Approximate Release Date: April 6, 1992
It’s incredible that Konami was able to release Contra III: The Alien Wars and Super Castlevania IV, two of the best early Super Nintendo games, so close together.
This makes sense to me because both seem to have the same philosophy about moving to the 16-bit generation; each has a restrained, common-sense approach to moving these beloved franchises to more powerful hardware. I don’t mean that as a slam. How many games have I written about on SNES A Day where I say the developers are being too ambitious too early and having the game suffer because of it?
This restraint benefits Contra III. I like to think of it as being the game everyone remembers the original Contra as. The biggest reason why is also the most difficult to write about: it feels so good to play it. The game is responsive and the act of shooting bad guys is fun and rewarding. And given that even the easiest enemies are threats to you – one stray bullet is death – having the moment-to-moment combat be as fun and rewarding as it benefits the game greatly. It’s fun to lose!
Speaking of losing, the end-of-stage bosses aren’t great. I’ve always felt that actually getting to the bosses in the Contra series is more interesting than fighting them. Even the mini-bosses scattered throughout the stages to a better job at creating fun encounters. Take Contra III‘s third stage, for example: the first mini-boss is a robot the flies around and you have to grab onto its spinning arms and shoot it while you’re under it. The second mini-boss attacks you while you’re climbing up a wall, so you have to shoot it while dodging attacks and not falling. The actual end-of-level boss is two dudes in a small room who jump on you.
How disappointing is that?
There are two big additions to Contra III. First, you can carry two weapons at once and swap between them by tapping the X button. But you lose the weapon you have equipped when you die, so there’s a risk/reward element here. Do you use your favorite weapon now or save it for a boss? The second big change replaces the behind-the-back levels in previous games with top-down maze segments. You move with the d-pad but have to turn with the two shoulder buttons. It works well, but maybe too well since these levels are so easy.
Contra III: The Alien Wars is the best Contra game. It’s very difficult, so don’t expect to blow through it in an afternoon, even with a friend.
Tomorrow: I contend that The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is the greatest video game of all time.