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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Retro Review Tuesday: The best Contra III review ever

Something I've wanted to do for a long time is write vintage game reviews for a blog. So, in order to make my dream a reality, we're going to be attempting to post a new review every Tuesday. Our first one is a guest review by my awesome brother(though I helped a tiny bit with some wording and editing), mentioned previously in this blog, and focuses on one of the hardest games ever to grace the SNES, Contra III: The Alien wars. I can say without a doubt (and without bias) this is the best, most comprehensive Contra review you will ever read. It is so full of awesome that you would be overwhelmed if you were to read it all at once so it will be split into two parts.

So without further dawdling here's part I of the best Contra III review ever written:


Around fifteen years ago on a wet and gloomy morning, a main video game developer at Konami woke up late. He was in such a rush that he accidentally put body-wash in his hair, instead of shampoo. Getting out of the shower, he slipped on the edge of the tub, totally racking himself. In his haste, he spilled piping hot tea all over his outfit. He missed his train and ran a mile to his office. There, he got a call from his wife. Shame or not, she was leaving him and taking their son after his immense loss from the stock market. It all became too much. The world would feel his vengeance for this unbelievably unbearable day. They would all pay. At the weekly brainstorming session, the disgruntled developer begins to put his vindictive plan into order.

Contra III is introduced.


First, a bit of Nostalgia, Contra III features many cameo appearances from past enemies. These instances include: two incarnations of the Stage One boss, the final boss from Super C, and a newly tricked-out version of Super C's Stage Six boss. The warm fuzzy feelings of nostalgia are nice before you realize that these enemies have now subscribed to Contra III's policy of "Take no Prisoners or Distinguishable Corpses."

Contra III - The Alien Wars is easily the most difficult chapter the already trying Contra series has enjoyed within its legacy. It will take you, hurt you, abuse you, and laugh in your tear-drowned face. Even the all-new even deadlier weapons and the luxury of being armed with two interchangeable guns won't soften the blow to your self-esteem that this game brutally delivers. With two fewer levels than the Original Contra and Super C, Contra III - The Alien Wars does to you in six levels what its predecessors couldn't do in a sum of sixteen.

Oh, and the Konami Code, that guardian angel of vintage gamers everywhere, has no power in this godless realm.



Contra III follows the basic side-scroller game layout of the earlier games in the series, down to the occasional top-down view levels a' la Super C. Both level types display number of lives, weapon type, and number of smartbombs. On the main, side-scrolling levels, the classic "gun-'n'-run" principle applies, with a boss waiting for you at the end of the line.

On the top-down view levels, you are granted full control of movement (Forward, Backwards, left, Right), and you must located and destroy certain targets before you are given access to the level's boss. A map flashes onto the screen before you begin to play the top-down levels, allowing you to choose where in the level you would like to begin, and showing you where the main targets are located throughout the area. When playing two-player, you have the option to play these levels Split-screened, allowing both players to wander, freely (2 Player mode A) and with both players confined to the view of one full screen (2 Player mode B).


Unlike the previous Contra games, Contra III allows you to choose the difficulty of the game (Easy, Medium, and Hard), and the amount of lives per continue. Easy is damn-near impossible, Normal is virtually impossible, and as far as I know, Hard is just impossible.

You may also alter the sound style (Stereo/Mono), Which is probably the only part of the game where you're really in control, ever.


As in the classic Contra Games, your character can run forward, turn around, jump and duck. New to Contra III, your character can also hang onto and move along railings and ceilings, and climb up the sides of certain structures (it's not always clear which ones you can and can't climb).

In top-down levels, you can move forward, backwards, strafe left and right, and turn to the left or right. These levels can be difficult to get used to do to the strange controls.

Pushing left or right on the Directional Pad will cause you to strafe in the respective direction. To actually turn and aim that way, you need to push L or R (left and right, respectively). Jump has been replaced by the less-effective crouch in these levels, disabling you from movement while you're on the ground.

You can shoot ahead, up, down, diagonally up and diagonally down. You can also shoot in any of these directions while in the air, or hanging. You now carry two guns which you can change between to decide the best weapon for the given situation. You could use the perennial Spread Shot for clearing out a group, or switch to the unrelenting power that is the Laser for a concentrated attack on an enemy's core. When the player loses a life, the gun that was highlighted is also lost, but not the one in reserve. So for example, if you have both the Laser and the Spread Shot, and you're using the Laser, if you die, you will lose that gun, but the Spread Shot will still be available. You can then choose to switch to that gun, or just continue your battle with the default gun. If you push both L and R and the Fire button, your character will jump in the air, firing both guns in a spinning-attack*, with rounds flying every which way.

On a top-down level, this attack is a stationary spin from the ground. If the player holds down the dual-gun command in these levels, the attack is non-stop until the player lets go of the controls. Beware - if you die while highlighting both guns at once (It can be down without attacking) you will LOSE BOTH GUNS.

You cannot perform this technique if you're hanging on a railing/ceiling/wall or crouched in a top-down level.

*It should be noted that while is does turn you into a whirling ball of death, I've never found a realistic or useful time to perform the dual-gun technique however, performing it with Fire loaded in each barrel does look pretty spectacular.


Contra III exhibits the classic weapons you remember from the past games, along with some of its own new arsenal. Here, the weapons are all listed, in order of their appearance, and broken down into their strengths and weaknesses, as well as the alternate effect(s) that some enjoy (or rue...) in the top-down areas (levels 2 and 5).

Default: Contra III finally figured out that if two guys are going to save the Earth from diabolical, ruthless invading Aliens, they're probably going to bring more than just a semi-automatic rifle. And thus, there is no Machine Gun pickup in this game, as it is your default weapon, firing at about 3 times the rate as the old Machine Gun. Don't get too excited, however. Although this gun does have a truly incredible rate of fire, it is still very weak. However, you will find more than one situation where the default weapon proves more useful than the others, even the Spread Shot. Like the original Contra games, you start off with this gun, and when you die, it resets to it.

