Title: CONTRA Anniversary Collection
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 06/11/2019
Just like the Castlevania Collection, Contra Anniversary was ported by M2 and uses the same game select menu, UI and filtering options that Castlevania did. Thus, I won’t be repeating myself on returning features, but I will be happy to say that like with Castlevania, everything here is represented very accurately. The games look just as crisp as the Castlevania ones did, there’s vertical mode support for the two arcade games, making them perfect for Flip Grip play, and it even accurately emulates two Probotector games in 50hz and 60hz. There’s not a single sound issue in-game to be found, and the only thing of the sort I could notice is a crackle when you go through the options menu too quickly.
It should be noted, however that Super Contra Arcade has gone through an edit of sorts. The digitized voice clips in the intro cutscene are now muted, likely due to some legal issues behind the scenes with whoever said those lines. While it doesn’t affect the rest of the game at all, it is an odd exclusion and it may soften the nostalgic impact for some.
Being made from a similar cloth to the Castlevania Collection, the only noteworthy additions to these compilations come from the recent inclusion of the Japanese versions for all applicable games and the option for button remapping. While Contra’s default button mapping wasn’t too difficult to use on Switch, it did suffer from the same issue the other compilation did in that the default layout seemed to have been made with only the Switch and Japanese PS4 in mind. Thankfully with custom controls, both compilations are friendlier with the other system layouts. There’s also a rapid fire option for the games that make sense with them, toggled on or off by hitting the L button.
When it comes to the Japanese versions of the Contra games, the only real difference between most of them come from easier cheat codes to make things a lot more bearable. That and the removal of limited continues from Contra III and Hard Corps make those versions the ones to play! Oddly enough, Famicom Contra was included by default even before this update. With that out of the way, let’s break down each of the included games and how they play in this compilation!
CONTRA (Arcade, 1987)
The one that started it all, and the version of the original game that I easily enjoy the most. A two player action game where the main goal is to shoot everything in sight while avoiding fire to make it to the end of the five stage gauntlet, alternating between side scrolling and third person stages. With only three continues, this game can be quite tough, but once you get the hang of the enemy patterns you can eventually beat this without any save states. With short and to the point level layouts and a length that’s perfect for high score chasing, this original game is still just as addictive as it was back in the day. When it comes to differences between the Japanese and US version, there aren’t any besides a title screen edit.
SUPER CONTRA (Arcade, 1988)
A sequel to the original Contra, Super Contra takes the addictive nature of the original Contra and makes it even better, although the weird art style can take a bit to get used to. This game only allows four credits total for both players, so this is a significantly more difficult game than the original, but still manageable with lots of practice, although Co-Op play is significantly tougher.
Unlike the original game, there’s a bunch of new weapons to toy around with and there’s even top-down segments that are vastly superior from the third person base stages from the original, so this also works as a great score chaser. The one difference between the Japanese and US version comes from the second loop that the Japanese version supports, which removes continues and maxes out the difficulty.
CONTRA (NES/Famicom, 1988)
A port of the original Arcade game, this is the one game most people recognize. Known for the extra lives code and for being an incredible co-op experience, this game is still a lot of fun to play, although the base stages now lack a map and each segment of the fifth level was split into their own longer stage, leading to eight in total. With or without the code, this game can be pretty tricky to master but over time you can get the hang of it, with the code offering a safety net for newer players since there is still a three continue limit.
The differences between the US and Japanese versions are major indeed, as the Japanese version ditches the lives code for another one that lets you stage select, and includes a bunch of cutscenes and added visual effects to stages. However, it also starts on a higher difficulty than the NES version, making it a great challenge for veterans of the original NES game.
Super C (NES/Famicom, 1990)
A port of Super Contra, this NES adaptation is vastly superior to the original in almost every possible way. Despite only allowing for two continues, Super C is easily the most balanced of any game in the compilation, rewarding players the most for careful memorization. Four of the five stages from Super Contra make a return, tweaked and expanded a bit for a better flowing experience, while four brand new stages have been made from the ground up for this game. Some minibosses from the arcade game are now the bosses to their own new stages, while there’s a couple of new ones here and there.
Gone are the new powerups from the Arcade game, with the original NES powerups in their place, although the Fire Ball is now a charge shot. Compared to the NES port of the original Contra, this one is vastly superior and easily the best game in this collection in my honest opinion. The differences between the Japanese and US ones are a lot more basic and just come down to the extra lives code providing 30 lives over 10, and the addition of a stage select.
Operation C (Game Boy, 1991)
The obscure gem of the collection, Operation C is a Game Boy take on Contra that was criminally excluded from the 3DS Virtual Console thanks in no part to the Game Boy line of the service getting killed off merely a year and a half after it launched. Now it’s finally gotten a rerelease, and it’s a pretty decent addition. With five stages of Contra action, playing more like a portable Super C, this is a solid single player action game, although the level layouts are kinda forgettable and nearly all the tracks are ripped from the Arcade Contra. It also introduces the rapid fire mechanic by default, which works a lot better here than in the next title. The only difference between the Japanese and US version come from the level select being default in the Japanese version.
