Contra by Konami was one of the earlier games produced for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System and eventually one of the most popular. To my own surprise, though, it wasn't created for the NES -- it was first released in 1987 as an arcade game, with a vertical rather than horizontal screen but otherwise using the same boards, graphics and gameplay as the 1988 NES version.
Known as "Gryzor" in Europe and "Kontora" in Japan, Contra could best be described as "Ikari Warriors" meets Aliens. The story is something like this: a meteorite lands somewhere in the jungle, and a would-be world dictator named Red Falcon has combined the strange alien life it brought with his own wealth and technology, in a plot to (surpise) try and take over the world.
Two players, simultaneously controlling the "contra" soldiers "Scorpion" and "Mad Dog", are dropped outside of Red Falcon's base and charged with the task of infiltrating and disabling it. They can jump, shoot, and move in eight directions. Each player starts with three lives, unless of course you employ the not-so-secret Konami code to boost your odds, and (at least in the console version) could steal extra lives from the other player should you run out first.
Pretty basic, but the game enjoyed a few gimmicks to make it uniquely interesting. The power-ups available to the players included a number of unique weapon upgrades -- rapid fire (more bullets on screen at a time), machine gun (automatic fire), fireball (explodes on impact), and spread shot (five bullets across a thirty-degree arc) -- as well as temporary invincibility, extra lives and magical "destroy all enemies on screen" tokens. Most levels were basic side-scrollers, but one was a vertical scroller going up a waterfall and two were fought inside pseudo-3D fortresses; this variety kept things from getting too monotonous early on. Enemies in the first levels were limited to foot soldiers, unmanned cannons and the occasional sniper, but later levels included increasingly deadly and gory aliens. Plus the music was delightfully catchy. (If you've ever played it, the first couple levels' music backgrounds are probably still stuck in your head. Sing it with me: Da-da-da-da, da, da da, Da-da-da-da, da, da da ....)
Contra's successful formula led to a series of sequels for just about every major console gaming system, each one featuring the flame-orange "C" that identified the series:
After this point, Konami turned to another company called Appaloosa Interactive to develop the "Contra" brand for the new 32-bit gaming systems. Fans of the original series were less than impressed, but for completeness' sake they're included here:
Contributing sources include GameFAQs (www.gamefaqs.com)
and The Contra HQ (www.classicgaming.com/contra)