Contra Anniversary Collection (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Rudy Lavaux 30.06.2019

Review for Contra Anniversary Collection on Nintendo Switch

Konami's range of anniversary collections being released on digital distribution services continues to expand after the applauded Arcade and Castlevania collection released previously, this time covering the Contra series. The popular publisher's back catalogue of classics from that era is certainly rich, and the Contra series, while maybe not quite as expansive as Castlevania, was certainly just as prevalent in those days of the late '80s to mid '90s. It would have been indeed common to hear talks about two-player simultaneous gameplay on consoles back then, and that is often brought up to this day with the likes of Contra, or even the Ghosts 'n Goblins series, as some of the toughest games to beat ever created. It is with delight then that we dive into this latest collection, hoping to find much to be loved.

In any collection of old games of any kind, the main draw will be the game selection. Contra Anniversary Collection includes only five different games, or seven if the arcade and NES counterparts of the same titles are to be considered separate. The list is as follows: Contra (Arcade), Super Contra (Arcade), Contra (NES), Super C (the NES port of Super Contra), Contra III: The Alien Wars (SNES), Contra Hard Corps (Mega Drive/Genesis), and Operation C (Game Boy). On top of those, this collection includes variations on the same games.

At launch, it included three extras listed as separate releases. First, the Famicom version of Contra, which had some story screens not present in western releases as well as an overall world map displayed in between levels in addition to some extra graphical effects allowed by Konami's own in-house mapper chip, included in the Famicom cartridge. Then this also included Super Probotector: Alien Rebels, which is the European version of Contra III, as well as the simply titled Probotector which is the European version of Contra Hard Corps. For those that did not follow the 30+ years story of Contra games, European releases in the series were not only called Probotector for quite some time, but suffered from censorship where the human male heroes of the series were always replaced with robot characters, and human enemies were also replaced with robots so as to make the story less violent while keeping the action as hectic as it always was.

...Or at least as hectic as the 50Hz speed downgrade would allow, coupled with those ugly black bars at the top and bottom of their screens that European gamers unfortunately had to contend with on their consoles until the early '00s. So the inclusion of those European versions was perhaps made in part for the sake of preserving the history of the series in that part of the world, although this means that the NES European versions should have been included as well... or maybe just for the nostalgic factor - for those European gamers yearning for the familiarity of what they grew up with.

It is however important to note that those games include both the original 50Hz speed as well as a new 60Hz boost mode so as to be enjoyable on modern consoles with those specific European modifications, without losing the speed that made the NTSC versions more appealing. Neat! This perhaps explains why European NES games weren't included in the package, as boosting those to 60Hz would have also sped up the music playback speed, as NES music speed was tied to the speed of the CPU itself, which was slightly slower in PAL systems. At time of writing, the game is on version 1.1.0 and this version added extra versions of the same games, namely Japanese versions of Super C, both Arcade games as well as the Game Boy, SNES and Mega Drive games, bringing the actual total of games to 16 though, again, there are only really seven unique releases included.

Screenshot for Contra Anniversary Collection on Nintendo Switch

This then leaves out other releases like the controversial Contra Force for NES, which was not that good to begin with, but also Contra: Legacy of War of PlayStation and Sega Saturn fame, the PlayStation exclusive C: The Contra Adventure, Contra: Shattered Soldier and Neo Contra for PlayStation 2, Contra 4 for the Nintendo DS by Wayforward, and the excellent WiiWare exclusive Contra Rebirth. The series also saw other mobile games and spin-offs like Hard Corps: Uprising later on, but nothing substantial, at least until the release later in 2019 on Nintendo Switch, of the first Contra game in many years, Contra: Rogue Corps; unveiled at E3 2019 and which however only seems to have the name in common with the series lore.

When it comes to the actual games themselves, it is perhaps good to remind what exactly the series is all about. Contra is all about running, jumping, and gunning, shooting, and dispatching incoming enemy units on screen, typically aliens, and blowing up giant bases and bosses along the way. Those same enemy units fire back too. A lot! Dodging by jumping and crouching is essential in traditional Contra gameplay, and, last but not least, the series is known for its responsive controls allowing in all releases to date for shooting in all eight directions afforded by classic D-Pads and arcade sticks. Contra games are also, with the exception of the Game Boy release, two-player co-op experiences at their core, although single player has always been a viable option. It's also an excellent co-op series at that, and that's important to stress.

This formula varies very little between releases, at least those included in this package. The franchise is known for its difficulty, so the inclusion in this collection of an expected quick save feature, as well as a replay-record function for keeping impressive shows of skills are naturally very much appreciated. Each game is divided in a varying number of stages that mostly scroll horizontally, but not exclusively. Some scroll vertically, and tend to send the player dying off screen should they fall off while others opt for a behind the player, pseudo-3D view, when the playable characters enter bases. Some entries also have bird's eye view stages with more freedom of movement and the SNES release in that regard even makes use of its mode-7 graphics to rotate the entire stage while the D-Pad lets the player strafe.

Of all those releases, none can be considered truly worse than the others, although it could be argued that the series only truly matured when it started moving away from the arcades. The arcade releases, while still good in their own right for sure, have more floaty jumps, and the second game in particular makes it tough to know what weapon is being picked up by the player before it is actually picked up, which may lead to picking undesired, useless weapons, like the flame thrower, which seriously handicap the player. The NES releases are absolute classics, well worth checking out while the SNES game is an absolute 16-bit gem. Contra Hard Corps can be a bit weird at times, with what's going on in it, moving a bit away from the classic themes of the series in such a way that bridges the gap between the upcoming Rogue Corps and the more classical entries in the series more than what most people can perhaps expect, not the least of which is the inclusion of a werewolf as a playable character.

