This is what I meant when I said I didn’t play enough Konami games as a kid. I had never played Contra 3: The Alien Wars until last week. I had played Contra on the NES, but it didn’t really click with me. I don’t think I quite understood how it was meant to be played. I wanted something like Mario or Mega Man, and Contra wasn’t that. I didn’t make much of an effort to play any Contra games after that admittedly brief encounter years ago. After playing Contra 3, I have realized what a mistake that was. Contra 3 is a game that earns its reputation as one of the best on the system.
Contra 3 is a game of escalation, where each level gets bigger as it goes and starts bigger than the one before it. You start running down a ravaged city street, shooting aliens and move on to climbing buildings and eventually hanging off the sides of missiles as they shoot across the screen. The game starts a crazy awesome and amps up both the crazy and the awesome as it goes along. There are some times when the game stops to show off fancy new SNES tricks, but otherwise it puts the player directly in control of fighting an ever growing threat. It is a short game, but it is just perfectly paced and the intentionally high difficultly level makes the game have more of an impact than most hour long games would have.
The story of Contra 3, such as it is, is basically a mash of most sci fi action movies of the 80’s. You play as Arnold or Sly and fight Xenomorphs and a Terminator and there is the barest touch of Star Wars. It doesn’t hide these references, those references are the game. Better than any licensed property could ever hope to, Contra 3 puts the player in the action and lets them be the hero of these movies. There is something undeniably charming about how shameless Contra is about ripping off its inspirations. It is the epitome of that era of gaming.
The warts are the top down mode 7 levels that are largely forgettable and really just north of being straight up bad. There are only two of them and they are over relatively quickly, but they really just aren’t that much fun to play. The game would be better off if the simply weren’t there, they seem to exist to pad out the rather brief playtime. Still, they are only minor blips on what is otherwise a completely excellent game.
I’ve always been more of a Metal Slug fan. Those games lack the punishing precision of Contra, or at least the Contra games I’ve played, giving the player all the spectacle not matter how sloppy they play. There is something to be said for the Konami’s series more exacting style of play. Even with the Konami code, which is unfortunately absent from the American version of this game, it is still difficult to get through the game. It makes the player learn the game, makes you take a little time and assess the situation before going guns blazing, though once you’ve handle on things guns blazing is the way to go.
I don’t know that Contra 3 will ever be among my favorite SNES games, but I can clearly see why it so frequently shows up on such lists. It is a blast. Brutal, epic and unforgiving. It is this sort of run and gun game executed perfectly.