In 1957, a meteor strikes South America, carrying with it a dormant alien lifeform. Thirty years later in 1987, the alien known as 'Red Falcon' has emerged from hiding to conquer the world. Mad Dog/Bill and Scorpion/Lance travel to the South American island to stop the evil threat.
Contra is a hectic one or two player platform shoot-em-up featuring five stages. Three of the levels are standard side-scrolling platform levels, while the remaining two are enemy 'bases'; third person into-the-screen stages in which players must run down series of heavily defended corridors to reach and destroy an end-of-level boss, before moving onto the next stage.
Each player's character is equipped with a semi-automatic machine gun with an unlimited amount of ammunition and can jump, move and fire in all eight cardinal directions. Players can also move and jump simultaneously while firing. Co-ordination of the character's movement is essential as a single hit from any enemy, bullet, or other hazard will instantly kill the player's character and also eliminate the current weapon from the player's inventory.
As players fight their way through the enemy-packed levels, additional weapons can be collected. If the player loses a life, they will also lose any weapon power-up they were carrying.
The storyline's setting of Contra depends on it's version. In the US version, the story takes place near the Amazon basin in South America in the year 1987. in Gryzor (the European version) and 'Kon-To-Ra' (Japanese), the story takes place near New Zealand's Gal Mosquito archipelago in the year 2633.
The kanji on the Japanese version title screen actually reads 'Kon To Ra', meaning 'Soul Big Dipper Gauze'. This is an example of 'ateji', in which Japanese artists use the phonetic value of a character to fit the game's name, allowing them to write the name in kanji as opposed to a kana. (arcade-history)