Retro Game Collection

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Why Do You Play Video Games? A PBS Game Show Response

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Why do you play video games?

That question seems a bit absurd, I know, but I ask because every once in a while, I find myself in the thick of a quantity vs. quality debate. It’s an important conversation to have, for sure, as countless games have been padded to manipulate our perception of value. However, these discussions often take such a disheartening turn, that I can’t help but feel like I’ve wandered into an alternate dimension, one that could only befit an episode of The Twilight Zone. Expectations of gaming are going to vary from person to person, sure, but there are certain arguments I’ll just never be able to wrap my head around. Jamin Warren, host of the PBS Game Show, is my latest source of bewilderment, because he’s making the case that video games are too long.

I was intrigued to see if Mr. Warren could produce a reasonable argument in his video segment, but it took less than a minute before my eyes had rolled to the back of my skull.

To showcase the extreme amount of time we, as gamers, have to invest if we’re to play through today’s hottest games, he begins by pointing a finger at Forza Horizon 2, which takes about 10 to 15 hours to complete. Personally, I wouldn’t classify that as a long game, but to each their own.

Next, he brings up the considerably longer Grand Theft Auto V remaster, which boasts at least 30-35 hours of gameplay. Acknowledging he’s already played through the last-gen iteration, he’s still willing to tackle the lengthy heist drama once more.

Now, this is where my head begins to spin. Not because he’s willing to invest up to 70 hours on a single title, but because he’s already invalidated his opening argument. A 15 hour game is, apparently, too much to handle… yet he’s justifying a 35 hour game – twice, no less – merely because he likes it.

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Of course, in the same breath, he has to go that extra sensationalist mile with Dragon Age: Inquisition, as he says the prospect of its 40 to 80 hour campaign made him ‘weep inside’.

So, one 70 hour investment is fine, yet the other is not?

But then things get interesting:

“Games are, far and away, on average, longer than any other medium on the planet. For example, during the 276 hours that this Tumblr user spent playing Call of Duty, I could watch every movie on the AFI 100, finish the works of Tolstoy, and listen to most of the major works of 20th century pop music.”

He goes on to explain that while video games are a wonderful way to spend our time, it’s hard for a responsible adult to squeeze in such drastic minimum completion times, as we still have to juggle family, friends, work, etc. As a result, at least according to him, this is why only 10 to 20 percent of people ever complete their games. I’d like to respect the correlation he’s making, because there’s undoubtedly a link between completion rate and the amount of time people have in their day-to-day lives, but I have to wonder how sincere his ‘games are fine’ asterisk is when he follows up his train of thought with:

“So I can’t help but notice when I feel like games are wasting my time.”

He immediately goes into some explanation about how other forms of entertainment don’t require your undivided attention. You can simultaneously listen to music and read a book, for example.

Subjective.

I’ll agree that music can be more liberating than other media, but it depends on the person. There are plenty of people who don’t just use music as background noise, but as something to become immersed by. As far as books go, some can deal with distractions, while others can’t. Also, the pace at which each individual reads should be taken into consideration. According to my Kindle, I still have 13 hours left on a Stephen King novel I’m reading, but I’m sure there’s people who could probably knock it out in half the time. Film and television are also ingested in a variety of ways. Point is, no one person is alike, so blanket statements need to be left out of the equation, here.

He then states that the medium is experiencing a ‘crisis of audience’. Games now appeal to most age groups, and naturally, they all carry a different set of expectations based on their lifestyle. They all want different things.

That’s a crisis? We’ve reached a point in time where games aren’t seen by most as children’s toys… and that’s a crisis?

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

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There has ALWAYS been a great deal of diversity amongst video games. You could seek what lurks in the dungeons of The Legend of Zelda, or collect fruit in the preciously adorable Bubble Bobble. Enter a castle dripping with atmosphere in Castlevania, or hop on a pogo stick as ‘Unca Scrooge’ in Ducktales. Get your face hacked off by Jason in Friday the 13th, or roam around in Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Regardless of what someone sees through their rose colored glasses, there was a variety of gameplay at the ready, and not a single game was beloved by everyone. But, because video games have only become more diversified over time, there is something for everyone.

