Bit-History: Contra III – The Alien Wars

If this game requires an introduction, YOU require a smack upside your head.  This was, hands down, probably the best action game the SNES had to offer.  Almost everything that made the original NES game a success has been improved upon here, and it can be a punishing experience if you don’t have lightning-quick reflexes (and even then, you might not be able to save yourself).  There are some minor grips that I have, but they fortunately don’t bog down the experience as a whole.

Story?  What story?  I mentioned this in an earlier Bit-History in regards to Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, but back during the days of the SNES, games didn’t really need much of a story.  In Contra III, aliens show up and try to take wipe us out of existence, and our job is to mow anything down that moves with hot lead, or lasers, or whatever else happens to fall from the sky.  Yeah, it’s cliché and couldn’t be more tired a premise, but none of that really matters.  Contra III aimed to be an explosive experience from beginning to end, and that’s precisely what it delivered.

From minute one, you’re encouraged to unleash with the fire button and never let up.  There’s a small car in your way – Do you jump over it, or do you fire hell upon it until the damn thing blows?  This is Contra… of COURSE you annihilate it.  Why?  Because Contra, that’s why.  Enemies begin to rush, shoot and nade you from every angle.  Weird demon dogs/cats chase you down… but whatever.  Who cares?  You jump in a tank and plow through everything that stands against you.  A small building stands in your way?  No problem… the tank blows it a fiery kiss and in an instant, the construct vanishes.  Only a few minutes of gameplay, and one thing has been made crystal clear – This is the ultimate action experience, so you better strap your Depends on get ready for the ride, because you’re going to be crapping bricks for the foreseeable future.  After this, the first stage only delivers larger set-pieces – A plane drops huge casing in your vicinity, turning the ground beneath your feet into a flaming inferno.  A tank with alien technology bursts through a building and corners you.  A monstrous alien turtle bursts through a concrete wall and wants to make you its bitch.  You realize this is the end of the stage, and you can’t wait to see what the game has for you next…

…and then the second stage begins…

What a disappointment in contrast.  It’s a top-down view of your Rambo-esque dude on the weirdest highway you’ve ever seen.  The bad guys are swarming everywhere, and your job is to run around without any linearity, and take out all the enemy hideout points on the map.  Then, we tackle a big boss, and finally begin another kick-ass stage with traditional platforming.  Contra III keeps switching back and forth between both styles of gameplay, and this is my one major gripe about the experience as a whole.  You go from pushing forward platform style, kicking constant ass without taking as much as a microsecond to even think about it… to performing mundane busywork with controls that don’t feel very ‘natural’.  Honestly, it’s as if the devs said:

“Hey, we have a bunch of cool levels that remind us of classic Contra, but the game is kind of short.  Coming up with cool new levels would take a lot more time than we have… so let’s create some generic top down level action for filler, because we can use most of the same environmental textures over and over again.  We won’t have to pump a lot of effort into creating a new stage from scratch!”

This is what the internet would call, ‘epic fail’.  These tacked-on levels weren’t fun, and only served to piss me off until I was able to get back into the ‘real’ game.  Pretty much everything looked the same in these levels, and the only possible way to figure out your location was by pulling up a map.  This only served to pull us out of the action that much more.  What were they thinking?  Why chop the game up like this?  Didn’t they realize they could have ruined the game?

Well, fortunately, the primary levels were so loaded with awesome, the game as a whole didn’t suffer nearly as much as it could have.  As a matter of fact, the traditional platform stages were so incredible, they did a fantastic job of getting the awful taste left in my mouth by the atrocious top-down segments.  This game managed to rise above that nonsense because ‘big’ wasn’t good enough for the devs.  No… they needed every event to be HUGE – One level you’re facing a huge robot that fills the entire screen, shooting lasers from its eyes and trapping you in close quarters with a bunch of devices that go ‘boom’.  Another has you riding on a motorcycle, taking enemies down both on the road and in the sky.  Eventually you find yourself a different ride by hanging on to a missile with one hand… and you have to keep jumping from missile to missile before they have a chance to hit the big bad boss in the sky.  Eventually you make your way through the aliens lair.  Is it all over the top?  Oh hell yes, but that’s just how Contra rolls, and this installment on the SNES has perfected the formula… well, at least in the traditional platform levels.

Throw on an emulator or drag your old SNES out of the closet and play a handful of SNES games… and then pop in Contra III.  The game holds up extremely well, and you may find yourself in awe at just how much they were able to fit into this game.  It’s probably one of the most impressive SNES titles there is, at least from a graphical standpoint.  I mean, at any given time, there’s a LOT going on, and the game never really suffered from a frame rate drop unless you were using one of your ‘practically eradicate anything on-screen’ kaboomers.  You know what secret weapon I’m talking about… the one most of you probably saved until you reached the final boss of the stage.

Much like my earlier Bit-History comment for Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, this is one of the few games on the SNES library that I constantly find myself going back to, even to this day.  It’s not complicated, it’s eye popping and incredibly satisfying when you need that adrenaline kick in a game, and really doesn’t take that much time to beat (if you can beat it in a single sitting, that is).  I could probably get Alzheimer’s in my old age, and still remember every second of the experience that Contra III has left imprinted in my brain.  If you haven’t played it just yet, you’re missing out on the best Contra EVER had to offer… and although some of you may find that blasphemous due to your nostalgia for the original NES classic, just suck it up, and accept this as the superior game.

My next Bit-History will be something a bit more modern.  Stay tuned to my crappy blog to find out what it will be!

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