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Contra is a platform shooter with five distinct levels. Starting with a jungle theme, players must make their way through the increasingly high tech and alien enemy and level designs. The first, third, and fifth levels are more traditional side scrolling shooting stages. In these stages players must move from left to right shooting or evading all enemies before confronting an end boss, which must be defeated to advance.
The second and fourth levels, on the other hand, are pseudo 3D stages. Players watch the game from a camera view situated behind and above their characters. In these levels players must move into the screen through a series of rooms. Protecting each room are guards and turrets in the background as well as an electric barrier that prevents players from moving forward.
Players can move from side to side, duck, and can also jump sideways. By destroying a special target at the far end of the room, players can disable the electric field and proceed into the next room. At the end of the pseudo 3D stages players will fight bosses in a vertical shooter style board. Players can only move their characters left and right at ground level, and must shoot straight up to defeat the enemy boss characters from above.
The player-controlled characters are very vulnerable, as they die with one hit from any enemy units. But by shooting and collecting certain pods, players can equip their characters with different types of weapon upgrades that replace their default single-shot rifles.
Weapons available include an automatic rifle, a spread shot, a long laser gun, a short laser gun, and a flamethrower. These upgrades have unlimited ammunition, and players lose them only when their characters die. ~ Kyle Knight, All Game Guide