But, you know, that’s apparently a BAD thing.

Mr. Willen even goes as far to suggest that games come equipped with a story slider – very much like the ones we use for graphics and difficulty – to reduce or extend a game’s narrative. This would allow for any given game to adapt to what WE require, and not the other way around. For example, those who are turned off by the beefy Dragon Age campaign would now have reason to play it.

Now THAT’S a slippery slope if I ever heard one.

Let’s say they did this. Let’s say Dragon Age: Inquisition offered a ‘story slider’. If you abridged the story, you’d have to alter the game mechanics too, wouldn’t you? I mean, how could that even be done? The entire game would have to be re-invented multiple times to suit multiple types of gamers. Keep in mind the devs spent at LEAST three years to bring this game, as is, to retail. To ask that they retool EVERYTHING to appeal to whatever YOUR schedule dictates, would seemingly add a lot of unnecessary time – not to mention cost – to the development cycle. That means MONEY, Mr. Willen. Where would the cost of extra time and resources get passed down to? You guessed it. The consumer. Do we really need to give publishers another reason to inflate the overall cost of games?

Now, as far as game length is concerned… well, that’s nothing new, either. Many classic platformers can be beaten within a couple of hours, and there wasn’t much accommodation. Many of these games had no saves, no passwords, nothing. Just you, the controller, and whatever the game had in store. But we also had Final Fantasy VI (Final Fantasy III on the SNES), in which the primary quest could take 35 hours. Including side quests, you could easily have a 40 to 50 hour game on your hands.

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And besides, even the SHORT games could chew up lots of time. I mean, you can technically beat Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts in less than 2 hours, but personally, I’ve NEVER been able to beat that game legit. I still play it to this day though, and I’ve probably invested well over 100 hours of my life to it.

So, who cares if Dragon Age takes 40 or even 80 hours?

I understand that life doesn’t leave much time for gaming. Most nights I only play for an hour or two, and sometimes not at all. Does that mean developers should compromise their vision to appease me? Absolutely not. It’s no secret that Dragon Age, or many of the other lengthy games out there, require a substantial investment. If you don’t want to invest the time, then don’t. Don’t buy a game if you think it’s too demanding for your lifestyle. That’s the beauty of having so many diverse experiences available in the marketplace. If one game doesn’t meet your needs, there’s plenty that will.

As a side note, despite my lack of time, I still play really long games. If I want to play it, I see no reason to skip it. Sure, it’ll take an extremely long time to beat them, but I’m fine with that. I mean, what’s the rush anyway? To get it out of the way so I can move on to the next? Personally, if a game is fun enough, I’ll see it through to the end. Know when I will step away? When it stops being fun. Otherwise, I’ll be content knowing my $60 investment could last for MONTHS.

Anyway, Mr. Willen argues that even if you DO have a lot of time on your hands, it’s still a precious commodity that shouldn’t be wasted on side quests.

Again, subjective.

Who’s to say what should constitute a waste of time for ANY of us? Some people really like the side stuff, and for a variety of reasons, at that.

One person cannot judge how valuable a game’s content is, or isn’t, for anyone else. Same goes for our tastes in books, music, and film. Some think The Lord of the Rings – as written by JRR Tolkien – is a literary masterpiece. Others believe it’s needlessly padded with an overwhelming amount of detail. Some people prefer listening to single songs, while others prefer the experience of a complete album. You can’t please everyone, right? Right. So, let the artists bring their vision to the table, and let the consumer decide what’s right for them. There doesn’t need to be a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Choice is the spice of life, after all. But, hey, if that’s what you want, guess what? There’s plenty of games that already do that, and more are on the way.