Screenshot for Contra Anniversary Collection on Nintendo Switch

After a werewolf, what's a panda huh? However, Hard Corps is undeniably the hardest but also the best looking and most nervous, fast-paced and explosive of all the titles, included and the fact it is even there at all, after having never been re-released in the past 25 years, is a joy for any fan of the series. Even Operation C is well worth playing, even today despite its monochrome visuals. So the selection on offer, while maybe limited after removing all the repeats of similar releases, is certainly of the highest quality standards that classic gaming has to offer. No question about it. The Bonus Book section included, which rounds up the content nicely and sheds light on the series, or its history and never-before-seen development documents - it is a delight for any hardcore fan of the franchise.

Naturally in a collection of this nature, one of the main concerns is how everything runs and looks, compared to their original counterparts. Thankfully, the developer behind Konami's other recent anniversary collections, M2, has not only an excellent track record of producing extremely accurate emulations of these older platforms, but delivers display options out of the box that respect the original art better than any other developer out there. It is a pleasure to report that every single instalment included runs flawlessly, and not only looks, but sounds as accurate as one would expect from the developer, especially considering the games included come from a variety of very different types of hardware.

Whenever something originally developed with CRT based displays in mind, it is re-released on newer platforms meant to connect to large, modern flat panel displays... developers run into the headache-inducing problem of upscaling the 2D, pixel art rendered graphics to a resolution that consoles like the Switch can output. The problem is to do so in a manner that will neither cause pixels to be unevenly scaled up, causing ugly artifacting and shimmering, especially on horizontal scrollers.

In this package, the Mega Drive game's native 320x224 resolution scales up naturally well to 720p in a 3X scale-up, and 1080p in a 4X scale-up, since it is an almost standard, natural 4:3 aspect ratio with pixels that are already close to perfectly square. Then, the Game Boy game's original extremely low 160x144 allows it to scale up in greater factors to any output resolution anyway, and M2 included an excellent filter effect that aims to replicate the Dot-Matrix nature of the original Game Boy's black and white/green and gold display. It's amazing to see, although the nitpicky Konami enthusiast inside us cries a little at the non-inclusion of the existing European coloured version ofOperation C, included on the Konami GB Collection Vol. 1 cartridge. Instead you are stuck with the black and white version, but from a technical standpoint, it would perhaps have been economically unprofitable to dedicate manpower, and thus money, to retool the original coloured version, part of a 4-game package, into a stand-alone ROM that their in-house emulator could run.

Screenshot for Contra Anniversary Collection on Nintendo Switch

The Mega Drive and Game Boy entries were not going to be a challenge from the outset in regards to upscaling. The funky resolution of the NES and SNES games however, running at 256x224 which is an 8:7, rather narrow aspect ratio that spreads naturally across a 4:3 CRT, but not-so at all on flat panel displays relying on perfectly square pixels, tends to be more of a challenge to upscale naturally, while keeping the originally intended display aspect. Everything included has three display options in regards to upscaling. The first is perfect aspect ratio, which spreads the original resolution image to fit within a frame of the same aspect ratio as the original game. The SNES and NES games displayed in that mode are therefore represented in the correct aspect ratio, but that option comes at the cost of some shimmering induced on horizontally scrolling sections of gameplay. This is not ideal. Then another option is 16:9. This plainly spreads the image to fill up the entire 16:9 display being played on. This is always included, probably for those people that did not grow up with non wide-screen TVs, or those that need the image to be as big as possible, but whatever the reason, this neither looks good or even remotely correct as everything will look squashed, especially on those arcade games meant for 4:3 TATE screen orientation. Stay away from that display option at all costs!

The last option is called "pixel perfect" and should be the preferred mode in all cases. This scales every game in such a way that no visible shimmering in scrolling can be perceived, and so that pixels appear natural, as they scale up evenly. The SNES and NES games in that mode are displayed in an aspect ratio ever so slightly larger than 4:3, but natural to the eye, and the difference is barely noticeable. Without using any kind of blurry filters that tend to make everything look worse on such old games, M2 probably went with the best options wherever possible, especially on Switch where two rather different display set-ups are to be taken in consideration: the 720p display of the Switch unit itself, and displays used in docked mode which one can expect to be 1080p in the majority of cases or the exact four times multiple resolution of 4K.

Those who know the problems that come with NES and SNES upscaling then, can rest easy knowing that M2 has delivered once again. Now this wouldn't be complete without addressing the arcade games as well, which run at an even funkier 224×280 resolution. Like the Nintendo console games, those are upscaled in pixel perfect mode in such a way that the aspect ratio comes close to 4:3 TATE, or 3:4 to put it differently, but not quite so, as most titles look a little bit taller perhaps than their intended look, but the different is even less noticeable than with the NES and SNES. The vertical orientation however means that a lot of screen real estate gets lost in being displayed on 16:9 displays. Thankfully, count on M2 to include the expected options and, of course, this collection has the option to rotate the image at a 90 degrees angle for the perfect TATE experience. Switch Flip-Grip users will be delighted for sure!

Screenshot for Contra Anniversary Collection on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Nothing really holds back this package, other than perhaps the somewhat limited selection of "unique" games on offer, as much of the selection consists of variations of the same title, or regional releases under different names. The price is indeed a bit steep in that regard in this day and age, however the quality of every single release included is to be considered, as well as the fact that M2 handled this and did so just as perfectly, as we've come to expect from the people working there. It is a no-brainer purchase for Konami and Contra fans, especially on Switch, where portability without any compromises is an extra that can't be afforded by other platforms. Others who may just be interested in taking a first dive into the series may prefer to wait for a light drop in price however.

Developer

Konami

Publisher

Konami

Genre

Action

Players

2

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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