Level 2 & 5: Basically the same thing. The shot travels for a bit then disappears into an unfilled circle, like any classic shooting game has taught us.

Shield: Going all the way back to the original Contra, nobody, probably not even the game developers, knows what the hell "B" stands for on this pickup. Nevertheless, in this updated version of the shield will surround your character in a blue aura, protecting you from all enemies and attacks, and destroying the hostiles that touch it. The aura will turn red when it's about to expire, a feature that would have been very convenient in the old games.

Level 2 & 5: Other than an inexplicable change to a different, less-cool color, this is essentially the same thing.

Smart Bombs: The falcon-shaped, flashing, classic smart bomb that destroyed all on-screen enemies in the classic Contra games now takes the shape of a small nuclear bomb that is collectible and detonated at the player's discretion. An alternating red and yellow energy sphere forms around you and gradually spreads throughout the screen, destroying/damaging all enemies on the screen until it is spent. These are generally a desperation weapon, used when you're surrounded with nowhere to go, need to hit an extremely elusive target, or, more commonly, when you accidentally press "A." Be aware though that your count goes back to one when you lose a life, nice if you had none, not so nice if you had four.

Level 2 & 5: Same thing. Virtually no change.

Spread Shot:
If you've beaten Contra or Super C, this gun is why. Appearing in a pair early in the first stage of Contra III, you have the option of equipping both barrels with this classic multi-shot bad boy. Unlike the original games, the Spread Shot is now somewhat automatic, firing in very quick bursts of two to three belts (fully automatic in close-quarter situations). There is a slight pause after this, which, due to the high-speed environment of Contra III can be a very fatal quarter of a second. Due to that, it's sad to say that the Spread Shot, the gun that saved your ass (admit it) in the classic NES Contra games, doesn't quite live up to the demands of Contra III's relentless onslaught. It is still a useful pickup, good for close-range battles with high-HP enemies, but in multiple situations, this gun is easily traded for another.

Level 2 & 5: Strangely, it's commonly seen releasing three-shot belts to the usual five, the top-down Spread Shot's lack of radius is made up for in its newly acquired fully-automatic properties only truly enjoyed in these levels, making it a noticeably more useful weapon here.

Heat Missiles - A gun new to the Contra series (Unless you count Contra Force, but nobody else did and you shouldn't either), the Heat Missiles prove useful in many situations with their fully-automatic nature, considerable rate of fire, and their homing qualities. The main drawback here is that when battling a boss with multiple targets, these guys don't exactly go for the target you'd prefer, so it's best to use these doing normal gameplay, and trade up when approaching a boss.

Level 2 & 5: You're basically dealing with the same thing. Not much changes here, other than the view.

Laser: Like its classic incarnation, the Laser is a gun of exceptional power, great for use on the core area of boss enemies. The beam damages stronger enemies several times before disappearing, and passes right through weaker enemies. However, with this great power comes foreseeable sacrifices in other areas of performance. The Laser's rate of fire is the lowest in the game, and its beam moves notably slower than the rounds of other weapons, leaving the player vulnerable to enemy attacks between shots. Though it is still much swifter than in Contra and Super C.

Level 2 & 5: This gun is nothing short of a beast in these levels. The slow, separate beams have been transformed into one everlasting, steady beam, quickly eradicating any hostile that crosses it. With all of its original power, the shortened range of the Laser's shot is a small price to pay for this kind of devastation.

A final note on laser, it cannot be ignored, that the new sound has been reduced to an electronic whine, a lamentable change from the classic MUCH more "badass" sound of Contra and Super C.

Cluster Bomb: Contrary to the opinion of the annoying man from the PSP commercials, Cluster bomb is not always the answer. In fact, in Contra III, it is arguably the most useless weapon in the game in most situations.
This gun, on average, shoots in bursts of three to five rounds then pauses and the bombs don't generally span the entire screen's length before detonating. Although quite powerful, more so than the laser even, with its less-than-desirable rate of fire, and lack of range, the Cluster Bomb is a weapon that's usually collected by falling on it.
However, there are very specific situations where the Cluster Bomb proves absolutely invaluable, such as the Boss at the end of the first stage, or the fourth Mini boss on the final stage of the game.

Level 2 & 5: The main difference here is that this weapon might be even MORE useless now, although it is pretty good for use on the giant centipede things.

Fire: First available in Level Two, the weapon that was possibly the most useless special weapon in the earlier Contra games has now proven to be possibly the most potent weapon in Contra III. Designed like an actual flamethrower for the first time, this gun boasts the ability to fire non-stop and pass though surfaces, making difficult targets nothing to blink at. The Fire's short range rarely proves to be much of a problem, although its slow changing of direction can occasionally prove detrimental.

Level 2&5: Only in these levels can the Fire be topped by the nearly unstoppable Laser. However, this gun should still be sought after here, exhibiting great performance clearing out many small enemies to taking down stronger hostiles. It's especially useful for its valuable surface-disregarding properties while fighting Level Two's boss.

Tank: For a brief time in Stage One, you have the option to ride some of it out in a tank. The tank will function until it is destroyed by enemy fire, or until it gets to a certain point - whichever happens first. Pressing the fire button shoots the tank's large gun, a blast so powerful, it blows your vehicle back a few feet, and levels the vintage Contra base-bosses in one shot.
In my opinion, it's best to just run down enemies, and not waste time firing the gun. Then take one shot at the upcoming base.

That's it for Part I come back next Tuesday for part II featuring more screen shots, more details, more bosses and more punishment. PART II NOW POSTED


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