Thursday, December 24, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Contra 3

Retro Game of the Day! Contra 3

Contra 3 by Konami, released in 1992 for the 16-Bit Super Duper Nintendo.

Yes, Contra, the very mention of this series' name brings to mind lots of testosterone, exploding alien zombie heads, and robot bikers and missiles and oversized insects absolutely hell-bent on destroying the world as we know it. Who will stop it? Player One and Player Two, that's who!

The series became famous on the NES back in the day, and with a new console came a powered-up super sequel. Looking at the pics in the magazines, as usual, I drooled over the promise of what was to come. Bigger, badder, gorier, more things to destroy. What else matters?

Contra 3 stole the show with impressive visuals, sound FX, and of course the necessary 2 Player action that the series was known for (if this was any company other than Konami, I can see them having cheesed out back on 8-Bit and saying "the tech is so limited, so 1 player will have to be good enough.." Imagine how different the world would be now!) Right off the game puts you in the middle of an apocalyptic urban battlefield complete with exploding cars, tanks to drive, and napalm-drizzling war craft launching at your FACE in glorious Mode 7. You knew right off the bat that this would be an affair to remember.

A hallmark of the Contra series, of course, is the "middle rounds" - separate from the main mode, these would present the game in a unique perspective (angled top-view like Commando, behind the shoulder, etc). Contra 3 took the gutsy approach of straight-down top view, with a free-roaming (though map-path-constrained) "open" world which could be rotated - the entire screen rotated - by manipulating the shoulder buttons. It was a cooler idea than its ultimate execution, still you had to give them credit for being unorthodox!

The main thrust of the game was filled with what made the Contra Legacy so great - just over-the-top battle situations, intense and non-stop and horribly, horribly far-fetched to the point where realism wasn't even in the general neighborhood. This game was all about cartoon-world battling in a cartoon world where it takes itself very seriously. And that's what makes for a wonderful videogame.

As per usual, the Konami artists upped the ante with some of the best-looking visuals I have ever seen spat out of the SNES' 16-Bit processor. Huge Terminator-style robots tearing open doors to vomit timed explosives at you. Riding on endless exploding rockets to take out.. man.. I don't even know what that thing up there is. This game looked and sounded so perfect, if they gameplay bottomed out it wouldn't even have mattered.

As for the gameplay - well, it was pretty tight as usual, you sort of take it for granted that a Contra game will feel very comfortable and easy to slide into, like an old glove. Even if the top-view segments were a little dodgy, the whole affair was a joy to play. Though I must say, and it's only fair to be picky sometimes - you do kind of get the feeling that Design was resting on its laurels a bit following the explosively smart design of the very first Contra from back in the day. It's sequels always looked and sounded the part, and they sure felt like way above-average run-and-gun platformers, but the following that initial entry the level layouts were all kind of "following the formula" and lacked a lot of the "oh wow" moments that just really kicked you from the very first game. That's not to say the game's novelty had run out - you'd still see games like Gunstar Heroes and Metal Slug, both obvious nods to Contra, who released and had much more inventive design choices than the Contra sequels' reliance on "old faithful" design. I don't mean to harp, it is worth mentioning however because this is what will keep a gamer coming back to play again and again long after they have completed the game.

All told, Contra 3 is a serious staple of any SNES gamer's diet, an audiovisual delight which is easy to pick up and blast through, which unfortunately falls a little short when it comes to longevity design-wise when held up against its peers. Of note is the Black and White GameBoy conversion, which does a very impressive job of squeezing a lot of the highlight moments of it's big brother into a tiny little game cartridge - handled by Factor 5 of all studios!

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