Throwback Thursday - Sidescrolling Sci-Fi Perfection: Contra 3: The Alien Wars
Konami's Contra 3: The Alien Wars for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) may be one of my top ten video games of all time. I've beaten it repeatedly and also been beaten by it. I've memorized levels and formed strategies on how to pass them. To me, the game captures all the fun of digital side scrollers as well as the visceral experience of sci-fi action cinema. It's not just a video game; it's an experience.
A now-classic 16bit action-adventure, Contra 3 had it all, and it had it in spades. The gameplay features both 2d side-scrolling as well as overhead levels, making stages seem fresh and challenging. Our heroes, Red-Shirt-Black-Hair and Blonde-n-Blue, go from ruins to high rises to highways and byways, using a variety of specialized firearms to stop a hostile alien invasion. They combat all manner of creature inspired by the major Scifi franchises of the prior decade (the 1980's). C3:TAW pits players against Terminator-esque skeletal warriors, Alien-inspired xenomorphs, and of course, cannon fodder a la Star Wars and Dune. At the end of each level, a most excellent artistic rendering captures the whole spirit of the level just conquered, reminding the player, "Hey, soldier, You did it!"
(Editor’s Note If the game featured a single naked woman Paul Verhoeven would start making it tomorrow. One could also argue that a fan edit of Starship Troopers could be a Contra Movie.)
And here's the reason I love this game; it's like playing through an action movie (and not even a lame video game based on an action movie, a crime for which SNES was often guilty). The whole time I played this game was like watching cinema unfold. Monsters. Robots. MAYHEM. It's crazy they never gave Paul Verhoeven forty million bucks to bring this game to the big screen. Of course, looks aren't everything in a game. It's gotta have the gameplay..
The game features simple, streamlined controls and updated versions of nearly all the armory from the original NES Contra. Fans of the original NES game may miss the over-the-shoulder even-numbered levels (which were replaced by overhead ones), but I would argue that the difference is one thing that makes the game serve as not only a console update but also a genuine sequel, which gives fans something that's familiar in form but different in detail.
And of course, one cannot discuss Contra 3 without bringing up the Konami code. If you were a Nintendo kid, you know the legends: a special sequence of actions on the game pad would allow players 30 lives to begin the game, plus you still get your three continues. I know of this being programmed only into Contra and C3:TAW, but if there were others, I'd love to play them. What's nice about the Konami Code is that really makes the game a more fun experience. You can be a bit more lax, take more chances, and play more casually (this is a game, after all). In a world of very difficult, frustrating games designed to eat arcade quarters, the Konami Code told gamers they could be pretty bad and still have a chance at victory. As someone who is relatively inept at video games, I needed this; and like I said, time and time again it allowed me to take 2 hours and go on a visceral, rewarding Sci-Fi action experience.
Just writing about it makes me want to play it again right now.
Editor’s Note – While the Konami Code is featured in many games and most of the Contra series this game doesn’t feature it. CJ’s flashback is tainted by mixing memories with Contra or Super C or misremembering the “Easy Mode” of the game. So we suggest he follow his instincts and play the game again to remember. Unless CJ had a Japanese import where it did work, but I find that highly unlikely
Old School C.J.