My Top 5 Games of 1992: #3 Contra III: The Alien Wars

Developed: Konami
Published: Konami
Genre: side-scrolling run and gun
Platform: SNES (reviewed), Game Boy, Arcade, Game Boy Advance, Wii Virtual Console

Unlike many people around my age, Contra III was the first game in the Contra series that I played. It wasn't until probably years later that I finally played the earlier games, so this was my introduction to Contra and run and gun games in general. It's also probably the most balls out hard game of my childhood. I swear I only beat this game once as a kid, and it wasn't until I was playing the game for this article that I finally beat it on hard. With save states... To be fair, I was playing with an Xbox 360 controller. You try beating this game on hard with one of those.

Anyhow, in Contra III: The Alien Wars, you take control of one of two badasses who must quell an alien invasion on their own. You shoot your way through 6 stages of mayhem, 4 of which are side-scrollers and the other two being top down levels that utilize the SNES's mode 7 technology quite well.

Hmm... Maybe this is where they got the idea for the last boss of Mass Effect 2.
The first stage is simple enough. Just walk right and shoot stuff. In stage two, you encounter the first mode 7 level where you have to wander around a highway and kill several targets marked on your map, then you face the boss in what seems to be the biggest parking lot ever. Stage three has you going through an industrial area where you climb up several buildings and face FOUR mini-bosses, then the giant terminator looking robot pictured above at the end of the level. I always died a ton of times on this level as a kid, leaving me with few lives left for the insanity of stage four.

Stage four is probably my favorite level in any run and gun game. You tear ass down a highway on a motorcycle while being assaulted by all manner of enemies along the way. You're soon attacked by a huge ship as well, forcing you to abandon your bike to jump up to a helicopter where you hang from a huge missile with one hand and shoot with the other.

After a quick mini-boss fight, the missile is fired at the ship from earlier WITH YOU STILL ON IT. An endless wave of missiles soon follows and you must keep jumping from one to another as they hit the back of the ship and explode. Between jumps, you have to destroy two shield generators to expose the ship's hilariously gigantic weak spot. Then the ship begins actively destroying the missiles before they can hit, forcing you to jump from missile to missile faster while still attacking. The ship is soon destroyed and after a blinding explosion, you find yourself back on the helicopter and the level finally ends.

Jeeze. Think that's intense enough? It helps that the music on this stage is freakin' awesome, though the bass track sounds hilariously similar to the distinctive bass from Seinfeld. That's the second time that I've somehow managed to mention Seinfeld in an article, the first mention being in my Persona 4 article- BAM! SHOEHORN!

Level five is another mode 7 stage mostly the same as level two, though it takes place in a desert where you fight giant insects, and there are waaay more level hazards like parts of the sand that spin you around really fast. The boss of this stage can be absurdly hard if you don't know what you're doing, though you can figure it out pretty quickly on easy and normal. It starts out shooting little fireballs at you, and after you've done enough damage, the area around the boss begins to spin around which makes you quickly whirl around the area AND spins you in place at the same time somehow.

While you're struggling to aim at the boss' small weak point, it sends out a huge centipede thing which ignores you and runs around randomly, unless you leave the spinning area, in which case it immediately comes right for you, but will ignore you again when you get back on the spinning part. Kind of a weird pattern but whatever. The only other thing to worry about is a wall of fire that the boss shoots out periodically, sometimes forcing you to leave the spinning area and get attacked by the centipede.

On hard mode, this boss is a total asshole, and at first I thought I wouldn't be able to beat it. It spins you around so quickly on hard that it's damn near impossible to aim; that is unless you know the trick to the fight. On normal and easy, you just have to hold the L button to steady your aim when the boss spins you, but on hard you still spin too fast to aim even while holding L. It turns out on hard that you just have to double tap L, then hold it so you can aim properly. What a stupid difference... Though it admittedly fooled me until I watched a YouTube video of someone beating the game on hard.

The final stage is inside the alien leader's body I think, and once again you have to fight several mini-bosses throughout the stage. You fight a giant heart that spits out aliens who are totally not face hugger rip-offs, then a weird insect like monster with a human looking face, THEN a gargoyle type thing that has the easiest pattern ever, and finally, the last boss.

I could not figure this guy out at all as a kid, but he's actually pretty simple. He has two arms that attack you every few seconds, and if you don't immediately destroy one, they're really hard to dodge. If you destroy both, the boss gets much harder as he begins to throw legions of enemies at you, so just kill one arm, then shoot the boss' weak point on his forehead.