Which reminds me that Mr. Willen conveniently ignores something else, though. If quick satisfaction is what you need, there’s already an entire market dedicated to you: Mobile gaming. If you own a tablet, phablet or cell phone, the options at your disposal are almost limitless. There are games that cater to those with only mere minutes to play. If you like the episodic style of Telltale Games, their titles are compatible with virtually every modern device. If you want truncated versions of major AAA console titles, mobile has that, too. Dead Space, Mass Effect, Battlefield, Hitman, Madden, Call of Duty, and Batman have all made the jump to smaller screens.

So, let’s address the elephant in the room: Is Mr. Willen even all that interested in gaming anymore?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying he needs his ‘gamer card’ revoked, or anything like that. But, what’s the most important part of any game? The gameplay… which is ironic, because this PBS Game Show host no longer seems to care about that aspect of the experience. No, he just wants to get in, get out, and walk away with a satisfying narrative… which is fine.

What’s NOT fine, however, is that he’s asking for a complete overhaul of the industry mold, and he’s doing so without considering the repercussions. I mean, let’s say developers around the world began catering to the ‘short and sweet’ crowd en masse. Polygon’s Ben Kuchera – who tends to agree with most of Mr. Willen’s argument – implies this could lead to consumer savings:

“A shorter game can be made for less money which leads to lower prices which means more people buy it… and so on.”

But does that even remotely echo reality? Mr. Willen’s specifically addressing AAA console games, but would publishers like Ubisoft, Activision and Electronic Arts REALLY reduce the price of their games if they cost less to produce? Of course not. One needs to look no further than Call of Duty, an annual franchise featuring 5 hour campaigns and a minimal multiplayer experience out of the box… unless you buy a season pass, of course. And yet, this game has the same MSRP as the time-consuming behemoth that is Dragon Age. If anything, I think these companies will stick with the $60 price tag regardless, and bank their savings from development to improve profit margins.

And since we’re talking about money, EA’s fiscal 2015 third quarter earnings call held some intriguing info about Dragon Age: Inquisition… You know, the game allegedly too daunting for the masses:

“Dragon Age: Inquisition captivated fans and critics worldwide as it launched in November, and it quickly became the most successful launch in BioWare history. More than 113 million hours have already been spent exploring the depth and detail of the single-player experience in Dragon Age: Inquisition, and more players are joining each day. Named “Game of the Year” by 32 media outlets around the world, including IGN, Game Informer and the Associated Press, Dragon Age: Inquisition is a true masterpiece from the team at BioWare and a game that is sure to be played for a long time to come.”

“In particular, Dragon Age: Inquisition had by far the most successful launch in BioWare’s history, exceeding our expectations. In addition, game sales for last-generation consoles were also much stronger than we had anticipated.”

“Outperformance versus our outlook was driven by the record-breaking Dragon Age: Inquisition performance.”

Not that there’s a strong correlation between game sales and game quality, as hype can go a long, long way… but Dragon Age is a well-established franchise. The devs themselves even more so, thanks to their success with the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Baldur’s Gate, and Mass Effect series. People knew what they were getting into.

More than anything, I think this shows that Mr. Willen doesn’t truly understand what gamers want… just what HE wants.

So, in retrospect, maybe the question isn’t why do YOU play video games – since we see the kind of a response that elicits – but why do WE play video games? As I’ve gone through painstaking detail to point out, there isn’t a simple answer for that. Never has been, never will be. We ALL have our preferences, and as we grow and mature, those preferences are likely to change. As a result, self-inventory should take a large role in our internal conversation, especially if you’re echoing the sentiment that games are too long, wasting your time, and find yourself rushing through them ‘just because’. Games should not be, as Mr. Willen puts it, a chore. Yes, some games are needlessly padded, but this happens across all mediums.

At the end of the day, it’s up to the INDIVIDUAL to decide what’s best for THEM.

