Retro Review: Contra III: The Alien Wars

The games in the Contra series are essentially sequences of action movie-style set pieces, and Contra III is the culmination of this design. Taking full advantage of the Super NES’s graphic and sound capabilities, Konami packs all the action fun of Contra into a memorable and fantastic game.

Contra III is short, consisting of only six stages, but very little is re-used at any point in the game. Each set piece is different and they tend to be dramatic, with giant sprites and imaginative foes. As with the NES games, Contra III has two stages in a different style, and these stages make the game feel considerably more dynamic. They are top-down, allowing you to rotate your perspective and take on a set of targets in whatever order you wish. Rather than the carefully curated battles of the side-scrolling stages, the fighting in these stages tends to be emergent and requires you to by dynamic and master a set of top-down-specific techniques.

The spread gun returns in Contra III, but it is no longer the obvious best weapon. Every weapon is good in certain situations, and the additions of the crusher (a powerful exploding missile) and the evolution of Operation C’s homing gun, not to mention a fantastic new take on the flamethrower, are quite welcome. Best of all, you can carry two weapons at once and swap between them at any time, with the added bonus that you only lose the one you were using at the time when you die. Death also resets your stock of screen-clearing bombs, a new innovation that works particularly well because the game encourages you to use them liberally.

Contra III features three difficulty levels and a design which encourages you to play through each in turn. Rather than just giving you less lives or some other arbitrary disadvantage, each difficulty adds more enemies and more varied enemy attacks to the mix. Beating the game on Hard is an accomplishment on par with completing the original game, and a lot of the same techniques (i.e., memorizing enemy layouts) are important here. Interestingly, instead of an extra lives code, you can choose to play with 3, 5, or 7 lives. There’s no penalty for using more, so this acts as a kind of built-in lives code.

All in all, Contra III takes everything that was good about Contra and makes it play better and look amazing. It’s one of the premiere action games for the Super NES, a worthwhile classic that any fan of run-and-gun shooters should play. It’s easy to find in several formats including the SNES Classic, so what are you waiting for?

Review Score: A−