Boots’ Top 10 Video Games of All-Time #6: Contra

Contra

The following is a part of my list of my Top 10 All-Time Favorite Games. There may be spoilers ahead, so read with caution. Please make note that I rated these games not out of quality relative to other titles but in the order of how much fun I had with each of them and how important they are to my personal gaming history.

They say you never forget your first. You sit there and look forward to it for years upon years, building the excitement for that fateful day when you finally get to feel what you’ve heard friends talk about for so long. It might be the best thing you’ve ever done, but it’s often awkward and possibly shameful if you didn’t think it through. Hell, it might be downright painful. Regardless, it will always be your first.

It was late 1988 and I was only 10 when I hit the milestone. After being duped into thinking my dreams were crushed, my parents did the ol’ “We forgot to put this last Christmas gift out” maneuver and handed us that final box. My brother and I tore through the wrapping and were then the proud owners of an NES. Of course, it came with Super Mario Bros. And Duck Hunt, but both of us also received one game of our own, and mine was Contra.

For those who don’t know, Contra is one of many NES Konami titles that is notorious for its challenge and high quality. A port of the arcade game of the same title, this side-scrolling shooter gave players fits thanks in part to that unique Konami design and the inherent challenge of their games. Because of that trait, the developer often instilled the popular “Konami Code” that would give either multiple lives or full power-ups depending on the game in question.

USE THE CODE

Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start

Contra’s code resulted in a thirty life reserve for the player and for many, including myself, it wasn’t until utilizing the code that players were able to finally conquer the game and defeat the evil Red Falcon terrorist/alien organization.

But here’s the thing… I had already had time with SMB thanks to its arcade release and while the NES port was a near-perfect re-creation, I had less desire to dedicate time to it thanks to previous experience, so I devoted every minute to Contra, and it was all worth it.

Of course, when you play a game for that amount of time, you become a part of it. You memorize patterns, you remember where items are located, you know where enemies are going to appear; the game becomes an extension of your being. As I played it more and more, I found my zen in its intricacies.

Hangar Zone

Why are there spiked claws above the mine cart tracks? That seems hazardous.

It wasn’t long before I had a surefire technique all set up. It was quite simple, really, and merely consisted of the following steps:

    1. Get the Spread Gun
    2. Get the Rapid-Fire power-up
    3. DOMINATE!!!

Seriously, if you have that gun throughout the entirety of the game, no one should pose much of a threat. Your biggest concern then becomes environmental hazards like flame pillars, spiked walls, or making sure you jump properly over the boss of Stage 6 when he charges you.

I eventually got to a point where I no longer need the Konami Code to finish the game, and at my apex, I was easily able to beat it in less than two deaths and could consistently pull off flawless runs. As of now, I can still occasionally pull one off.

The other great part about this game for me was its soundtrack. Konami has a history of having great music in their games and Contra was no exception. If you are familiar with their music, you can probably tell that they have one of the NES’ most unique sound palettes. Even Konami’s offshoot company Ultra Games used this palette for many titles. There’s just something about the tones and sounds that give them such a powerful quality, and Contra really shows it off with well-written, fast-paced, tense songs that only improve on the game’s atmosphere.

Yes, Contra was my first, and yes, it was equally awkward, embarrassing, and painful in the beginning. But the more time I invested, the more experience I earned, the more I learned of its finer details, all of it combined to give me confidence in my ability as a gamer to improve and know what I was doing from that point on. No longer would I be intimidated by another now that I had the skillset needed to feel prolific.

…and I’ll never forget it. Ever.

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Boots’ Top 10 Video Games of All-Time #7: The PlayStation 2 Era of Grand Theft Auto

The following is a part of my list of my Top 10 All-Time Favorite Games. There may be spoilers ahead, so read with caution. Please make note that I rated these games not out of quality relative to other titles but in the order of how much fun I had with each of them and how important they are to my personal gaming history.

