The European version of Contra, which is the version on review here, delivers the same unrelenting out of control action as its American/Japanese counter parts but with a few noticeable changes. The European release has a different title screen, as well as omitted map screen level animations and cut scenes. All removed due to the Famicom having slightly better hardware then the NES.
The European release, known as ‘Probotector’ also replaces its main characters, Bill Rizer and Lance Bean, with two robot soldiers, RD-008 and RC-011 due to censorship laws.
Even with these elements of the Japanese game removed, the heart and soul of the game is unchanged and still delivers.
On first impressions there is little to no story, unless you read the instruction manual, and you are left deciphering the facts that you’re on an island with an eclectic range of foes doing everything they can to stop you.
That said, my extensive gaming on this franchise over the years has led me to the following. There is an evil organisation called ‘Red Falcon’ and they’re using alien powers beyond their control in a quest for world domination. It’s up to RD-008 and RC-011 to stop them.
It’s clear once the game loads and the music begins – before the sound of an explosion, you know you’re in for one hell of a challenge. This game does not disappoint. In fact the soundtrack throughout is phenomenal and ranges from frenetic high tempo beats, to foreboding dark and menacing themes. Certain tracks have been remixed and used throughout the series to this day – the jungle theme from the first stage appearing in most of the games thereafter and still proving to be the most popular.
The game is split up into eight stages each with their own unique location and style as you battle through a jungle to corridor sections. The corridor sections change the perspective of play from the side scroll element to a third-person view. This breaks up the level design somewhat without jarring the play. The levels culminate to an alien lair in which the final battle takes place.
The game plays well with next to no slow down no matter how much is going on screen. The controls feel responsive and sharp making it easy to navigate through the levels and avoid danger, allowing you to shoot in eight directions as the enemies attack from all quarters.
The graphics are colorful and look great, especially at the time of release. Character and enemy pixels look detailed and animate well. The environments are varied with every level looking different, each with their own setting and atmosphere with a fantastic soundtrack that just gets better and better as you progress.
The two player co-op is a great feature, you and a friend can take on hordes of enemies together which is probably essential if you want to make it to the later stages, although you must be in sync with each other on particular stages, otherwise one player could get the other killed unintentionally.
It’s fair to say the game can be unforgiving, maybe too unforgiving as the slightest error ends in death and any power-ups acquired are lost. The power-ups upgrade your weapons and include: spray gun, flame gun, machine gun and a laser gun. There’s also a rapid upgrade which increases the speed and power of your current weapon.
Any advantage these weapons give can sometimes result in more problems, such as the laser – you have to wait for the shot to leave the screen before pressing the fire button again, and if you do press the fire button again the shot will restart from the gun, which is almost guaranteed to cost you a life.
The spray is the undoubtably the best weapon in the game as it has the best range, and when combined with a rapid upgrade becomes even better as you progress through a stage with relative ease. The flame gun can be hit and miss as its firing pattern is in a circle motion after being fired.
Most of the guns will only fire as fast as your thumb will allow but a difference in the mechanics become a godsend in the form of the machine-gun. Respite in gunplay finally as the weapon allows you to rest you thumb on the fire button and a continuous line of bullets will clear most things in your way.
If there is one complaint I have, it has to be about the sprites and that death can occur due to an ‘almost’ impossible to spot, regular white bullet. This can prove frustrating and at times, even cheap.
Although very tough, this game always has me going back for one more go, devising strategies as I navigated through the stages and learning enemy patterns and power-up locations, ceasing opportunities where I could.
The co-op mode increases the replay value as you and a friend fight alongside through each stage.
Working together as a team is essential and also makes the game a lot more fun. I still play and enjoy this old gem today and I certainly get a good challenge and a rush of nostalgia whilst doing so.
As much as I personally love this game, the unforgiving nature and inability to change the difficulty makes this game for a particular type of gamer, the casuals will not enjoy it. If you love a challenge and non-stop action this is the game for you.
Probotector rating breakdown explained here
Probotector review by James Steele @JX2001
If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on Facebook or Twitter below.