Contra III: The Alien Wars review
More badass alien slaughtering action, ramped up for the SNES's pleasure
Contra 3 is what happens when you take the NES games, and ramp everything up - the technological stuff, obviously, and even the difficulty. I mean, usually, when it comes to newer consoles, difficulty tends to be watered down, but then you give Contra 3 a shot, and hot damn, this is hard as tits, which is a far cry from Super Castlevania 4, which was... well, at least the controls were better and you had access to an 8-way whip. But on top of being hard, Contra 3 is just balls to the wall *bleep*ing awesome.
Story: The alien race known as Red Falcon destroys a city on Earth, and war is now waged between the Earthican army and the Red Falcon army. It's up to two soldiers, this time Jimbo and Sully, to destroy all of the aliens. Contra was never really heavy on story, but rather, it prefers to be heavy on total badassery and Stallone movie antics, and this keeps up the tradition.
Gameplay: Being that this is Contra, you'll be expected to go from left to right, while shooting aliens to bits. However, as this is the Super Nintendo and Nintendo were pretty strict on violence back then (proof: Super Nintendo port of Mortal Kombat has no blood), don't expect shot aliens to explode into pools of blood and gore, not can you take out a chainsaw and carve them up like Christmas turkey; just shoot with energy pellets and they'll implode. Unlike previous instalments, there's more to each level than just running and gunning; you can also grab onto and climb certain walls, or navigate through some poles like they were monkey bars, and sometimes take control of tanks. Some levels even involve you hanging onto a series of missiles, riding on hovering motorcycles, and just generally being a badass - certainly more involving than just running and gunning, and that's what gives Contra 3 its edge over its predecessors; the want to be badass, the feeling of being badass, and the execution of total and utter badassery. I wouldn't normally use the word as much as I did here (especially in succession like that), but it's to emphasise what this game offers... so yeah.
Unlike the previous Contra games, you start off with a machine gun. No weak ass pellet shooters; they cut through the crap and just give you a machine gun. But that's not enough; you also get two different sorts of missiles (heat seeking and non-head seeking), a laser beam, a flamethrower, and the ever so awesome spread gun. On top of just getting upgrades, you can carry two at a time, and can switch on the fly, which makes things a bit easier as it was a pain in the ass when you accidentally picked up a machine gun upgrade while you had the spread gun, and thus lost the spread gun, but now, you can have a spread gun AND something else, though you lose the weapon you're using upon death (the usual one hit death rule applies here... this IS Contra, after all). AND on top of ALL THAT, you can collect and use bombs to obliterate enemies on screen! Bombs are few in number, so as you'd probably be able to guess, it's a last resort weapon. Seriously, this is what I call an upgrade!
As well as the usual sidescrolling levels, the overhead levels from Super C return.. with a vengeance! Instead of simply heading to Point B, you have to destroy targets laid out on the map while avoiding enemies. They don't sound quite as exciting, but playing them is a whole different experience, especially the second overhead level. Loads of enemies to take down while moving along with the shifting sands - definitely keeps you on your toes! I don't know though, the first overhead level may have lots of enemies too, some of which regenerate constantly, but they're easily disposed of, and offer little resistance (you could argue that all enemies are like this, but they're usually in bigger numbers which forces prioritizing, and you don't normally have the luxury of cover, meaning you had to be quick or be dead).
Of course, what's a badass without his/her prey? Well, most of the aliens are bullet fodder, with some that at least attempt to fight back, only to get shot in the face or on the kneecaps. The bosses are what's important anyway. Most of them are just a case of "shoot the weak point for massive damage" while dodging their attacks, although given their massive size, it can be tricky. Some breathe fire, some prefer to squash you, and most just shoot laser beams at you, because in the future, everybody has a laser gun on them, in one way or another..
Contra 3 is about six levels long. Certainly shorter than the other two NES games, but these six levels are *bleep*ing tough. Now, that's definitely an understatement when talking about a Contra game because the series is known for being hard as tits, but this game lets you know ahead of time that it's brutal and it will slaughter you if you're not ready. Enemies coming out of every orifice, many bosses to destroy, and god knows what else to conquer. The bike level requires a decent amount of trial and error as you'll spend your time there dodging obstacles, while the rest is just case after case of dodging projectiles and killing enemies. To make things better/worse, there is no 30/10 lives code; you're only entitled to up to seven lives, set up on the options menu before starting the game with five continues to back you up.
Don't worry, there's always some slick two player action for the game to keep you going. As you'd expect, it's you and a buddy against billions of aliens. But it begs the question - how do the overhead levels fare? Well, if you select Two Player A, the screen splits horizontally, and if you pick Two Player B, you both share the same screen, but the screen doesn't rotate; only the players. It's really a case of "pick what's more comfortable", because neither is technically "bad". Both are high functioning and can be fun in their own rights, but due to the fact that every game around the time that wasn't of the two player alternating variety, the split screens always worked best for me... but you don't care for my personal favorite, don't you...
Controls: The best way to describe Contra 3's controls are tight and responsive. Taking advantage of the SNES's extra buttons, now there's one for selecting weapons, and one for setting off bombs. Plus when you press L and R together, you can unleash a super attack by firing both guns at once, though you run the risk of losing both when you die during said attack. Where the shoulder buttons shine is in the smooth rotations in the overhead stages. But really, the controls are simple, nice and easy to get the hang of. The jumping always feels right as it's never too stiff nor too flexible, and.. well, that's really all that needs to be said about the controls - they work very well and won't *bleep* you over.
Graphics: The graphics are actually pretty slick. The animation is reasonably fluid with maybe one or two missing frames here and there (which was the norm for most retro games), while the colors are gloomy and depressing to give off the impression that it's war, war is hell, and that aliens taking over the world is bad. To make a nice contrast, the soldiers and aliens are a bit more saturated, and the soldiers are more colorful, so that they can be separated from the background. The actual detail is fairly impressive for an early-mid SNES game, with many little details in the background to take note of, and the mode-7 graphics (being present in the overhead stages), although not overly impressive, are at least done well enough to give off the illusion of rotation, so props to the graphics designers for that. The only problem I have with the visuals is that the bombs look more like trippy laser rock shows than actual explosions. It just never looked right, you know...
Audio: The soundtrack, if you could hear it in amongst the explosions and machine gun fire, is pretty good. It's mostly fast paced to get the blood pumping, especially considering that your time will be spent shooting aliens down. There's also a definitive motorcycle song found in the stage where you're riding the motorcycle at the beginning of the fourth level, giving you the feeling of being a badass motorcycle rider while shooting down aliens, and then there's the haunting theme of entering the alien base... let's just say that it really manages to set the tone with its unrelenting amount of ambiance. Really, all that's wrong is that it never sticks, mostly due to the domination of sound effects - which aren't too bad, but it's hard to really give them a decent evaluation beyond repetitive and just plain okay. They do their part and that's all that matters, really. They also like making it hard to hear the awesome soundtrack! Mother*bleep*ers!
Replay Value: After finishing the game, there's always the challenge of finishing it on hard mode with only three lives. All I can say for that is good luck. There's also the option to play alongside a second player, kicking ass together. Not much else beyond the fact that it's always nice to replay this game every now and again any time you feel like flexing your gaming muscles.
Overall: Contra 3 is just bloody awesome. It has a couple of blemishes, but overall, if you feel that your SNES is missing something, odds are, it's Contra 3 that it's missing. It's hard as all hell, but it pisses you off just enough to keep you coming, and no more than that... saying that, it did come close on a couple of occasions, but dammit, this is one of those games you should get to playing if you're looking for a challenge.
Replay Value: 6/10
About the author