Goon Review: Contra Soundtrack

(Submitted by His Goon-y Greatness, Mr. Andrew Peters…Much obliged, Ho-rror Ho-mie! 🙂 xoxox)

Contra has the honor of being the first video game that left it’s opening screen impressed in my head. Everyone remembers the title card coming in from the right to the left as those few notes jingled and finally exploded when you pressed start (after frantically trying to enter the thirty lives code, of course). Immediately, you’re dropped into a jungle warzone, one that might remind you of Predator with the beat of the music synced perfectly with the action as you worked your way through HR Giger inspired levels and enemies.

Mondo’s recent release of Contra is one for the collection, without a doubt. There’s no considering it, if you’ve played the game or know anything about Nintendo, you need to grab this iconic soundtrack. Side A is the classic NES soundtrack you’ve come to know and love, starting with the aforementioned Title Card track and then creating a creepy mood with the Introduction before setting the action pace with the Area 1: Jungle track (I know, catchy track titles). This is the one we all know and love the most, I think, because of how many times you dropped into that beginning level when starting the game. Not only that, it also rocks more than most other NES tracks out there. My favorite track was always Area 6: Energy Zone which combines both the run and gun action and the creeping terror. Plus, that name is just perfectly ‘80s, it should have been a club somewhere.

 

I have to admit… I totally forgot this was an arcade game, but for a very good reason; not many people played it once the Nintendo version was out there. To be honest, the reason I don’t recall the arcade version is because I found the NES version to be superior in every way, especially with the music. This is one exceptionally rare cases where the Nintendo soundtrack is better than the arcade version. Yes, Contra’s NES music is better than its arcade counterpart. I know it’s hard to believe, but when you listen to Side B of the vinyl, which is the same tracks in the same order with the exception of Track 2: Introduction missing and Track 12: Ranking as a new addition, you will hear the difference. Now, one of these will work better for you and I’m sure for most of you it will be the Nintendo version. The arcade version is actually something more of a cleaner, perhaps a bit more clear Genesis version, what with a very metallic sound and tin clanks. You could argue that better represents the game, but for me, nothing will compare to the NES version.

With Mondo, the artwork is just as important as the actual soundtrack itself. Afterall, it’s all about presentation and Mondo usually always nails it. Usually. Eric Powell’s artwork on the cover is cool and kinda has a comic book style to it, showcasing the two heroes, Lance and Bill, albeit muted colors and to be honest, that’s the start of my disappointment with it. Contra is bright and colorful, full of Alien-esque creature designs and very little of that is present on the cover. Sure, the background behind the two muscle clad, gun toting protagonists shows a little bit of that, but there’s more negative space to be filled that should have been used with HR Giger imagery. It seems like halfway through creating an awesome cover, the artist ran out of time or just called it quits. Again, I’m not complaining about the quality, because I think it’s quite phenomenal, but underwhelming when you consider the source material.

The inside of the jacket is something that would jump at you out of your nightmares. Fold it open and the mother or queen, whatever it was called, dominates both sides and looking to be ready to jump out at you. I really like being able to see the sketchy pencil marks underneath the finished product, giving it a grittier look, but again, it’s just muted colors. Maybe I’m misremembering Contra, but the back cover shows maybe I’m not. That is more in line of what I’m talking about.

San Diego Comic Con goers had the option of getting an exclusive tri-color vinyl with red, orange and yellow, but personally I prefer the pressing that is available which is the classic blue and red. It represents the Player One and Player Two colors that dominated Nintendo games. It’s bright, vibrant and basic. It works so well.

I could go on forever about the Contra soundtrack, but then I would just be going in circles. For most of us that grew up with the arcade and Nintendo, this is one of the most definitive soundtracks to your childhood. I think it goes beyond playing into nostalgia… it’s just a kick-ass soundtrack that every collection needs.