Sound Card 012: Rocked and loaded!
In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the greatest run and gun videogame series ever, Allistair Pinsof ranked the top five Contra games. But what is a game without a kickass soundtrack to back it up? Nothing, that's what!
Contra games are balls hard, so the music needs to fill you with the strength to tackle impossible odds without fear or hesitation. From electronica to hard rock to symphonic orchestrations, every note imbues you with confidence -- and maybe a little bit of bravado as well.
Get ready to attack aggressively with the top ten Contra songs of all time!
10. "Venus" - Contra: Shattered Soldier (PS2)
Shattered Soldier's soundtrack blends pulse-pounding techno, produced by Konami musician Sota Fujimori, with face-melting metal, done by none other than the legendary Akira Yamaoka. Contra gave Yamaoka a chance to let his inner metalhead out, which would surprise those who only know him for his much more atmospheric work on the Silent Hill series.
The intro theme, "Venus," sets the tone for the rest the game -- a much darker, grimier Contra then you've ever played before. That intensity comes at a price: the soundtrack as a whole is very repetitive and doesn't lend itself well to standalone listens. But as the backdrop to your alien-murdering rampage, it will make you feel like a god.
9. "Alien Hive" - Contra 4 (DS)
WayForward knocked the ball way out of the park with Contra 4. It is the most consistent game in the entire series, enhanced even further by Jake "virt" Kaufman's stellar soundtrack, which heavily re-interprets classic Contra tunes while adding plenty of amazing original numbers.
"Alien Hive" may be the penultimate level, but its music makes it sound like heroes Bill Rizer and Lance Bean's final assault. It is intense and furious, made all the more haunting with sound bites of people shrieking in despair. And if you want to hear an even more amazing version of this track, check out "Let's Attack Aggressively!" off the Contra 4 rock arrange album Rocked 'n' Loaded.
8. "Area 2" - Operation C (GB)
I'll never stop praising the incredible sound quality of the original Game Boy, so you better get used to my bringing up Game Boy music whenever I find an opportunity.
The soundtrack for Operation C, the portable side story between Super C and Contra III, consists almost entirely of re-arrangements from the two NES games. With one notable exception. And like the amazing tunes in Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge, it is so heavy on the bass that you could drown in it -- more proof that, if you are playing Game Boy without wearing headphones, you are doing it wrong.
7. "Ruins" - Hard Corps: Uprising (PSN / XBLA)
Hard Corps: Uprising may not be the most curious entry in the Contra series -- that distinction goes to Contra Force, which technically isn't even a Contra game at all -- but it is easily the most unique. Uprising takes the franchise in a whole different direction, fueled by a soundtrack composed by Daisuke Ishiwatari of Guilty Gear and BlazBlue fame.
Uprising features the same deft guitar work found in the venerable Arc System Works fighters, but the music that plays during the "Ruins" level is a little extra special. With the melodious incorporation of organ and piano sections, "Ruins" at first sounds like it could have been pulled out of a post-Symphony of the Night-era Castlevania. But then the crazy guitars come back and simply DO. NOT. QUIT.
6. "Boss" - Contra (NES)
Easily the most badass boss theme of any NES game, this piece of music lets you know that shit just got real. Even though it only lasts 35 seconds before looping, I could seriously listen to it on repeat all day. I wish I could replace other games' boss music with this one.
So why is it only played at the end of the two "Base" levels and nowhere else? I love the original Contra to death, but I can't forgive Konami for such a gross oversight. For shame!
5. "The Showdown" - Contra III: The Alien Wars (SNES)
If you ask me, I find the soundtrack to Contra III to be on the weak side when stacked against the rest of the series. Whereas Contra music is typically loud and rhythmic, Contra III's is a lot slower and more ominous, which I admit fits the game's apocalyptic tone. Some people swear by the music, but it simply doesn't feel like Contra to me personally. Which is probably why I don't remember Contra III as fondly as I do the other entries.
