In this new feature, I’ll be taking a look at memorable power-ups and upgrades from video games past and present. These could range from classics like Pac-Man’s power pellet to more modern power-ups like perks in Call of Duty. If it’s interesting, I’ll cover it.
To start things off I take a look at a power-up dating back to 1987. In a game where enemies bull rush you and bosses fill the screen, there is only one choice for total proliferation. If your style of extraterrestrial extermination calls for no less than 45 degrees of death, then click continue for more.
As the epic Contra alien war begins, soldiers Bill and Lance trot off to battle with a couple of glorified pea-shooters they call rifles. As they somersault through the air and flex their muscles, the duo unloads round upon round into the opposing forces. Occasionally, floating blimps snake through the jungle sky, enticing the commandos to train their sights on them. As the mysterious dirigibles explode, winged letters fall to the ground. ‘R,’ ‘F,’ ‘L,’ ‘M,’ ‘B,’ and finally ‘S.’ Bill loads the ‘F’ into his rifle and instantly grimaces in dismay as his flamethrower spews spiraling flames over an enemy’s head. The enemy then bull rushes Bill and chews his face off. Lance, leaping over Bill’s fallen body, loads ‘S’ into his rifle and unleashes a battle-cry that makes Chuck Norris’ testicles recede, as he saturates the screen with an impossibly wide bullet spread. This is the glory of Spread.
The Spread power-up is perhaps the most notorious in the entire Contra series, and for good reason. Contra games are known for their punishing difficulty, with bullets and enemies threatening death from all angles. With Spread, you are able to turn the tables. Suddenly, the bullets which crowd the screen are from the barrel of your gun, and the fear of failure is replaced with the rush of domination. Don’t get cocky however. Though your bullets now outnumber the enemies’, it becomes increasingly difficult to discern their bullets from your’s.
As with any Contra, the game is simply more fun with a friend. Obviously cooperation is key during any alien genocide, and for the most part deciding who gets a Laser or Machine Gun is trivial. The reason there is no fuss over power-ups like the Flamethrower or Rapidfire is because, deep down, every Contra player knows that they are rubbish next to the coveted Spread. Each gamer is simply holding out until an ‘S’ appears, then they spring into action and recklessly somersault after it for fear that it will fall off the screen or into the hands of the other player.
Spread stands out among not only the power-ups of Contra, but of all games, as it turns a vexingly challenging situation into a fair fight. If not for the existence of Spread, Contra would have been an entirely different experience, and perhaps one that we wouldn’t look back as fondly upon. For example, in Contra: Shattered Soldier Spread mysteriously disappeared, and its absence was accented by the punishing difficulty of the game.
So the next time you’re trudging through the battlefields of Super C or Contra 4 and getting your ass handed to you, just imagine what it would be like without Spread.
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