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SNES REVIEWS: Contra III: Alien Wars


For those reading one of my SNES review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:

"While the SNES was a constant presence in my childhood, I never had a large collection of games for it. In fact, many of the games I played I still don't know the names of. It wasn't until I say the uproar over Breath of Fire 6 that I knew I played Breath of Fire 1 in the SNES.

After reading the excellent top 100 SNES games list by IGN:


I decided to go back and play those 100 games and review them. Well, as I looked closer at the list, I realized that there are many genres that did not age well from the SNES (racing, sports) and many other genres that I am simply not good at (shmups, arcade shooters) and others that I need other players to play against for an accurate representation (fighters). Also, I played many of the more well known games such as Final Fantasy and Super Metroid."

We finished with the legacy reviews, so we are beginning with the reviews after my hiatus. Please feel free to give me advise on my reviews, as I always look for improvement.

Also, here are a number of extra rules for Destructoid:
-If you have any suggestion of a game that is not in the IGN list that I should review, please suggest it.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.

Without further ado, here is:

24- Contra III: Alien Wars:
Year: 1992.
Genre: Shooter.
Publisher: Konami.
Developer: Konami.

First things first, I am changing my rating system to better rate different genres according to their own rules. It will still be from 50 quality points, but every title will start from 25 and earn/lose points according to criteria important to the titles and genres themselves.

For many, the Contra series is the quintessential Nintendo shooter. Ripe with that old Nintendo challenge, and a good deal of adrenaline pumping action and layered depth. The third entry in the series continues with that tradition, and its unapologetic adherence to the format is both the reason for Contra’s fame and its death as the generations went by.

This is the shooter game you would expect. One shot kills and plenty of action, with only a hair between that perfect jump and oblivion. Contra demands repetition from the player willing to master it. It demands mastery from the player willing to get the most out of it.

"Alien wars begin.”

Who are we kidding? It wouldn’t matter if it is aliens invading earth, or bloody Neanderthals from Jurassic time. Nazis, zombies, dinosaurs, and more have served as bullet fodder for these games. Interchangeably, any event can be taken as face value to get you to shoot stuff in Contra. The only semblance of character is the blatant inspiration from Rambo.

Is it a bad thing? Not necessarily, but when I compare to another shooter from the ages that has character in spades (Metal Slug), the very generic style of Contra leaves much to be desired. We are not here for the Man Booker prize winning script, but something that separates this game from the hoard would have been nice.

As it is, we are Rambo clone number one shooting generic fodder, some of which do look alien, for the probable goal of saving earth. Only three sentences are afforded for plot, and a paragraph telling the game has a hard mode that is going to crush your soul. I guess minimalism has its fans.

Yet, when you look beyond the cloned artwork, and the very basic story. When you look at what the game throws at you, you get a sense of audacity that I don’t think is eclipsed by another game. Although actually in rare moments, the game throws all logic to the wind as it gives the player some ridiculous set piece to deal with. Specifically, I am talking about a boss fight where the player hangs from a missile while attacking. The catch is that there are many missiles and the player needs to jump from one to another as they explode. Had the game included more of such scenes, the droll setting and lack of basic storytelling would have been less obvious.

Droll Setting: -5
That Missile Battle: +2

"Let’s attack aggressively.”

I confess that I used emulation to beat the game. Simply put, I don’t have the skill to beat it without outside help. Yet, I feel as if everything is there for me to learn, and I tremendously improved by the end, that my second play through used the emulator less and less. Which is the hallmark of good game design.

With only one shot to the grave, Contra demands perfection. It demands total attention to your surroundings, as well as perfect command of your movement and attacks. Shooting leaves you less mobile to avoid attacks, and mistiming your jumps leads right into the line of fire. In Contra, any death is your fault, as the mechanics are pitch perfect for the player to dodge and shoot everything in sight. Every attack is telegraphed, and it is the player’s responsibility to decipher the game.

In your arsenal, you can have access to a variety of weapons, each I found particularly useful in one place or another. Also, you get to use the screen clearing bombs. Both weapons and bombs are reset to default on death, so getting hit takes both a life and the ability to fight, making it hurt twice as much.

As is the case with Contra games, the game includes more than traditional 2D shooting, but also vehicle sequences and top-down levels. The former has always been a matter of loathing from me personally; when a game changes its entire control scheme and philosophy for one level that is unforgiving and tyrannical. Contra does nothing to convince me otherwise; vehicle sequences are almost always lacking in balance. As for the top-down levels, which have been hallmarks of the series, I found them less fun than the 2D levels and generally underwhelming (not to mention being easier).