New Year’s Non-Resolutions

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What’s the point in having a New Year’s resolution?  It’s easy to say, “I’ve learned a lot this year, and I’ll somehow apply that knowledge to make a ‘better me’ the next”, but I’m a bit more… realistic:

-The most common resolution?  “I’m fat!  I need to lose weight!”  Well, I’m a big guy that loves big food.  I will NOT be visiting ‘Camp Putdownadaforka’ in 2015.

-I could say I’ll work on propelling myself into a better job, but money isn’t everything.  I never work nights, weekends or holidays.  I don’t think it get much better than that!

-As for the money I DO make… yeah, I’m not much of a saver.  Not because I’m flat out terrible with money, but because I know how precious – not to mention fleeting – life can be.  So, I spend money on the things I enjoy.  I love taking my family to fun places, going out to restaurants, and my two favorite hobbies have always cost a fair amount of coin:  Film and video games.  I may not live in a mansion, but I lead a happy lifestyle.  What’s the point of having a wad of your cash in your pocket if you leave this life unfulfilled?

-People often vow to relieve themselves from stress in the New Year, but screw that.  “I will be less stressed” is a weak resolution, and furthermore, it’s odd.  Why would I cite myself as a source of stress?  For the sake of argument, let’s say I am.  Maybe I have a chemical imbalance and can’t help myself!  Nah, my stressors are probably the same as yours:  OTHER PEOPLE.  Not everyone, of course, but I know that if I leave the house long enough, I’ll find just enough of those joy-joy mood parasites to feel at least SOMEwhat agitated.  On second thought, I don’t even have to leave the house for that… I can just hop on the net or turn on the news.

-Travel?  Didn’t I JUST rant about how other human beings affect me?  Why would I want to hotbox myself in an airplane with people who have NO social awareness whatsoever?  I have no intention of dealing with folks who can’t keep their knees off the back of my seat, have never learned how to properly utilize an ‘inside voice’, or can’t stop burping and farting without explaining their entire medical history to me.  Your gastroenterological issues are yours and yours alone, pal.  Keep your escaped poo and bile particles confined to your own personal bubble, PLEASE.

Clearly, I’m joking.

On a more serious note, though, I’m really not the kind of guy that likes to partake in the whole ‘New Year’s Resolution’ thing.  Life is too short to fixate on flaws.  If I feel like making some changes, I’ll do my best to make them… and an arbitrary date on the calendar won’t have anything to do with it.  That said, I HAVE learned some hard lessons over the course of 2014, so the opportunity to share these ‘epiphanies’ couldn’t have come at a better time.  Hopefully, this list provides something you can think about while deciding how to spend your money in 2015 and beyond.

For starters, I’m honestly done with buying games on day 1.  The industry has changed in such a way that it doesn’t even make sense to me anymore.  Most major releases have either not worked, or required a significant patch upon release… meaning these games aren’t complete out of the box.  There’s also a troublesome trend of games being sold as if they were crack:  Major publishers will provide a mere taste at release – at $60 a pop, mind you – so you’ll get hooked and feverishly buy into whatever DLC they throw at you.  Me, I’m tired of spending full price for a product that’s literally incomplete off the shelf.  MSRP for good intentions?  No thanks.  So, I just won’t do it anymore.

And yes, this also means no more pre-ordering.  “Pre-ordering doesn’t harm anyone though, right?  I mean, if a game comes out and you hear bad things about it, you can always cancel.”  Yes, I can always cancel, but why pre-order in the first place?  How many times have you been legitimately burned for not doing so?  Unless you’re looking to get a limited collector’s edition or the latest console, your local retailers will have a TON of copies on display.  And believe it or not, pre-ordering DOES hurt the consumer.  Think about it:  Why are publishers confident enough to release their games in an unfinished state?  Because those pre-order numbers tell them they’re going to make a lot of money regardless, so as a result, they let that ‘fix it later’ mentality creep in.  This, unfortunately, is what happens when we tell these companies, “Yes, we’ll buy your product sight unseen.”

