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Contra Anniversary Collection review: Perfunctory nostalgia cash-in

Konami brings one of its classic franchises out of the vault in a package is noteworthy only for its lack of reverence for the contents.

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Re-releasing video games is a big business and incredibly prevalent over this last console generation. Some publishers go all out and offer upgraded versions of the original games, while others opt to simply emulate entries from their catalog. For the Contra Anniversary collection, Konami has brought one of its most famous franchises back onto the market in a package that will leave the hardcore fans unfulfilled and casual buyers unimpressed. 

What’s in the box?

The NES Contra port is one of the most popular couch co-op games of all time.
The NES Contra port is one of the most popular couch co-op games of all time.

The Contra Anniversary Collection contains five games from the series, with regional variants for some of the titles, as well as an e-book with concept art and developer interviews. The most popular Contra release for North American fans is likely the NES version of the original Contra. One of the standout titles for the console and a couch co-op classic, the game is pretty well represented here, with the original arcade version and Famicom editions included in the Anniversary collection. Super Contra and its NES port make the cut, as well as the SNES sequel Contra III: The Alien Wars and Genesis standout Contra: Hard Corps. Rounding out the package is Operation C, the handheld debut of the franchise on the original Game Boy.

Contra die hards will be quick to point out some big omissions, including all of the PlayStation and PlayStation 2-era releases like Contra: Legacy of War, Contra: Shattered Soldier, or Neo Contra. There is an argument to be made that this collection is designed only to showcase the series up through the 16-bit era, but the NES spinoff Contra Force failed to make an appearance, helping to make the collection feel anything but complete.

Often emulated, never duplicated

Players can choose 4:3 or 16:9 presentations of the games.
Players can choose 4:3 or 16:9 presentations of the games.

All the games and their variants are emulated from the original ROMs and can be switched between easily using the main menu. Players have the option to run the games in their original aspect ratio with a scanline filter added or with a zoomed in presentation designed to fill modern 16x9 displays. Compared to similar re-release packages like SEGA Mega Drive and Genesis Classics, or even the recent Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle, The Contra Anniversary Collection is incredibly sparse when it comes to options for altering or improving the look of the graphical output. Players who have been using open source emulator for years will likely be less than impressed with what Konami is offering with this package.

Upon the initial release, The Contra Anniversary Collection offered no way for players to rebind controls, which was very disappointing, as most buyers would not be using the original controller hardware for the games in the collection and instead trying to work out an acceptable solution for modern gamepads. Around two weeks after launch, the game got a big patch that allowed for controller rebinding, but it was not as comprehensive as some may have liked. The complexity of the rebinding varies from game to game, and there are many oddities with the default control scheme. For example, the collection main menu is accessed via the left trigger on the Xbox One S pad, while the start and back buttons go unused altogether.

The elephant in the room

Contra III: The Alien Wars was the franchise debut on the SNES.
Contra III: The Alien Wars was the franchise debut on the SNES.

As far as playing the games, the experience is pretty good, at least for a casual Contra fan like myself. I am only intimately familiar with the original NES release of Contra, and it is well-represented here, but fans have reported emulation errors and non-faithful screen effects on a few of the games in the package, particularly with Contra III and Hard Corps. While local co-op is supported, I found it extremely disappointing that online co-op is not in the cards for any of these games. This will make the entire collection a nonstarter for some buyers, which is understandable. With similar titles like the aforementioned SEGA Mega Drive and Genesis Classics and Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle offering online support, Konami’s effort here feels lackluster. 

The only real star of the Contra Anniversary collection is the included ebook. It offers a great overview of the included games and the concept art is fantastic. What may appear as a simple afterthought ends up being the one part of the package that feels like a labor of love for the series. Fans will also be happy to know that the Konami code works with this collection as intended.

Wrapping up

The included ebook is the standout feature of the Contra Anniversary Collection.
The included ebook is the standout feature of the Contra Anniversary Collection.

The Contra Anniversary Collection could have been so much more. At $19.99, it’s far from expensive, yet still feels underwhelming when judged against what Konami’s rivals are offering in similar packages. Contra nuts will grab this regardless, but the lack of online co-op and the omission of some important titles make this a tough sell as anything other than a cash-in on nostalgia. It is not a love letter to the franchise that many would have liked, but it can do the job of scratching an itch on modern platforms, should the need arise.


This review is based on the PC Steam release. The game key was provided by the publisher. The Contra Anniversary Collection was made available for Steam, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch on June 11, for $19.99.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

Pros
  • Offers EU and Japanese variants of the classic games
  • Konami code works
  • Included ebook is excellent addition
Cons
  • No online co-op modes
  • Less than perfect emulation
  • Sparse selection of display options or enhancements
  • Control quirks
  • Missing games
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