As a newcomer to the Contra series, one that I’ve found very intriguing due to comparisons made to other run n’ gun games like the Metal Slug series, it’s always great when a collection comes out that allows new players to have a one stop shop for the most essential games. With Contra Anniversary Collection, I was able to experience the original Contra on arcades, as well as the home console games that would soon take the lead for the series, including Contra, Super C, Contra III: The Alien Wars, Operation C, and Hard Corps.
At the same time, as a video game fan, one of the advantages for playing games in collections, is how you get to see how games are refined from title to title, and how developers tried to make use of extra console power to create new visual effects on seen on previous games. In the case of Contra, while the original Contra is quite basic graphically as a run-and-gun game, it had great ideas like 8-directional aiming, proning, spin jumps and being able to shoot in the air.
However, you then get to Super C, and you can tell how Konami’s developers were now used to the hardware, as they now have superior graphics in terms of detail and color palette, and movement is also slightly improved. Super C also tries something different by having top-down view gameplay akin to Ikari Warriors, and you can see how the developers were experimenting with different ideas.
Go even further, and graphics and gameplay both take a big leap with Contra III: The Alien Wars. With the two first games being adaptations of existing arcade games, this was the first full home console title, and streamlining the mechanics and adding new ones obviously took place. For example, the Machinegun is now the default gun, getting rid of the manual fire peashooter, and there are two weapon slots that can be switched between, as well as a Bomb that wipes enemies off the screen.
These sorts of stories where series begin off more experimental or rough then become refined in its third entry aren’t uncommon, but the Contra series might be one of the most significant in this aspect. And being able to play these games back-to-back in a collection makes you appreciate the series’ evolution. It helps that the collection was developed by M2, who are masters of emulation; like other M2 games, the collection of games all play faithfully to the originals, and is wrapped around a slick UI that is easy to navigate, as well as bonus features like game borders, presentation options like scanlines, and a quicksave and load feature.
Finally, I can’t say how much I appreciate the bonus book that includes an interview, as well as detailed development drawings of levels and enemies, as well as an official series timeline. I’ve always personally enjoyed poring over the concept art and designs of games, and doubly so considering I wasn’t familiar with the series up to this point apart from name and legacy. The concept artwork gives me a basis so that I can imagine what it was like back when the series was at its height of popularity, and I assume that people who experienced those days will appreciate the behind-the-scenes look as well.
With the Contra Anniversary Collection, I’m glad to say that it’s very much an experience that newcomers can enjoy as much as veterans, especially thanks to M2’s excellent work and bonus content included.
Contra Anniversary Collection is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.