Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts

Contra & Super C


Up. Up. Down. Down. Left Right. Left Right. B. A. Start.

You know, when I discovered that when I was ten or so, my world was rocked. All of a sudden this impossible thing, this damn game that I could never get through, suddenly became achievable. “I can do this,” I thought. “I can finally beat this game.”

Well, that never happened actually. Turns out even with a code and 30 extra lives, I never beat Contra. Or Super C. Or any Contra game for that matter. But this isn’t about me beating games or whatever arbitrary achievements put out there by the gaming community that we, for some reason, put value in. The value for me comes from the time games like Contra and Super C on the original NES represented: childhood. Discovery. Even if unable to beat the game, the constant yearn and still play them when a friend was over or packing up the cartridges and heading to a classmate’s house for a summer afternoon session of Dr. Pepper and video games and probably some cartoons or movies on VHS.



Speaking of TV, this is just awesome...and very 1990.


Would we play outside? Maybe, but I grew up in a generation where the idea of going outside to play began to be passé. More entertainment was found in sitting down and playing video games, and games like Contra and Super C were just the type to sit and play with a friend.

There weren’t a ton of those back then. Simultaneous 2-player stuff was actually kind of rare, and these two classic Konami titles really gave us what we wanted: Two Rambo-like heroes with a variety of guns and lots of things to shoot. Also aliens.

It also gave us stuff we didn’t want. One-hit kills. Hard-to-see bullets from enemies. Vertical levels that could get your friend killed if you go too far ahead of him. Yet the controls and gunplay and all that stuff was so addicting that despite the difficulty it still made it fun. 30 Extra lives made it better. Not really ever beating them didn’t even matter.

Contra, like a lot of NES games from what I remember, came to me by word-of-mouth. It began as an arcade game, but I didn't know anyone who ever played it and I never remember seeing it. What I do know, playing it much later on an emulator, is that there was something that felt "off" on it. 


Speaking of feeling "off" and a bit sexist...


I think it was because, by that point, "Contra" was already defined to me. There was a "feel" to it. Things you expected. Things you knew would appear. How the players controlled. The music. The sound. Simply put, Contra became iconic, as did its sequel. The games were up there with the likes of Mega Man or Mario. You could hum the tune. You knew the sound effects. You knew that code by heart. It became stuck in your head and in muscle memory, not to mention simply a part of pop culture as a whole.

Click for larger image.

Then kids starting telling other kids, then you’re over at a friend’s house and they have it or rented it and the next thing you know you lost your weekend trying to figure the game out. Then you get a Nintendo Power and read there’s this code, that code circles around the school and the next thing you know you’re in it, man. You got the itch. You know you can beat that game (eventually).

I remember hearing the code and writing it down on a notebook while in second grade. I had the game (though I don’t quite recall when or where I got it, much like a lot of NES games they just kind of “appeared”) and couldn’t wait to get home and try it out. After some trial and error, and the eventual confirmation and clarification in a gaming magazine, I got it to work.

And now instead of dying three times and the game over, I stretch it out 30 times and game over. I honestly could never get past the snow level on my own and I think, with another player, we only made it to the final stage and never beat it.

Yet, it was fun. I feel today people measure your “gaming worth” based on what you beat. I don’t really buy that. Who cares? As long as you play, enjoy and have fond memories about the experience, then it doesn’t matter.

Spread. That's all you need. Spread. Gimmie Spread. I swear to god, if you get it and I don't we're no longer friends.

Plus, visually...the games were just weird as hell...


What are they? Weird, that's what. Now we kill them! The art design in these games were really strange.


Super C wasn’t much different, but I fared better on it. I remember getting to the last level and not quite making it through. But I still did it. All by lonesome even though I just said none of this matters yet I’m kind of proud of.

A lot of that is thanks to Nintendo Power, which helped immensely on mapping out the stages and plenty of tips on the bosses which had “safe zones” that made it easy to take them down. Throw in the 10-live code and three continues, and it was more than fair to get through even if I couldn’t get over that final hill. I’ve come to the conclusion that the entire reason why I liked Super C more wasn’t because it was a better game but because I actually got further in it thanks to all the help from magazines and the experience of the original Contra. Truth is, I don’t see Contra or Super C as one being better than the other, it all kind of blends together as they’re nearly identical.



Games like Contra or Mega Man or Ninja Gaiden actually became playable and even beatable thanks to Nintendo Power. Challenging but fair - that’s how it used to be.


Even though I never beat either game, there was still an immense satisfaction making it past another boss and further to another level. The achievement wasn’t some dumb pop-up with a trophy and a little “ring” sound, it was finally able to take a breath and a sigh of relief as you wiped your sweaty hands off and leaned back for a moment of reprieve. There was and still is no better sensation than that because so much more seemed at risk. It felt earned.

In hindsight, it’s interesting that the 10 live or 30 live codes were so integral to actually getting anywhere in the games. They weren’t integral in having fun with them, but we were just kids with little controlers and an afternoon of having no responsibilities. We weren’t ready to take on a challenge of three lives and nothing else to beat a game. All the tips and codes became a part of the game as though it were designed with them, though. Second nature. Part of the intent. You didn’t play those games without codes and maybe a magazine at your side.

But here's what I love about these two games: they just scream the 1980s. The art design, the idea of muscle-dudes with guns, the action tropes and aliens and robots and all that stuff: it was as though the developers took everything that was popular in movies in the 1980s and CRAMMED it all into a little 8-bit game.  If it had Pee-Wee and a DARE sticker, it could be totally complete in its final form.



This isn't my final form...


For past Not/Quite Remembering Videogame articles, click here



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