A little over thirty years ago, Contra arrived in arcades and became one of the most beloved franchises of the ‘80s and ‘90s, becoming synonymous and with run-and-gun shooters and ridiculously high difficulty. Beating the first game without using any continues is still considered one of the greatest achievements in gaming.
So many years later, fans who grew up playing Contra in arcades, on the NES, or home computer still remember it quite fondly. Yet, despite having very few entries that could outright be considered bad, the Contra franchise has slowly faded from the mainstream since the beginning of the 21st century.
In fact, you might not have even heard of the most recent (yet awesome) entries in the storied series. The last Contra entry arrived in 2011 and the series has lied dormant in Konami’s massive vault of IPs ever since.
Of course, the spirit of Contra lives on through indie hits such as Broforce, which takes the classic run-and-gun sidescrolling formula and adds tons of humor and ’80s-inspired action heroes. There’s also the fantastic Not a Hero, which features a seedy world full of criminals, guns, drugs, and a bunny bent on world domination.
But if only Contra will do, let’s take a look back at three of Contra‘s most recent (and underrated) entries:
2007 | WayForward Technologies | DS
While Konami spent much of the late 90s and early 00s experimenting with 3D versions of Contra, the franchise finally returned to form in 2007 with a proper sequel. As the name suggests, Contra 4 ignored pretty much everything that had happened in the series in the 15 years since the beloved Contra III: The Alien Wars, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as many still consider that to be the pinnacle of the series.
This wasn’t just a cheap retro cash-in, though. Contra 4 took advantage of the DS’s dual screens to display much larger vertical levels. You also have access to a grappling hook to traverse the two screens. That dead zone between the screens is a little annoying at first, but pretty easily forgotten after a couple hours.
This is classic Contra just as you remembered it, with smooth controls and giant alien bosses. There are also three different difficulty levels to choose from, but even on the lowest one Contra 4 isn’t very easy.
2009 | M2 | Wii
WiiWare was a classic example of Nintendo having a great idea hampered by unnecessary technological constraints. A downloadable service for original bite-sized and indie titles? Great! But they can’t be any larger than 40 MB? Not so great.
There’s a reason WiiWare was pretty much dead on arrival.
But if you still have your Wii hooked up and are interested in checking out a WiiWare title, you’ll find this surprisingly great Contra game that still isn’t available anywhere else. And it’s only $10 to boot.
True to its name, Contra ReBirth is an homage to everything that made the original great. There’s the classic gameplay of course (though sadly the flamethrower didn’t make the cut for this version), huge, colorful enemies, and a ridiculously over-the-top story about the “Galactic President.”
Contra ReBirth even ratchets the challenge up even higher. It’s a real pain to get past even the first level if you haven’t tested those old-school skills in a while, but oh so satisfying once you finally do.
It’s mystifying why Konami hasn’t ported this game to more popular platforms…
Hard Corps: Uprising
2011 | Arc System Works | PS3, X360
Contra games reached new levels of obscurity in 2011 when Konami refused to even put the name “Contra” in the title.
While meant to be a prequel to Contra: Hard Corps, the well regarded 1994 Genesis game, Uprising feels far more modern than any other game in the series, with an absolutely gorgeous anime-inspired art style unlike anything else in the series. Still, there’s no mistaking Hard Corps: Uprising for a traditional Contra game after a few minutes with its hectic levels.
The gameplay is still run-and-gun, but with the most additions of any game in the franchise. You can now dash, double jump, and even deflect projectiles. The game even adds a life bar that lets you take more than one hit before dying. Uprising is no cakewalk, though. If anything, it can often feel like the cheapest game in the series, with frustrating deaths lurking around every corner.
Supposedly Konami kept the Contra name out of Uprising’s title because it was meant to kick start a brand new franchise. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened, and Contra’s future remains unclear.
In the past few years, Konami has refocused its business on mobile games and gambling at the expense of AAA development. While the most recent Contra releases were actually in the form of slot machines, a new Contra game for smartphones was actually announced in late 2015, but only for China. So if you’re looking to get your Contra fix, these three games are likely your best bet for the foreseeable future.
Chris Freiberg is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.