Blood fills my character’s eyes as I’m shot from point blank by my partner in this bank job. She runs off with the money and leaves me for dead, calling me “small time” as she turns away. Tried and convicted for the robbery, I’m being transported to the penitentiary to serve my time. This never happens, however, as a group of people attack the convoy that is moving myself and two other prisoners. They take one of the others with them and leave the remaining convict and I to fend for ourselves. A bomb goes off, destroying the bridge and creating an escape diversion. My new friend tells me of a place we can go to get changed and rest. I steal a nearby car and drive to the apartment, ditch my prison orange jumpsuit for a black jacket and green cargo pants, and we head off to get some work with a man named Luigi. Thus began my time in Liberty City…

It’s amazing how such a short and seemingly insignificant moment is the genesis of a franchise’s popularity. I had previously played Grand Theft Auto 2 and, while a great game with some interesting concepts, I was interested to see how it would translate from its top-down 2D look to a full 3D setting. It’s pretty safe to say that almost no one was disappointed with the result. Grand Theft Auto 3 became the benchmark for many games that tried to emulate the open-world genre, and that tradition carried on with its sequels, GTA: Vice City and GTA: San Andreas.

Ambulance

Don’t mess up, don’t mess up, don’t mess up…

There was almost no way for me to get bored in these games. While there were a HUGE number of activities to take part in, the one I truly remember best from each game – possibly due to its annoyance level – is the Ambulance Missions. I’d go around picking up injured patients and bring them to the hospital, but holy crap, one slip-up and all that work for extra health would be lost. This happened on many occasions and I can vividly remember the rage. Of course, there were also the fun things. Story missions were almost always entertaining if not interesting, and I absolutely LOVED looking for all of the unique stunt jumps in each of these titles, especially after finding the superbikes.

Characters in the franchise are colorful and varied, and I had many favorites. The writing in these three games was top-notch and I enjoyed every minute of dialogue. Developer Rockstar Games even managed to land big name Hollywood actors for many of the roles, giving the games some outstanding performances.

Tenpenny Meets His Fate

Samuel L. Jackson plays the corrupt Vinewood cop, Officer Frank Tenpenny. SPOILER: He doesn’t win.

But it’s not even those things that stand out to me the most. It was the chance happenings, the unscripted events that occurred just by way of being in the perfect place at an opportune time, that made these games some of the most fun and memorable that I’d ever played. It could be a well-timed explosion, or a sweet maneuver from the cops, or even something as simple as discovering a dirtbike race on a mountain.

My clearest memory of the entire franchise comes from Vice City. I was doing a mission where I had to break a needed ally out of jail and, upon exiting the station, my wanted level was sitting at a nice four-star level. I ran to the street, eliminated a couple cops, and hopped into the nearest sports car. Being the rock fan that I am, I was happy to see that the preset station was for V-Rock.

Love Fist

The hottest Scottish metal and in all the land. From left to right: Willy, Percy, Jezz, and Dick.

As any GTA fan knows, the radio stations that are in the games make up some of the gaming’s most immersive experiences complete with original programming and full-fledged commercials. This specific occasion had Anthrax’s Madhouse on as I attempted to evade the police. The song was entering its final few beats as I just managed to get clear of the initial blockade, turning it into a legit high-speed chase. That’s when I heard a familiar series of notes…

There are famous guitar lines in heavy metal, and then there are riffs that reached a sort of god-like status. As I sped toward more open roads with the law on my tail, the opening riff of Slayer’s Raining Blood filled my ears and gave me instant goosebumps. I was already familiar with the song, but it had been a while since I’d last heard it. At this moment, blazing through traffic in hopes of finding a Pay-N-Spray quickly, the power of that riff combined with the intensity of the situation melded to form a perfect synergy. My adrenaline surged to a level I didn’t think was possible from a video game. In my head, the only expression I could muster was an excited “OH SHIT, OH FUCK!” I couldn’t form any other words. It was downright magical.

