Back when I worked at 1UP.com, some wise guy had hung a printout of the arcade flyer for Contra up in the production team's cubicle.
It was hardly uncommon to see classic game-related artwork around the office, of course, but this one stood out a little more than your usual Super Mario sprites or ironic Mega Man box art:
Someone in Konami's marketing department in the '80s evidently decided that selling a brilliant game about tough guys with big guns blowing up slime-covered aliens on its own was too difficult, so they did the car magazine thing and instead sold the game with a cute girl posing by the arcade cabinet. This practice wasn't too far out of the ordinary. Arcade flyers were aimed at distributors and arcade owners, not gamers themselves, so it makes sense that game manufacturers would resort to appealing to what was predominantly a demographic of middle-aged white dudes with young, sexed-up women. It worked for Camaros -- why not Contras, too?
Over the years, as I've made use of Arcade Flyers' fantastic resources while working on and researching various game retrospectives, I've hardly been surprised to see Contra's arcade flyer tactics pop up time and again, especially in Konami's own materials. While the company's Japanese and European flyers almost always revolved around original packaging and concept art or just screenshots, Konami's American marketing usually involved hilarious photo shoots of models dressed as characters from the games in question. And more often than not, pretty women were involved.
I've never seen the Contra lady herself in any of Konami's other flyers, but her outfit? You'd be surprised by how frequently it shows up. Specifically, her "torn" olive drab crop-top T-shirt resurfaces in a surprising number of Konami arcade promos throughout the latter half of the 1980s -- and I don't mean a shirt like the one she's wearing, but the exact same shirt. I can't tell if it's a case of a marketing guy who had one idea ("Military game? Sell it with a sexy girl! And put her in that little olive drab number!") or just a shockingly limited wardrobe budget, but the Contra model's shirt shows up for more games than Konamiman himself.
I've dug through Arcade Flyers' Konami section to chronicle exactly how many times this article of clothing appeared in the company's ads. Lest you think this was just an excuse for me to ogle slim women with gigantic '80s hair, remember that Konami produced hundreds of flyers in the '80s, and most of them looked more like Punk Shot's flyer than Contra's.
In other words, this was actually an excuse for me to laugh and laugh and laugh.
Properly speaking, the Contra crop-top actually made its debut in a flyer for Top Gunner, a game that showed up in 1986, a year before Contra. You may never have heard of "Top Gunner," but that's because it's better known by the alternate name they used for its NES release: Jackal. I guess when Konami locked down the legitimate Top Gun license for NES they felt a little embarrassed about their blatant trademark infringement.
There's something tragically depressing about this image. Look at the way the model is leaning away from the chubby guy behind the wheel, and the way he grimly accepts his beta male status. But don't feel bad for him: I'm pretty sure he went on to become the patron saint of Nice Guys who blog indignantly about being friend-zoned. He'll live forever in the hearts of everyone who frequents r/chubbyniceguyonthetopgunnerflyer.
The "big-haired brunette in the olive crop top" theme appeared again a year after Contra with the obscure arcade shooter Ajax. Do you get the sensation that someone in Konami's marketing had a bit of a hang-up?
This time, the model was inexplicably doing a pole dance on a mounted M60 emplacement. In case you ever suspected that being a helicopter door gunner was the cushiest role in the Vietnam War, this seals it. I'm absolutely positive that no one else in East Asia wore patent leather heels into combat.
It took a few years, but finally the model gets to be part of the action rather than just posing as eye candy. For the Devastators flyer, the model is actually cast as a player character holding a smoking weapon, having just blown a painting of a Soviet chopper to smithereens and clearly loving the hell out of satisfying her bloodthirst. Blondes really do have more fun.
By this point -- 1989 -- the poor olive drab crop-top was three years old and had seen action in a number of war theaters, from Vietnam to Galuga Island. Surprisingly, despite putting in so much combat time, its jagged bottom edge shows no more wear than it did in its Top Gunner debut; the pattern of torn fabric remains exactly the same as before.
And that's what makes the poster for 1989's M.I.A.: Missing in Action so clever. Konami's one-track marketing guy returned to the well for another sexy military photo tableau, but wait! Where's the crop top? That's right, it's... missing in action.
There are a lot of things wrong with this flyer, from the fact that the two dudes are regarding the model like a piece of sex meat, or the fact that they're supposed to have been the ones mistreated in a jungle cage for god knows how long and yet she's the one who looks emaciated. At this point I think we can safely say the olive crop-top was single-handedly responsible for keeping Konami's arcade flyers restrained and tasteful, and its absence is definitely felt here.
Also, I can't tell if the female heroine here is actually incredibly tall compared to the sleazy prisoners of war she's just rescued, or if that's just a trick of perspective caused by the application of enough hairspray to her bangs to tear the ozone layer over Antarctica a new one.
With the arrival of the 1990s, Konami finally locked down the Aliens license and could finally stop peddling their blatant, off-brand Contra ripoffs. (Just kidding! The Contra games are a lot more fun than Konami's Aliens.) At this point, I guess Konami's marketing guy finally decided they could afford to invest in a new tank top for their military-themed model shoots. So while they couldn't afford to find someone who looked even slightly like Sigourney Weaver -- the one place that ad executive's fixation on tall, slim brunettes would have made sense! -- they could at least buy Not-Ripley a fresh change of clothes. Not only is it not torn, it's also grey... just like everyone's space underwear in the Alien films. That's verisimilitude.
But wait. For a new garment, doesn't that tank seem a little ill-fitting on the model? As if it had been stretched out around the chest and shoulders?
Yeah, that's because it's a hand-me-down from one of these beefcake dudes from the Super Contra flyer, shot two years before. Before the Aliens flyer's "Riplicant" donned this tank top, it had been stretched across the sweaty, oily torso of one of these guys. Presumably the slimmer guy (who clearly has never held a weapon in his life) rather than the massive David Hasselhoff clone behind him.
Wait a second -- was that actually David Hasselhoff, slumming for work between Knight Rider and Baywatch? I'm going to assume yes until someone can prove otherwise.
Either way, poor Pseudo-Ripley. I hope to god they washed that shirt between shoots.
All images sourced from Arcade Flyers.