No one will accuse Konami of missing out on the retro gaming trend. Over the years, they have released some of their most classic titles through either compilations or through Xbox Live. One of the most eagerly anticipated releases for Xbox Live last year was the original Contra. Players were looking forward to blasting aliens with futuristic weaponry along with a friend in one of the premier co-op titles of the 8-bit era. But with the Xbox Live release widely looked upon as a disappointment, players began to look to the Wii’s Virtual Console to satisfy their urge for the Contra series. What they got was a pleasant surprise.
Rather than release the original Contra, Nintendo and Konami have decided to bring the heralded Contra III: The Alien Wars, originally released on the Super NES, to the Virtual Console. Not only is this game considered among the best launch titles of the 16-bit system, but it is still considered the best game of the Contra series. It’s also the first to be made exclusively for console play, as the original Contra and its later sequel, Super C, were both arcade ports. If that’s not enough, it’s also one of the first to fully demonstrate the Mode 7 graphics engine for some dynamic effects.
The game plays similarly to the original. The first stage sees one or two players on a 2D side-scrolling level full of aliens and zombie dogs. While armed with mere shotguns, players later pick up trademark Contra artillery like the Spread shot, Lasers, and Homing Missiles. Unlike previous chapters, this time players could dual-wield weapons, making for interesting and destructive combinations.
Two levels stand out, however. They take place from an overhead perspective and gamers guide their soldier through eight different directions attempting to solve the level’s puzzle that would lead to the boss. Co-op play here takes a delightful turn, as two players can split up and go their separate ways and keep track of each other through split screens, a la Toe Jam & Earl. Players could either attempt to unify their power, or attempt to go separately in an attempt to finish the stage quicker.
Level design in general in this game is unlike any seen in the previous two Contra games. One stage sees players bikes while firing away on foes. That same stage will pit players in a harrowing battle in which they must navigate their way by jumping and clinging onto missiles. Yes, missiles! And still, there’s another level where players proceed by climbing walls and taking out incoming enemies. It was a lot of fun in the early 90’s and it still holds up today.
One of the best qualities of the Contra series has been the larger-than-life bosses. Konami upped the ante in a big way with their Super NES outing. Bosses were still big, bad, and ugly. But this time, thanks to the Mode 7 graphics, they also came right at the TV screen. Bosses, and mini-bosses also, would occasionally pop up from the foreground to the background and back again. The imagery was astounding and gave off the Apocalyptic atmosphere that the game was shooting for.
The game’s biggest negative remains a glaring issue today. For as much as Konami brought to the fold this time around, the game was over far too quickly. The game only contains six stages and gamers can breeze through those in an afternoon. While this installment was beautifully done with state-of-the-art (for the time) graphics and sound, the previous two games were able to pack in more levels filled with more fun. Graphics are great and all, but it’s never a good idea to focus on them at the expense of fun and gameplay.
Still, many will say that this is the best Contra of the series. Which is unfortunate, because it’s also considered by many to be the last good Contra of the series. After this, Konami attempted to take the series into 3D. The games were horrible and the series was left for dead afterwards. Which is part of the reason why gamers will be happy to see this game hit the Virtual Console. For 800 Wii Points, Contra III: The Alien Wars proudly displays one of the best gaming franchises of yesteryear. It’s short, but it’s still well worth the purchase.