Continuing Konami’s trend of 50th anniversary celebration compilations, Contra Anniversary Collection storms into battle with ten classic side scrolling shooters. Well, five, actually. The collection includes three variations of the original, and three other titles that double up with different console ports. Having the original trilogy is an absolute must for such a package, and the really quite good Contra: Hard Corps is great to see too. However, the replacement of one or two duplicate titles for a more recent entry could’ve provided a fuller breadth of the Contra legacy and a richer collection on the whole.
The UI isn’t a million miles away from what we saw in Konami’s other recent anniversary collections; a basic, easy to navigate hub screen that is fine, but isn’t particularly creative or visually exciting. This is a little sad considering the potential for an interactive menu using assets from such a classically iconographic series. Furthermore, the loop of the main theme is great at first, but it starts to wear thin. In terms of playback, you have the option to save and load previous files, as you’d expect, but you’re also able to record playthroughs should you feel the urge to revisit your speed runs. The legendary difficulty of the games remains intact, though the load function somewhat cheapens the experience, allowing you to pick up where you left off, consequence free.
Emulation wise, there isn’t too much to complain about here. The audio quality is decent, with suitably nostalgic sound effects and tunes that will get the heart racing. The picture quality, however, is a little more mixed. The settings for each game vary slightly, but the default is a restricted screen view, with the option for a frame with some edge-lord designs. The full screen option is largely preferable, but in some titles, such as the original arcade Contra, the stretched screen highlights the pixels and makes the action unappealing. The different screen options are a welcome addition though, and the ‘pixel perfect’ definition provides great resolution, it’s just a shame that there is no ‘pixel perfect-full screen’ mode.
For extras, there is an extensive bonus book which boasts an impressive array of behind the scenes designs, developer interviews, and even a full timeline. All of these make for an entertaining read, and the fact that each game is given its own section of the book is a neat touch, but it feels overall underwhelming. For such a key Konami franchise celebrating the 50th anniversary of the company, a large PDF document to clunkily scroll through doesn’t cut the mustard.
The gameplay is, as expected, the collection’s greatest strength, as each game largely translates wonderfully. Key titles play just as you remember, albeit with button placements adjusted from the days of arcade cabinets and SNES controllers. In terms of highlights, the silky-smooth Contra III: The Alien Wars, the superior NES sequel Super C, and the B-movie fun of Contra: Hard Corps all stand out. Each of these titles have aforementioned variations included, whether that be a difference of territory or port, so it’s really a question of personal preference.
Slightly less impressive are the original arcade version of Contra, which is slower and hasn’t aged particularly well, and Operation C which, bless it, tries so hard to bring the action of Contra to a Game Boy screen. Unfortunately, particularly when put up on the big screen, it doesn’t have the explosive impact of its peers and stands out as the black sheep. That said, the fact that it’s included as opposed to a fourth duplicate of the original Contra is still more than welcome.
Overall, the Contra Anniversary Collection is a pleasant shoot down memory lane, but the duplicate games are frustrating additions, taking up slots that could’ve been filled by more unique titles. As is, half of the roster are repeats, and that’s a bit of a shame. Compared to the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, which offered eight distinctive experiences that epitomised the early years of the series, it’s a disappointing line up, especially considering the absence of the underrated, long-awaited Nintendo DS sequel; Contra 4. However, these are very good games and it remains enjoyable to explore the history of such an iconic series and compare the tweaks to each version, whether graphical or story based. The games that we are given are all (mostly) stellar retro shooters and it’s cool to have them easily accessible in one place. If you haven’t experienced the Contra series before, then this isn’t a bad place to report for duty.