Ultimately, Contra III brings everything that made the previous Contra games so well regarded mechanically. However, it also brings one major evolution to the franchise. As I said previously, getting killed loses your weapon upgrades. Yet, Contra III gives you the ability to switch between two weapons essentially holding the second weapon in case you die. This not only gives you more tactical flexibility by having two different weapons, but also gives you a fighting chance when you lose that valuable flamethrower.

Challenging and Fair Gameplay: +5
Vehicle and Top-Down Levels: -3 (for every level)
Two Weapons: +2

"Prepare yourself for the Ultimate Challenge.”

Bosses are no longer scary these days. From the poor generic bosses of FPS games to the 3-hit kill goons of Nintendo. They used to be something, they used to be a threat, and they used to be like Contra.

When you are fighting on top of the sky hanging from missiles, you know these bosses are not only tough, but also mostly unique. In fact, the entire game can be considered a tutorial that prepares you for these massive battles. Reaching these foes unhurt doesn’t mean you’re good, it just means you have a chance.

If you don’t study their patterns, then you are going to die. However, their never-ending onslaught makes that a herculean task indeed, as you focus in both surviving and learning at the same time. This alien invasion might just be a packaged excuse to shoot stuff, but these aliens don’t show any restraint at all.

Great Bosses: +4

"Kill them with fire."

Insects are scary. Their primal instincts and positively brutal lifecycle showcasing their ugly form. The aliens in Contra are clearly insect-inspired, which probably lead me to use the flamethrower as my favorite weapon. Aside from the ugly design of some of these aliens, as well as some good boss design, I did not feel the need to use my weapon of choice.

Mostly, the graphics are clean and nice, with the screen handling busy fire fights well. Everything is telegraphed for the player, so that anything that happens to them is their fault. Backgrounds were nice, but nothing major. While the character sprite has a curiously empty face. Like the story, the graphics is mostly generic, but it does the job, does it a little better as well.

However, the sound department goes beyond doing its job. It excels. From the music, that is both addictive and pleasant to hear. To the various sound effects that tells you exactly what is happening on screen. That enemy is firing at you, this boss is taking damage, hell is about to break loose.

When a game demands as much from the player as Contra, it is nice for the music to give them a boost. The tracks are motivating, and they make the endless repetitions of death bearable. All the while, sound gives the player another sense in which to use; the best players actually depend more in audio cues than visual ones. Overall, proving to be a very solid sound design.

Very Good Sound Design: +3
Very Good Tracks: +3
Generic Graphics: -2

In Conclusion:

Contra is a game of a bygone era. More an arcade experience than a console. It is also a game that is worth as much as players are willing to give it. For the casual observer, who is merely playing the game and preparing to jump to another, its flaws are magnified, and its brilliance is hidden.

However, for those willing to master it, Contra offers a depth that transcends its limitations. Perhaps it is the feeling we used to get when stuck with one or two cartridges in our childhood. Then, the game could have been as short as Contra, but perfecting a game became another goal after beating it.

Final: 34/50



1-Have two different weapons to vary your chances.
2-To pick up another weapon, be in your empty slot.
3-Bombs are not lifesavers, it would take a second or two before everything on screen is wiped out.
4-You can jump in the vehicle sequence.
5-Kill them with fire, the flamethrower might lack range, but it is probably the strongest weapon damage wise.

"Next Game"

Contra was fun, but I am ready for a more relaxing adventure. And moving through IGN’s list, I am seeing yet another Disney/Capcom game, showing us that those two companies could have been a more obvious Kingdom Hearts candidate (Mega Man and Donald Duck in a team anyone).

At #23, the Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse is the highest Disney game on the list. Here is hoping it really is magical

Stay Tuned

For Previous SNES game Reviews:

The List

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About Lord Spencerone of us since 5:57 PM on 01.12.2014

Hello all, I am Lord Spencer, your friendly neighborhood royalty. Yes, the ancient bloodlines are letting absolutely anyone in these days.

Being the lurker that I am, I have been following Destructoid for more than four years. Well, its 3 AM where I live now, and I just plunged in getting HUGE in the way.

Here is hoping for a fun time.

Oh yes, here is a little more info about me that is probably not as interesting as I think it is:

-I owned and played about 1000+ games.
-I owned and read about 2000+ books (I counted comic books I read as a kid so this is not as impressive as it sounds).
-I absolutely love Legos.

Out of all the games I played, I only regret playing a few. I am a big fan of gaming, and thus I really like most of what I play.

Thanks to the excellent work of community member Dango, now I have a cool infographic of my top 20 games. This list is not my final one, but what I thought off at the moment. If you notice, they are presented in chronological order:

Oh, and here is a link to my blogs:
My Blogs