limited options to modify difficulty

Verdict
The Contra Anniversary Collection is a brilliant way to experience some treasured classics. After a few years of focusing mainly on Pro Evo and Pachinko machines, the release of the Contra Anniversary Collection and their Arcade Classics and Castlevania collections shows Konami recognises the value of their existing series.

Konami – if you are listening, Metal Gear Anniversary collection next please!

4/5

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