Once you damage him enough, he explodes for about 20 seconds, then his brain falls out and comes to life. This guy can also be a huge pain if you don't know what you're doing. He starts off by spinning a bunch of different balls around himself. You have to shoot one, and depending on which one you shot, he'll do a different attack. The Spike ball is the one you wanna try to shoot every time because it causes him to drop easily dodged spike balls everywhere, along with tons power-ups for whatever reason.

A few of his other attacks are fairly easy to deal with, though a few are waaay too hard to avoid. He does the spinning ball thing again after each attack, so it's in your best interest to get good at shooting the one you want. After he finally goes down, the helicopter from stage four shows up again to lift you out of the place. If you're playing on easy or normal, the game ends here, but on hard, the bastard gets back up AGAIN and chases after you in a newly donned armored body. This form isn't too tough. You just have to keep dodging left and right while shooting him, and he dies pretty fast.

One thing I didn't mention in my Turtles in Time review is the fact that the game pretty much calls you a wuss if you beat it on easy or normal, and you don't get to see the ending. Contra III does the same damn thing, and in both games, the ending is hardly worth the trouble you go through beating the game on hard to see it. I guess it's about the journey and not the destination. Whatever.

Contra III may be a hard game, but I can't say it's unfair. If you know what you're doing, you can get through it with little trouble, and if you die, it's pretty much always your own fault. There's also a bit of an exploit that you can do if you have the L and C weapons. If you hold the fire button, then rapidly tap the weapon switch button, they fire absurdly fast and can kill most of the bosses within seconds, even on hard.

During the YouTube playthrough I mentioned above, the player clams he's managed to kill the second boss in less than one second using this technique, and he DID manage to beat the game on hard without dying so I'm inclined to believe him. That almost makes me wish there was a difficulty above hard. I felt the same thing about Warhammer 40k: Space Marine actually. Hmm... I thought I sucked at video games, but now I'm wishing Contra III was harder. Guess I'm at least mediocre.

I probably should have mentioned the weapon system earlier. Like in previous Contra games, there are a few different weapons you can collect throughout the game, though in Contra III you can hold two at once and switch between them with the press of a button. Most of the weapons are useful, aside from the homing missiles which are far too weak and can't be aimed at specific targets. As I said above, the L and C weapons are by far the best, and you can easily kill pretty much everything with them.

One thing that I loved about Dead Space 2 and mentioned over and over in that game's article are its awesome action setpieces. Contra III is pretty much one long action setpiece, aside from the mode 7 stages, which are fairly subdued. I detailed the insanity of stage four but most of the game is just as fast paced.

In stage one for example, enemies spawn from both sides constantly, encouraging you to move quickly. You destroy a few barricades and get in a tank for a bit. Your tank is soon destroyed though, then YOU have to fight a tank. Then a plane comes by and bombs the shit out of everything, lighting the ground on fire and you have to climb on utility poles for a bit while dodging some crazy fireballs. Then the fire suddenly disappears and a giant freakin' turtle attacks. Yep. That all happens on stage one. Interested in the game yet?

So the game plays well, and it looks great too. While the graphics don't blow me away, they're still pretty good for the time. I gotta hand one thing to Konami: They definitely didn't cut any corners in this game's visuals. There's a huge variety of enemies and almost every stage has multiple mini-bosses, none of which are recycled sprites from earlier stages. In fact, I can only think of two normal enemies who appear on more than one stage, though there are probably a few that I'm forgetting. This also goes a long way in mixing the gameplay up and increasing the challenge a bit.

The game's soundtrack is fantastic, as is standard for Konami games at the time, and I gotta say that the music in Contra III feels especially fitting. Every song feels appropriate for the level it appears in and most of them are really catchy. As I said above, the music in stage four in particular is incredible, and is definitely the standout for me.

Not much else to say. Contra III was one of the most frequently played games of my youth. Even with its difficulty, I kept trying and trying. This makes all the insipid touch screen and motion controlled games of recent years even more offensive to me. I played hard ass games with a controller for my entire childhood and I never wished for anything easier. No, not all motion and touch controlled games are horrible. I love my Wii and DS, along with a few iPhone games. I'm getting way too off topic.

You can buy Contra III on the Wii Virtual console, and I encourage anyone who enjoys a challenge to do so. It takes some learning and practice, but when you finally beat the game on hard, it's well worth the effort. Hmm... I gotta try to do that without save states one of these days. Shit. Forget what I said before. I suck at video games.
Is that supposed to be a dog in the lower right? What the hell is going on with its head?

Number 2 in my top 5 games of 1992!
Yet another masterpiece from Konami. A hilarious parody/tribute to Japanese folklore.

I'll leave you with the music from stage four of course. All I have to say is: Seinfeld bass. You can't unhear it! Video brought to us by YouTube user gbelair3.

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