SNES Review – Contra 3: The Alien Wars

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Contra as a series are games my brother and I have played since the beginning of our video game days. We never owned any of them, but would borrow them from friends or rent them from game stores. Contra 3 – the first iteration of the series on 16-bit consoles – is an awesome run and gun co-op game, so we recently sat down to test whether our skills were as sharp as they were back in the 90s.

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The story of Contra 3 is simple enough. Aliens have invaded earth, and you – one of the earths’ best soldiers – must save the world by squashing every last one of them with your gigantic arsenal of guns and bombs. The game lays out the story via an introductory cutscene of still shots that shows the aliens destroying large cities and obliterating humans. It does a great job of setting the tone and atmosphere of the game and leaves it at that. There is no story after this – but thats okay because this game is gameplay!

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This game can be played as one or two player co-op and is a fast paced action game that takes the form of either a side-scrolling or top-down perspective. In the side-scrolling levels, you run from left to right, jumping and dodging over obstacles all the while shooting down enemies and eventually the stage boss. The levels are nicely varied and make each one a unique experience. For instance, the first side-scrolling level is  more horizontal where the player travels through city streets whereas the second level emphasizes verticality and scaling buidling. The third level emphasizes speed through riding motorcycles and missiles and the last level is vertical again just extremely challenging!

The top-down levels are much more open ended in that you must adventure around the map destroying five hubs, upon which you face a final boss. The levels are still filled with enemies, but instead of platforming elements like in the side scrolling levels, there are now traps like collapsing bridges. The controls are a bit awkward at first, but within a few minutes it is easy to get accustomed. While I really liked the variety that these two types of levels offered, I found that the traps in the top-down levels were quite cheap and artificially made the game harder than it actually was.

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To get through these level, our heroes are going to need some heavy weaponry and Contra 3 does not skimp in this area! The fan favourite spread shot is here, as is homing missiles, flamethrower, laser, standard machine gun, and crush. In the original, players could only hold  one weapon at a time and if they died the weapon was lost; in this game, players can store up to two at a time, switching between them with the X button. When death arrives (and it will), only the gun that is currently equipped is lost! I loved this addition as it added some strategy of whether I should stock up on spread shots or keep one spread shot for the level and a laser for the boss. The game also has screen clearing bombs that are useful but in limited quantities.

The mini-bosses and end-stage bosses are all awesome and varied and not overly difficult if you can figure out the pattern. One of my favourites is the third level boss (i.e., the giant blue skull) because there are two forms – just when you think you have defeated the boss, two claws pull open the back wall and the real fight begins! Whether its mini or end-stage, the bosses really stand out as the highlights of the game.

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In terms of graphics, the game is gorgeous with tons of colours on-screen and little to no slowdown. Each level has a very distinct style and each boss looks absolutely terrifying! The top-down levels are probably the least attractive as everything is a bit too pixelated and I wasn’t particularly fond of the split-screen in one-player, although it still works fine! The music and sound effects are  awesome with great tunes that help set the mood for a post-apocalyptic run and gun shooter.

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In summary, this is a beautiful run and gun game made even better  with the inclusion of cooperative gameplay – there is nothing like blowing up bad guys with a buddy! This game is also hard (so don’t expect to beat it anytime soon) but highly replayable and worth the $50-$60 that it will cost you to obtain a copy nowadays! Overall, I give this game 8/10!

Final Score: 8/10

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