And you know, I think I’m just going to buy less games in general.  I’ve purchased a TON in the last 12 months… and for what?  To sit on my shelves looking pretty?  I mean, it’s nice having a large selection of games to choose from, yes, but that’s no justification.  It’s disheartening to think of all the games I bought at full MSRP; many of them remain unplayed, and can now be had for $30 or less.  Yes, by the time I get around to most of the titles in my backlog, they’ll be worth at LEAST 50% less than what I paid for them.  Since September alone, I haven’t had the opportunity to play Far Cry 4, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Hyrule Warriors, The Evil Within, or the remastered iteration of Grand Theft Auto V.  I’m not even sure when I will… so what the hell did I buy them for?  That’s five games I could have nabbed for $30 instead of $60… meaning if I was smart, I could have had an extra $150 in my pocket.  That’s not exactly chump change, you know?

So, with that decided, I’ll naturally work on my backlog.  As a matter of fact, I’ve already begun the process… and to be perfectly honest, I’ve been much happier with those games (The Witcher 2, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword) than most of 2014’s offerings.  That’s not to say I won’t dabble with the Wii-U, Xbox One or PS4, but rather they’re not likely to be my primary source of entertainment until the end of the year.

But there will be a point in time when tackling the backlog buffet feels too much like a chore… so I’ll keep things interesting with retro games.  I’ve emulated my childhood favorites for years, but all that did was remind me how stupid I was for selling off my old systems.  Well, I’ve had it up to here with regret, so I bought a Retron 5, original SNES controllers, and a respectable batch of old-school games.  I know it’s technically emulation, but I don’t care.  There’s just something about using original controllers in a machine that has a cart sticking out of it.  I plan on utilizing this machine A LOT, so you can expect to hear my thoughts on some retro games as I complete them.

But again, don’t mistake this rundown as New Year’s resolutions.  The wind has been blowing this way for me as of late, so the change in tide was inevitable.  For once, I actually welcome it, too… which is weird.  I’ve always been apprehensive to change, but this time it’s different.  Maybe it’s because I do my best to always look for the silver lining, I don’t know.  I certainly don’t approve of major publishers continually attempting to pull the wool over our eyes, but if they HADN’T plunged the industry to new lows last year, I’m not sure I would be the informed consumer I am today.

Regardless of how you felt about 2014 though, here’s hoping each and every one of you have a fantastic year in gaming.  New, old, or REALLY old… it matters not.  The only thing you should really concern yourself with is having fun.  That said, it never hurts to stay informed so you can make decisions that better suit you, your wallet, and the industry as a whole… that is, as you, the consumer, would want it to be.

Happy New Year!

Opinion-Bytes: Next-Gen Console Prices Aren’t Outrageous

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I remember a time when the going price for a console was $199, and at the time, it was undoubtedly a parent’s worst nightmare. Could you imagine the shock? Last year, little Jimmy only asked for a big-box toy which cost $40, but this year? He wanted a Nintendo Entertainment System, the premium in-home gaming solution that was priced at an ‘affordable’ $199. After his mom and dad finished cleaning the coffee the spit across the kitchen table, they figured it was time to start saving. After all, the kid had never asked for anything so expensive, and he was a good boy, so why not? Besides, an NES was the gift that kept on giving – Gone would be the days when a rainy day forced a child to drive his parents up the walls! Of course, that gift only kept giving as long as the parents did. Spare controllers were needed, game cartridges, and it wouldn’t be long before a Light-Gun and Power Glove would be added to the list.

Over the years however, prices have gone up. Consoles began to cost a little more, as did the games. Before long, a brand new console went for $299… and then the PS3 launched its premium package for $599, which made the future of gaming seem a little intimidating. Compared to that however, next-gen offerings aren’t going for the throat as many had imagined. The PS4 seems to be the bargain at $399, whereas the Xbox One, while offering more in the box, is asking for $499. While a majority of gamers consider these prices to be fair, if not better than expected (especially in the PS4’s case), there’s still a number of consumers who feel they’ve being extorted. To them, my response would be, “Really?”

