Review: Marcus who? Dom what? Bill and Lance are the original alien-busting duo!
Contra for the NES was a staple of the little gray box's fanbase for years. This is all thanks to the challenge of the game's levels, the fun of the 2-player mode, the ease of the Konami Code and the sheer awesomeness of the Spread Gun. So it brought tears of joy to the eyes of old schoolers everywhere when Konami announced they were bringing the original arcade version of Contra to the Xbox Live Arcade.
While I can't speak for all fans of Contra on the NES, I know that I only played the arcade version once. I was all of eight years old, so I can't say I remember much from the experience. But after playing the XBLA version, I can tell you that I miss the NES version quite a bit. I'm not saying this version of Contra is bad, it just feels incomplete. The essence of the NES Contra is there: the Jungle stage, the Tunnels, the Waterfall, the Alien Lair and the Heart, but none of it feels right.
Contra for the XBLA is still a side scrolling shooter that places you in the army boots of Schwarzenegger and Stallone clones Bill and Lance as they take on the evil Red Falcon. However, the arcade game used a vertical screen, so when translated to a TV, the image takes up less than half of your screen. The graphics also have a different feel to them as there seems to be less detail overall (even in the "Enhanced Graphics" mode). Everything about the NES game was more colorful.
Contra on the XBLA is also a little on the short side. When your life bar is dependant on how many quarters you have, games didn't have to be epic in length. But in the comfort of your own home, Contra feels much too short. In fact, one of the Achievements even requires you to finish the game in less than 12 minutes, a feat I was able to do after a few run-throughs. And that's the other thing about XBLA Contra, it's way too easy.
When Konami brought Contra over to the NES, they expanded all of the levels and added three new ones near the end. These levels are no where to be seen in the arcade (and therefore XBLA) Contra. Enemies also take fewer hits to die in this version. For fans of the series, the main customers for a re-release like this, the game will be a breeze.
XBLA Contra's main selling point is an online co-op mode over Xbox Live, which I've gotta admit, is much more fun than playing alone. But the game also suffers from intermittent lag which can make it feel unplayable. I also wasn't given credit for the ?score 100,000 points in the co-op? Achievement even though I sailed way past that milestone. Basically, co-op boils down to a fun experience that can be ruined by your Internet connection or if Live is feeling finicky.