Contra is one of the legendary franchises that captured our attention on the original Nintendo. There are very few of my childhood memories that compare to the time with my Dad spent blowing the hell out of alien scum on Contra and Super-C with the 30 lives code activated. So when the Super Nintendo came out and showed us the glory of 16-bit Mario, we just knew what this system had in store for us. While the Nintendo forged some of the greatest games and franchises, it would be the SNES that would sharpen and refine them to perfection. And we just knew Contra would be one of those games.
We were not to be disappointed. Contra III: The Alien Wars arrived shortly after the system’s release, blowing our collective minds with one of the finest run-and-gun games ever crafted. Right off the bat you are thrown into a war-ravaged city and tasked with killing your way through the end of the stage. It is in this environment that you begin to see the small yet welcome changes to the typically tough as nails formula. In the Contra tradition, one hit from any enemy kills you, but you now have a couple of things in your favor. Difficulty settings are added, giving you new enemies and adding attack patterns to bosses as you increase the skill setting. I love how much this increases the re-playability and changes the already frantic pace of the game. The addition of limited use smart bombs also add a level of strategy, letting you out of otherwise impossible situations should you get yourself in that position. But the best changes are how the weapons are handled. Contra III allows you to hold two weapons at once and switch between them as needed. Your starting gun has automatic fire, making it a decent choice for the first time. But for me, it was hard to get away from the combination of the homing missiles for regular bad guys and the laser for bosses.
Contra has always been known for throwing levels from non-side scrolling perspectives into the mix. In the original it was the 3rd person shootouts, and in Super-C they went with a top-down shooter. Contra takes the Super-C route, but instead of a straight up shootout, it goes in an enemy hunt direction. As far as these levels are concerned, I still think Super-C did it better, but these levels do grow on you. Maps are expansive and you get to choose where you are”dropped”, so the experience can change based on where you choose to land. Plus it’s a lot of fun to see the weapons translated into a top-down perspective, like the laser that shoots a solo beam in the side-scroller segments suddenly becoming automatic!
Ultimately it is the variety in scenarios that makes this game the best in the series. The game is one spectacular set-piece after another! Think of it as the movie Michael Bay WISHES he could make! On one stage you may be running-and-gunning, but on another you will find yourself in a motorcycle shootout. Levels also change their focus midway through. One minute you’re dodging a gunship’s attacks while riding a motorbike, and the next you are hanging from a helicopter fighting the same gunship! Or after fighting your way through a ruined city, a bomber jet strikes and sets the whole area on fire, forcing you to climb on the rubble to avoid the flames below. All of this is such a rush, culminating in a final level that will instantly bring anyone who played the first two games back to the 80′s, with a few new surprises.
No conversation about Contra III can be considered complete without a mention of the bosses. This game is packed with them to the point where some levels seem like nothing more than boss battle gauntlets. A great thing, considering Contra III has some of the most unforgettable bosses on the system. NO ONE can forget the first time they beat those cyborg twins on Stage 3. Then suddenly the wall behind them RIPS IN HALF as a giant cyborg appears and starts attacking! Or that giant mutated turtle thing! The way its body moved and the things that came out of it were just SICK! It is in these encounters that the game’s frantic combat and two-player capabilities shine. Each one takes a different strategy and pinpoint timing to destroy. And no two are the same.
Oh, and did I mention that this is a two player game? I shouldn’t have to since Contra is virtually synonymous with the two player experience. You will need that buddy with you for this one, as there is NO KONAMI CODE for the English version!!! To this day, my Dad and I never beat this on hard together because of this. It was just too much!
The game also looks GOOD with large sprites and impressive special effects that would make Die Hard proud. The game leverages the superior power of the SNES in a number of inventive ways, all geared towards gameplay. The levels themselves are pretty standard fare from a war-ravaged city to a steelyard that is being used in the enemies war effort. But with the SNES and its many tricks, Konami finds a way to make it feel fresh! No review of a Contra game would be complete without looking at the soundtrack,and yes it delivers here as well (It IS a Contra game). Some of my series favorites are here, from the Steelyard to the Alien Lair. Not to mention that the music that precedes your drop into the top-down segments is surprisingly catchy. Listen to it and you will never get it out of your mind!
At the end of the day you just have to keep one thing in mind: Contra III kicks major ass! Even if you don’t beat it, the game just compels you to try again with frantic action, menacing bosses, and the promise of an ever elusive alternate ending! It’s the kind of game that you cannot stop playing until you finally conquer it. Even if you never do, the insane bosses, great run-and-gun gameplay, and the ability to experience it all with a buddy (or your Dad!) make it all seem worthwhile regardless. Now if you will excuse me, I have to kill more of these alien scum! This is gonna be the day I finally beat this Game Over.
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