That’s what this newly-dubbed “sandbox” genre is all about. Exploring the world, finding those little gems of gameplay, discovering the in-jokes and easter eggs that the developers threw into the landscape. You can camp on a rooftop and fire at everyone, bet on horse races, fly a fighter jet (YES, A FREAKING FIGHTER JET!), deliver pizzas, or do like I did and just hop on motorcycle and travel around the entirety of San Andreas in one giant loop in about 12 minutes or so on all of its main highways. It seemed as if you could just live a life inside of Rockstar’s worlds, and I’ll be damned if some of us didn’t actually wish it were possible.

Looking back, it is way too difficult to decide which of the trio of PS2 titles is best. Each of them have a unique flavor that works perfectly. The Mafia-inspired tone of GTA3, the cocaine-fueled drug ring tale in Vice City, the early-90s Southern California Gang-like vibe of San Andreas; every game had something for me to connect with. All three had great storytelling, kickass characters, super fun gameplay mechanics, endless nods to pop culture from my childhood, and all of them heavily drew me into their worlds. For these reasons, it is only fitting they are all included as one entity, make the PS2-era of Grand Theft Auto my #7 favorite game(s) of all-time.

Fighter Jets!

I need a wingman. Where’s Goose?

PS – Grand Theft Auto IV? Not even close to living up to these games. Here’s hoping GTA V is as great as it appears to be.

Boots’ Top 10 Video Games of All-Time #10: Mega Man 2

The following is a part of my list of my Top 10 All-Time Favorite Games. There may be spoilers ahead, so read with caution. Please make note that I rated these games not out of quality relative to other titles but in the order of how much fun I had with each of them and how important they are to my personal gaming history.

The year was 198X…

My brother and I hadn’t had our NES for very long but we were burning through games left and right thanks to a local Mexican food store and their kickass game rental policy. Video stores were offering rentals at $5 for three days, but this place was doing five days at $4. Considering that my family shopped there all the time, it only made sense to stick with them out of loyalty.

Somewhere along the lines, we had gotten our grubby little hands on the first Mega Man game and we instantly loved it. The game was a master class in simple-yet-effective design and had a challenge that only the best could get the hang of. Between my group of close friend, my brother was the only person I knew who could finish the game back then.

Of course, when the sequel came out, we were all giddy and ready to (have our parents) buy this game at release. Sadly, because we were such strong renters, our parents never saw the need to really buy games so we were relegated to waiting for it to be available at the food shop. However, our friends – who also were brothers – were able to get a copy. They had arguments about who was going to play it first and how far the other could get before handing the controller over.

They don’t really look like robots on this box art.

Once I was able to play the game, I was in love. It once again followed the same basic principles of design as the first game, but this time it had MORE bosses! I remember vividly that I first chose to face Air Man, which I later learned was a huge mistake. Still, I was able to defeat him and get his Air Shooter… which is a terrible weapon in the practical sense.

Stupid choice aside, I was still happy to see that the difficulty was slightly lowered, but not to a point where the game was a breeze to get through. Each boss had a set pattern that one can easily discern if they pay enough attention, and the joy of finding out which weapon was most effective against them was undeniable. Those discoveries put a smile on my face, and nothing was better than equipping the Metal Blade against Metal Man and discovering that it only took ONE HIT to defeat him.

The other great aspect of this game was its amazing soundtrack. Back in the NES days, a lot of games featured a ton of memorable music but, for whatever reason, Mega Man 2 always stood out as one of the best, in my mind. Even the intro song just ingratiates its way into your heart within 5 seconds, and then escalates into what is easily one of the most memorable themes in all of video games.

I replayed this game as much as I could before returning it to that store. Both my brother and I finished it within those five days, and the younger of our friends was the first of them to defeat Dr. Wily. Needless to say, the older brother wasn’t too happy about that. I think they fought over it.

Mega Man, your blue suit and giant eyes will always have a special place in my heart over the course of all your games but Mega Man 2 is easily the best of them all, making it my Number 10 Favorite Game of All-Time.

Hey, Mega Man... what's up with your eyes?

Hey, Mega Man… what’s up with your eyes?