Fun Fact: While Gradius was the first game to feature the “Konami code” that gave the player extra lives, the code became synonymous with Contra as it was such a more difficult game.
Contra was a port of an arcade shooter. Up to 2 players controlled the Rambo-esque heroes Bill and/or Lance as they fought the armies of the alien Red Falcon. Most of the game played out in side-scrolling mode, but there were also third-person sections where the players fought their way through military bases.
There was no subtlety to Contra whatsoever. The name of the game was “shoot EVERYTHING.” One had to be able to jump and dodge enemies and bullets flying at them from both sides while also shooting and grabbing power-up capsules that floated by, and at the end of each level players had to face a boss which often required some modicum of shooting precision while also dealing with bullet hell.
The map designs began with military facilities but slowly transformed into organic, alien nests that drew no small modicum of inspiration from H.R. Giger (the designer of the original Alien creature). Contra was a glorious, early example of both how much fun shooters could be on the NES, and also of the quality titles that developer Konami would provide for the system.