CONTRA III The Alien Wars
aka Contra Spirits (JPN)/Super Probotector (E)

By Konami SNES 1992

Review by Rob Taylor

 


THE CONTRA LEGACY ROCKS ON

February 14, 2636. You are about to learn what
it takes to be a descendant of command legends
Scorpion and Mad Dog. That is, now that the
Red Falcon would like to use your family tree as
a toothpick. You're Jimbo and Sully, special
forces comrades just like your fearsome
forefathers were. Nowadays, your weapons and
maneuvers are more advanced than they were
when your ancestors saved the world from
being skewered on Red Falcon's fangs. That
brutal is still in his prime and he had plenty of
time to plot his revenge. He's swamped Neo City
with six stages of the most cruel and unusual
punishers ever. So run, climb, ride, soar and
start blasting your way to the Alien Main Base..

Before your family name and your planet are just dirt under Red Falcon's claws..

From Contra III US Manual

From the creepy intro sequence detailing how your nemesis - that accursed Red Falcon - had been up to his old tricks once again, through to the sinister sound effect when you depressed that start button on your controller, we could just tell that Konami had come up with something very special indeed. Then the main event kicked in and all hell broke loose. As we raced through the first stage, frantically switching between homing missiles and lasers whilst dodging all manner of alien soldiers, we gasped in awe as the much-hyped SNES Mode 7 effects were used to brilliant effect. A bomber swooped over our heads, turning the ground beneath our feet into molten lava. We gawped. After that it just got better and better. Contra Spirits doesn’t just begin well; it sucks you in, and only spits you out when it’s finally finished with you.

For a start, Contra Spirits is a visual tour-de-force, and showed off 16-bit power at its gob-smacking best. Technically outstanding, it’s filled with all manner of SNES Mode 7 and sprite-scaling trickery, oozing atmosphere and a moody ambience. The artwork on your marines is real cool (the robots in Probotector sadly not so hot) and they are large and well animated; this praise also applies to all enemies in the game. Massive explosions and excellent weapon pyrotechnics help ensure that you become wholeheartedly immersed in the action. The backgrounds - ranging from decimated industrial cityscapes through to barren desert plains and living, breathing alien lairs - are ultra-detailed and convey the impression of the planet teetering on the brink of apocalypse. The atmosphere in this title is spot-on – nice work Konami!

Mike says that there is a special place in the heart of DAM for videogame bosses, and in this respect Contra Spirits breaks the mould; its bad guys are bursting with character and are amongst the most memorable I’ve ever faced off against. The best one? It’s a toss up between the first and third stage guardians. The giant turtle-like monstrosity that comes bursting through a wall at you will stay in the memory a long time, but for sheer terror-inducing genius the giant cyborg whose talons rip through and then proceed to prise open the sheet steel of two bay doors to get at you is one hard act to top. I’ve wracked my brain to think of a non-ship based side-scrolling shooter with better boss encounters than Contra Spirits, but I come up blank. At the time, it wiped the floor with all contenders.

Interspersed throughout the hectic side-scrolling action were a couple of Mode 7, 360 degree rotating overhead levels – an attempt to update and evolve the old overhead stages of NES Super Contra. They were a bit of a gamble, but Konami pulled them off with aplomb. Despite looking a little sparse and suffering from the occasional bout of slowdown they excelled in terms of atmosphere, and only the SNES had the graphical wizardry at the time to pull them off. It was one in the eye for jealous Megadrive owners! Spinning around in a vortex on the penultimate stage whilst attacking the boss by psychotically dual-wielding flame-throwers is just about as insane (and confusing) as videogaming gets ;-)

Of course, all of this praise would count for nothing if Contra couldn’t hack it in the playability department, but naturally it handled like a dream. The collision detection was spot on, and although the steep difficulty level was occasionally frustrating you could only blame yourself if you messed up. With not a bug in sight (making a welcome change in this day and age), control was intuitive and fluid. The classy SNES pad with its awesome array of buttons made things even nicer, so switching from flamethrower to spread-cannon in a moment of crisis was easier than it sounded. The Red Falcon and his cronies never stood a chance when I had gotten to grips with that controller!

Epitomising challenge, Contra Spirits harked back to the good old days when we gamers demanded real value for our money. It was only recently via a copy of ZSNES that I finally finished this bastard on hard mode! The two-player experience was also wickedly implemented and definitely cemented this baby in my all-time Hall of Fame; I hadn’t seen so much frenetic finger pointing and expletive-ridden gameplay since Super Mario Kart’s battle-mode! A special mention also has to go to the ever-reliable Konami’s soundtrack – especially the creepy boss music that still sends a tingle of foreboding down my spine even today. The actual stage music is also absolutely sensational and gets the adrenaline pumping big time, whilst the sound effects are as loud and beefy as they come. A bit more sampled speech would have been welcome, but sonics-wise Contra still shines, adding a great deal to the already frenzied atmosphere of carnage.