Let’s just look at all the technological doodads many of us use, or see prominently displayed at retail. How about smartphones? Most of us have one, and most of us probably spend $199-$299 with contract terms attached. Want to upgrade early or get a phone without a contract? That price skyrockets to anywhere between $500-$700. How about those tablets that have become all the rage? There’s a variety of brands and models to choose from, but you can pay as little as $150, or as much as $1,000. Then there’s e-readers. They cost a bit less, you’re still likely to spend over $100. MP3 players are all the rage, and a decent one with larger storage capacity is going to set you well over $200, if not $300. There’s also laptops and PC’s to consider, as they’re the ‘other’ (and in many cases preferred) platform to game on, and we know the price for any kind of gaming rig can range from $500 to… well, the sky is the limit depending on how much you plan to future proof.

So I have to ask – Why is a console priced at $400 such a big deal? People obviously have no problem justifying the expense of various other devices, so why are consoles unable to escape the financial stigma they’ve been associated with? Yes, many of us remember the early days where consoles were only $200… but our dollar was worth more back then. Everyone’s aware that prices have escalated substantially over the years, and it’s hard to ignore the contrast of living costs from 1985 to where it’s at today… so why do some people feel that consoles shouldn’t cost more than $199 or $299? Some people just don’t want to spend that kind of money when a price drop is inevitable, and that’s fine – I’m strictly inquiring about the people who solely believe the price to be out of this world.

Part of the answer rests with the rate of inflation. We don’t seem to notice when things go up a few cents here and there, and even if we do, the cost isn’t enough for us to miss. “It’s just a few cents, who cares?” But that difference becomes increasingly notable over time, and because most of us don’t have time to ‘stop and smell the roses’, it’s a shock when we finally catch up with what’s happened. ‘Meh, it’s only a few cents’ is an attitude that knocks our perspective out of whack, and allows us to maintain an unrealistic idea of what things SHOULD cost. So, naturally, people are recalling the days when consoles were $200-$300, wondering why they have to spend at least $400 today.

To be clear, I’m not saying that anyone is ignorant. For the most part, we’re talking about human nature here, and the snail’s pace at which our economy gouges us is a blatant attempt to exploit that. I’m merely suggesting that if you’re one of the consumers affected by ‘sticker shock’, you should pick your jaw up off the floor and understand that these price hikes aren’t ‘just because’ (well, Microsoft could have dropped the camera and charged $100 less like Sony but, I digress). You’re more or less paying the same financial value as you did in 1985, or 1995, etc.

Outside of price, there’s the perception of gaming to consider. There’s a fair number of people who enjoy their time behind a controller, but consider it to be a lesser form of art (The Last of Us says hello, by the way). In the eyes of these individuals, consoles are nothing but mere toys, and what toy can be worth nearly half a grand?

Now THAT’S ignorance.

Consoles. Aren’t. Toys… Period. They’re PC’s that are designed specifically for gaming. Each unit is produced with uniform hardware, thus allowing everyone to experience each and every game as the devs intended. You can browse the web, watch DVD and Blu-ray, stream from various services (Amazon Instant, Netflix, etc) and your PC, and more. If you’re one who fails to see why consoles are so much more than toys, just ask yourself a question – do you consider your desktop and laptop to be toys? How about DVR, digital disc and mp3 players? If the answer is no, it’s time to reevaluate from a perspective of logic.

Gaming isn’t just some idiot’s chore, and pricing isn’t quite as crazy as certain people make it out to be. Games are just another form of expressive entertainment, and considering the hundreds, if not thousands of hours you’ll spend gaming throughout the course of single generation, half a grand really isn’t that much to ask.

But how do you feel about it? Do you feel that people have blown the prices to enter next-gen out of proportion, or that they’re justified? Are there any other angles to this debate that you care to express? Leave a comment, and I’d be more than happy to continue this discussion/debate.

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!