CONTRA III/Contra Spirits/Super Probotector Alien Rebels (SNES, 1992)
Easily the one game a lot of people remember fondly or not so fondly, Contra III takes the games into a 16 bit direction and tries to make them kinda similar to the arcade games while retaining elements from the NES ones. Unfortunately, I don’t find it nearly as good as the other titles, but it’s still a decent game. Contra III offers three difficulty modes to choose from, and in the US/EU one the hardest one is the only one that will give you the true ending. (while in Spirits the Normal difficulty works just fine) However, playing on anything above Easy leads to a frustrating time for the wrong reasons.
Unlike older Contra games, some enemies here are bullet sponges that take several hits to kill, and with rapid fire being the default weapon there’s really not much you can do outside of grabbing a powerup and holding onto it for dear life, but most of the powerups here just suck. The Spread Shot is more helpful on normal weak enemies than bosses or bulkier foes, the homing missiles are easily the most useful on normal enemies and minibosses, and the Crusher is the strongest weapon of them all and your only real change of enemies not being sponges. Add some situational weapons like the Laser or Flamethrower and you have a game with a pretty lame weapon lineup and some tedious battles. The higher the difficulty, the more enemies that will shoot at you and the bosses have higher HP. There’s a good reason why the game gives you screen clear bombs, and you better make use of them if you have any hopes of seeing the final stage, especially with the two continue limit.
Luckily the Japanese version is here to help out a bit! Contra Spirits gets rid of the continue limit altogether, making Spirits a much more reasonable game to beat if you keep trying until you get the hang of it. There’s also both a 30 life code and a stage select to use, plus the normal difficulty option lets you see the best ending, though the hard difficulty still rewards you with a bonus screen if you want to go for that. If you have to pick one version of the game, then Spirits is the way to go even if the enemies can still be sponges.
As for Super Probotector, this oddball is a European version thrown out to get past German censorship against killing humans in games. It’s a silly sprite edit where the main characters and a few enemies are edited into Robots, and there’s really nothing to note here outside of the 50Hz version running slightly slower, which may give you a bit more time to focus. I don’t get why they included the 16 bit Probotector games but not the 8 bit ones, but here they are.
Contra Hard Corps/Probotector (Genesis, 1994)
In this sequel to Contra III, finally rereleased after 25 years, you can choose between four different playable characters with their own powerup lineup to go through a massive game with branching paths. The enemies aren’t nearly as spongy as Contra III which is great, and the game does feel pretty balanced in that regard. However, for the US/PAL versions, this game is beyond evil thanks to the one hit deaths. This may sound utterly stupid to complain about since it’s a trait of all the other Contra games thus far, but in the Japanese version they actually gave you a life bar with three hits per life, which makes the game feel far, far more balanced and fun. They also removed the limited continues from that version so you can keep trying until you get the hang of a stage. Still, US Hard Corps isn’t unplayable by any means, just the equal of a game being forced on Ultra Hard difficulty while the Japanese version is set to Normal. (since there’s no actual difficulty options in this game outside of life adjustments, this was probably their way of adjusting things)
If the fast speed of the game is too much for you, then you could always boot up Probotector in 50HZ, which slows the game down just slightly enough that you may be able to focus a bit better. However as compensation, the game has one less continue, so you still need to be on your toes. Like with Super Probotector, all the humans are changed into Robots, although ironically one of the main characters was a robot to begin with so he just stays the same and gets a generic new name of CX4. Regardless, Contra Hard Corps is an outstanding game and the inclusion of the Japanese version makes this compilation a must own for that alone, since the original cart goes for hundreds on the used game market, and you have three variations of this game to try out for your difficulty needs.
In conclusion, Contra Anniversary Collection is easily one of the higher quality gaming compilations to come out as of late. With seven fantastic games and a few more regional differences, there’s a lot of fun to be had, whether it’s from score chasing, co-op fun, or trying to 1CC each game to save a replay for, every game in this collection has at least one version that’s super enjoyable. While I do feel that it’s only barely complete as a pre 3D Contra Collection, (where did Alien Wars GB go? Does Factor 5 hold the rights to that one? Contra Force would have been neat to see as well.) This is still a tremendous celebration of the series’ roots, with excellent emulation and tight controls.
Combine that with the recent QOL update and you have both this and Castlevania as some really excellent compilations that do pretty much everything you could ask for and perform great. Here’s hoping there’s more collections like this to come, maybe starring series such as Goemon, Twinbee or Parodius! (My ultimate dream is a PC Engine compilation for consoles. Too much to hope for?)
I give a Contra Anniversary Collection a 9 out of 10.