That said, the final battle music is insanely cool. You have to test you might against against a gauntlet of progressively more aggressive bosses, including a few familiar faces from the NES days. To reflect the multiple phases, "The Showdown" is split apart into three movements, each more intense than the last -- the Contra equivalent of Final Fantasy VI's "Dancing Mad." Nice.
4. "GTR Attack!" - Contra: Hard Corps (GEN)
I'm in the "Hard Corps > Contra III" camp. Furthermore, I believe that Hard Corps is the best Contra game period. I'm sorry if you disagree with me, but I couldn't give less of a damn.
Among its many triumphs over Contra III is its hard rock-dance soundtrack that puts the Genesis' FM synth sound chip through its paces. And among the game's many different boss themes, "GTR Attack!" stands head and shoulders above the rest. Like the NES Contra "Boss" music, it unfortunately only plays twice -- but one of those fights is against an incredibly cool endlessly transforming mechanical chimera, so I'll let this particular musical oversight slide.
3. "Jungle Normal" - Contra 4 (DS)
Paying homage to the original Contra "Jungle" theme is not an easy feat, but Jake Kaufman is not some bum off the street banging on a keyboard. He wanted to recapture that same feeling you got when you hopped off the chopper that first time back in 1988 (or 1987 for you arcade jockies) and felt empowered by the music. I'd like to think that he succeeded and more.
Fun bit of trivia: Did you know that the "Jungle Normal" theme is actually a shortened version of a Contra-inspired chiptune that virt released way back in 2002 called "Vile Red Falcon"? "Jungle Exploder," the "Jungle Normal" arrangement found on Rocked 'n' Loaded, is actually more based on the original chiptune than the Contra 4 version.
2. "Jungle" - Contra (NES)
It's one of the most iconic pieces of videogame music ever. Naturally, the classic "Jungle" theme would worm its way near the top of the list. No matter how many times I hear it, no matter how many times it's re-worked or remixed, it never gets old. I'm certain you all feel the same way too.
Trying to describe Contra's "Jungle" music is like trying to describe perfection. It simply can't be done. You just hear it and go, "Oh, totally! Yes! Yes! That's right!" The memories all come flooding back: the exploding bridge that sent you into the drink, the glory of the spread gun, the wall. Boys became men and the Konami Code became a playground mantra.
So why did I give it the #2 spot and not top honors?
1. "The Hard Corps" - Contra: Hard Corps (GEN)
This is why.
You begin with a shot of a city street overrun by robots, the skyline ablaze. Out of nowhere, you come barreling through in your armored truck, mowing the bastards down like weeds, until you collide into a broken-down car and fly through the windshield. You land unscathed, of course, and you proceed to blow everyone away. You rip apart a giant spider before an earthquake cracks the ground. A flame-throwing robot blocks your path, but you send it crashing into a building, knocking the structure over and giving you an incline to climb to the rooftops.
Miles in the distance, you see a towering cyclops razing the city with its eye beams. It spots you and immediately jumps to your location. The sheer power emanating from its body causes debris to levitate, and you must flying cars and laser beams. And that's just a mid-boss!
Meanwhile, the music is going BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! And you wonder why I'm calling it the best Contra song of all time!? It's read "hardcore" for a reason.
BONUS! "Simon 1994RD" - Contra: Hard Corps (GEN)
Even though "Simon 1994RD" is not in my top ten, there's no way I couldn't not mention it in an article about Contra music.
In Hard Corps' third stage, there is an alternate exit that takes you to a secret tournament. Your first opponent is a strange afro-headed man who is a cross between Castlevania's Simon Belmont and Japanese vocalist Masato Shimon; he tosses a fish cracker boomerang while a dance remix of "Vampire Killer" plays in the background. Afterwards, you fight an alien baby in a carriage, then a tear in the fabric of space-time sends you into the distant past where you marry a monkey.
God, I love this game.