front cover

Platform: PC

Region: Other

Developer(s): Banana Development

Publishers(s): Ocean Software Ltd.

ReleaseDate: 1988-01-01

Players: 2

Co-op: Yes


The DOS version of Contra is considered the worst conversion of any Contra game. In extension, it is likely one of the worst video game conversions in history. Despite these distinctions, the flaws are in only a few aspects of the game. The game-breaking flaw resides in the control system. Unless the player uses a joystick or gamepad, controlling the character(s) is very difficult. When using the keyboard, there are separate buttons for diagonal aim. Additionally, the player does not stop running simply by depressing the Left/Right run buttons; a separate button must be pressed, whether it is to aim up, duck prone or even a specific button to stop running. It is no help that there are no continues and extra lives are gained after every 50 000 points. This large number makes it useless to even attempt to gain any lives, as one will not even reach this number by the end of the game during a regular play session. Another issue concerns game speed. This conversion was designed only for the Intel 8088 processor running at 4.77 MHz as the target environment. When played on any other hardware, the speed of the player’s running, as well as of enemies/dangers, are uncontrollably and/or disproportionately fast. Even worse, control inputs slow the game down, which in turn reduces the responsiveness of button presses. All of these factors inevitably result in a high frequency of deaths during gameplay. Another flaw is in the storyline to this version. The introductory text generically describes the player’s objective as to destroy flashing targets at the end of each level. This is incorrect, both in terms of the original plot and of gameplay. Only the first half of the level bosses are, or contain, flashing targets. Interestingly, though, Red Falcon is considered an organization, making the story true to the Japanese plot continuity. DOS Contra’s audio is another weak point. Music is nonexistent (the closest to music is a pitch-shifting sound clip played at the title screen), while sound effects are abysmal and irritating. PC speakers are the sole option for the sound source; what is heard is a small variety of beeps that will completely compromise the player’s focus (and possibly, their sanity), the death sound effect being the most prominent. This conversion structurally resembles the arcade original; it features all of the same levels and bosses, although the level divisions are slightly different. 2-player mode is retained. The player can customize the keyboard controls and there are 3 difficulty settings to choose – Easy, Hard and Insane. The number of starting lives depends on the difficulty selected. The difficulty also determines the number of enemies that spawn in each level. Visuals use CGA and are somewhat superior to the ZX Spectrum version, but projectiles still sometimes camouflage in backgrounds. There are 6 different color palettes, each assigned to at least one of the 8 levels. Guns are mostly the same, except that an H gun replaces the laser; it merely shoots larger, stronger rifle bullets. If using the keyboard, all guns are automatic and fire at a tremendously high rate. Unsurprisingly, no in-game screenshots appear on the North American release’s cover, nor almost anywhere else (see below). On a related note, the North American release is notorious for having been unplayable on numerous IBM PC compatible machines due to its flawed copy protection scheme. One writer even stated in a magazine that the copy protection prevented them from being able to review the game. Apart from the game’s (lack of) publicity, this flaw contributed to its poor recognition. To its credit, DOS Contra retains more enemy types from the arcade original than any other version of the game. All of the levels and their essential content are also present; the limited color palette is at least used to attempt to replicate the arcade original’s visuals. Most guns and powerups are included, and one of the missing powerups is replaced by another. Furthermore, other than The Contras for CoCo 3, it is the only home computer conversion that retains the simultaneous 2-player mode. It is the most faithful version in these respects.

ESRB Rating: Not Rated

Genre(s): Shooter

Other Graphic(s)