“Gryzor (Contra)” Review (ZX Spectrum / Arcade Conversion)

gryzor-movieWe were young, we were lightly oiled; we ran through villages spreading our disease of war. We screamed like wolves as the sun wept. Our weapons bellowed like dragons breath.  We cried in the mist like wounded pigs.  The people lay flowers before us as we wandered the land.  The rain washed our skin of guilt.  The echoes of bliss rang in our ears as our shots carved the landscape bare.  We stood in mirrored configurations with our mouths open in dramatic gurns of ecstasy.  Our headbands were drawn tight to bind our skulls to the heavens.  We were dancers.  We were GRYZOR… (or CONTRA depending on your postcode)

Gryzor – by Konami 1987

(Published by Ocean Software)
Converted by Paul Owens, Mark R. Jones, David Whittaker


“John? I know you love Gryzor John. I’M GONNA SHOOT YOU BETWEEN THE BALLS JOHN!”

I had a mate called Ben when I was about 9 and like most kids we had evil secrets that we kept to ourselves.  We were definitely not allowed to watch violent action movies starring Arnie and we certainly were not allowed to steal fivers from Ben’s house to squander down the arcades.  In fact to get to watch any of his Dad’s prized stash of video nasties we had to slowly migrate the tape through the house from the video drawer to behind the T.V. over the course of a week.  It was a rush to finally watch ‘Commando’ but a dreary week wasted replacing the tape in its rightful spot.

Contra Arcade game

You’ll need Contra-ception for this one.

Alas, something snapped; the spectacle of a heavily oiled and muscled manic toting a machine gun alerted my 9 year old mind to the place I needed to be in life.  But how?  I could not yet lift a machine gun so I did the next best thing and played Gryzor at home on my Speccy.

Now safely back in the year 2015 I recall with fondness my time with this classic title; a game suffering like many others, from a maxim found only in the arcade: YOU AREN’T MEANT TO GET PAST THE FIRST LEVEL.  That’s right, Gryzor is harder than a rock in a sock with no respite granted to the home market by those friendly programmers at Ocean.  Not that I’m knocking that classic Spectrum institution, especially given the involvement of graphical whizz Mark R. Jones and ubiquitous Muso David Whittaker.  It’s just I think Konami knew that nobody would play for longer than five minutes, so instead of designing later levels, they just gaffa-taped in the queen from Aliens.  Don’t believe me?  LOOK AT THE LOADING SCREEN THEN.

Gryzor ZX SpectrumEveryone remembers the opening sequence to Gryzor.  You sprint through a wooded area towards the right.  A few pellets emerge from your barrel (erm).  An enemy or two run into the path of said pellets and immediately perish.  A power up appears above your head and you shoot it to reveal its contents.  You come to a bridge.  Bridge blows up.  Eventually you arrive at the enemy base where the action changes pace and you wreak havoc within the walls of the compound, spreading devastation through the corridors from a snazzy over the shoulder P.O.V.


Like an “endless runner” game but with an end

Gryzor is classic stuff, and I often loaded this one up in my Speccy to replay this scenario time and time again.  Play a bit longer and some clever boss battles ensue.  Some of the set-pieces are nicely inspired by vertical shooter action, with large enemies that take multiple stages of destruction to defeat.  Nice!  The gameplay and overall feel are very high quality, an accurate transposition of the arcade game which itself was extremely popular at the time.  I remember the game being EVERYWHERE in the late 80’s arcade scene, and to bring this title to your portable telly was a master-stroke by Ocean.

So here we are then, having a splendid time on a jaunty massacre through this colourful land.  It’s about level four now, and I think this game is really going somewhere special.  We’ve seen many strange and wonderful sights, and our weapons have inherited many new pellet juggling abilities.  But something strange is happening, the trees have receded like a salesman’s hairline.  The dramatic battles have given way to Track and Field style sprinting events.  It’s gone blue.  There is a large American footballer sprite trying to trample me.

Gryzor last level

Maybe it just wants to communicate ..? Hmm.. naah, DIE!!

I feel confused and slightly sleazy for a moment.  This game has gone sideways on me.  I close my eyes and a strange scent of gummy adhesive hits my nostrils.  Then BAM! I understand.  The gaffa tape moment is upon me once again.  I run further to the right until I reach the queen from Aliens.  ‘Hello again’ I say as the difficulty ramps up to 11.  ‘How did you get past the American Footballer?’  she replies as she squirts the face hugger thingies from Aliens at me.  I die a million more times and say, ‘My Emulator has a rewind function.  Hasta la Vista baby!’ as I finally fill her with enough pellets to send her into the sequel to the famous Aliens film.  Again.


Droves of kids were queuing up to play Gryzor after seeing Arnie in action, and they didn’t know why….

Well, there we have it.  Gryzor was a product of its time; a heady mix of sci-fi, action movies, and last minute political U-turns by the marketing department*.  I loved the game back in the day, and more recently bought a JAP PS2 re-release of the title with a mini DVD documentary and fancy little stickers (Oretachi Game Center if you’re interested).

I thought carefully about including the screen shot of the final moments of the game, the reward you earn for completing your deadly mission through space, time, and primary colour schemes.  But no, YOU must endure the wrath the early stages of Gryzor bestows upon you.  YOU must face the final curtain etc…….