I’d have a bit of difficulty naming my favourite level. Whether jumping onto a couple of hoverbikes and racing hell-for-leather after the Alien mothership, or frantically clinging to missiles launched from a helicopter racing through the skies, Contra Spirits never once let up in the excitement stakes. Every new stage brought a new gasp to my lips, every new guardian a startled cry. Stick this baby in hard mode (‘cos Konami made sure that’s the only way you’re ever going to see the end sequence!), and get ready for some of the most hardcore blasting action you’re likely to experience this side of Irem’s
R-Type. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Contra to anyone who’s got the balls for the challenge - it’s a seminal videogaming classic without a shadow of a doubt.

Like Luke O’Sullivan, whose excellent review of the classic
Super Contra on the NES is also on DAM, I cannot believe how badly Konami has handled its Contra franchise since Alien Wars and the superb Hard Corps on the Megadrive. Personally, I reckon that this series is the jewel in Konami’s crown and, after the abysmal Legacy of War, I thought that the guys would have set the record straight with the awfully-named C: the Contra Adventure. Alas, that was another dismal failure and a pale imitation of former glories. For God’s sake Konami, pull your fingers out and lets see a return to form; the gaming world needs classic videogaming series like Contra and Castlevania! (Don't forget Gradius Rob! Mike)

Rob Taylor

Rob is the webmaster of
http://www.myfavouritevideogame.co.uk
 
Another excellent review from the Contra series.. thanks Rob! Be sure also to check out Rob's website featuring his thoughts on many classic late 80's/early 90's videogames which should be of interest to many a 2D gaming fan! Now we just need a Probotector/Contra Hard Corps(Megadrive/Genesis) review to round the series off nicely if anyone fancies submitting one?! Mike

Other reviews of Contra III/Contra Spirits
CONTRA HQ
NINTENDOLAND




CONTRA FANS !!
Don't forgot to take a peek at Luke's
Contra/Probotector website:
Probotector Base
and the excellent CONTRA HQ

I first got my trembling hands on this little beauty back in early 1992 when I visited my good mate Ant who had recently moved to Manchester. Nintendo had'nt yet launched the SNES in the UK but he was itching to get hold of one and, being a wealthy sod, shelled out big time to get his machine plus a copy of Contra on import straight from the Land of the Rising Sun. Exhibiting uncharacteristically perfect timing, I happened to arrive on his doorstep at exactly the same moment as the postie and so with baited breath we powered the 16-bit beast up together and sat back ready to be amazed. The rest is videogaming history…

For its time, Nintendo’s SNES was a stunning machine, and probably home to more of my personal videogaming classics per se than any other system that I can think of. Out of my many favourites, including the likes of Zelda, Castlevania, Mario and Metroid, the title that really did it for me is just about the most playable and beautifully designed game that I have ever laid eyes upon – Contra Spirits (or Super Probotector as it was known on these shores, Contra III: the Alien Wars in the US). Viewed behind my severely rose-tinted spectacles, it is *almost* perfect.


(Top left of page) Japanese Contra Spirits cover
(Above) US release Contra III The Alien Wars





Things start off at a hectic pace, so make sure
that you leap in this tank at the earliest
opportunity. The guys in blue are just shock
troops, but those red boys are a lot more
dangerous - they can fire back!



Midway through stage one - and a first
chance to see the famed SNES Mode 7
effects in action. There’s no danger at this
point, so just sit back and watch those
missiles fly. Beautiful!



It’s boss time! This guy bursts through the wall
and sets about trying to cream you with his
flamethrower. Nail him by focusing your
attacks on that painful-looking pulsating red
growth; he’ll go down in seconds.



Stage two is the first of the 360 levels. It
takes a little bit of getting useful, but looks
great and is an extremely original bit of
design. Hold your two trigger buttons, press
fire and watch in awe as you spin around in a
whirling dervish of flaming death!



The beginning of stage three sees you leaping
from ledge to ledge, trying to avoid being
carried away to a nasty fate whilst flaming
everything in sight. Rack up the bonus points
by incinerating these winged monstrosities,
and don't lose your concentration looking at
the fab backgrounds!



A bit further on and you are accosted by this
geezer. He jumps up on the wall and stalks
you until you reach this section. Then he
pulls the wall out and tries to impale you with
his spike! Take your time and flame him for
the best results.


The beginning of stage three sees you leaping
from ledge to ledge, trying to avoid being
carried away to a nasty fate whilst flaming
everything in sight. Rack up the bonus points
by incinerating these winged monstrosities,
and don't lose your concentration looking at
the fab backgrounds!

 

Forward to Page 2 of Rob's Contra III Wlakthrough..

 

 
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