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The Best Track in the Game #8: Contra III: The Alien Wars

C-C-C-CONTRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!

Contra III: Alien Wars is one of the greatest run ‘n gun games ever made.

Period.

Over the past 20+ years, Konami’s Contra series has pioneered and successfully remained one of the single most visible and well-regarded franchises in the genre.

Though every series has it's unfortunate missteps...

In fact, outside of stiff competition from SNK’s Metal Slug series, I can’t really think of another franchise that could even come close to claiming Contra’s title.

As with most classic game series, the fundamentals of the Contra franchise have remained slim, but elegant in their simplicity.

At their core, Contra games are all about you and a friend (if you happen to have any) running from left to right blowing the shit out of everything that moves.

The world through the eyes of a Contra kid.

In between this, occasionally the perspective of the game will change from sidescrolling, to that of a third-person view, or even a top-down view, though the objective remains the same:

Pick up progressively bigger guns, and shoot EVERYTHING with them.

Basically, you're a walking gun. Kind of like 'ole Megatron here.

In truth, I was a late comer to the Contra party.

While I had friends that grew up playing Contra or Super C on the NES, I myself did not really become a Contra kid until Contra III.

I remember I rented the game a few years after it came out.

Truth to be told, the opening cinematic genuinely scared me a little.

Okay, maybe the dialogue between ‘ole Bill and Lance was laughable, even as a child, but something about the eerie music and that goddamn creepy-ass alien face freaked me out a little.

Once I actually started playing the game however, my fear evaporated and turned to excitement and glee.

The biggest keys to Contra III’s success, were it’s pacing and difficulty.

Unlike say, a bullet hell style vertical scrolling shooter, the action in Contra III was conducted at a measured pace, with enemies firing only every so often, with slow moving, but extremely accurate bullets.

"Yup, just another day in the city OH MY GOD THAT DOG HAS A MAN'S FACE!"

This element of the gameplay led to fewer “cheap” deaths, with most of the more difficult aspects of the level design stemming from hazards in the environment and irregularities in the bosses attack patterns.

Stage 5 boss can suck a fat Blackanese cock. Seriously, FUCKING BULLSHIT.

Boss fights in Contra games were always a major aspect of the experience, often occupying a huge chunk of the actual gameplay.

In true Contra fashion, most of the mid-bosses in Contra III had limited attack patterns and were dispatched in quick fashion, however the stage bosses were  exceptionally well-designed and often required great skill and patience to defeat.

Except for this guy. He was easy as pie.

Nearly every stage boss in Contra III was memorable in some way, a fact that was bolstered by the truly awesome boss theme music:

To this day, I maintain that Contra III’s difficulty level (on “Normal Mode”) was ideal for the genre.

Even as a child, it was rare for me to become frustrated upon losing a life to stray bullet or an alien that jumped in from off screen.

Everything about the game, from the placement of the power-ups, to the number of enemies on screen at a time, felt appropriate and balanced.

At times, one could argue that perhaps the game was too easy at times, as there were certain instances when specific power-ups were doled out in just a little bit too convenient fashion.

"Oh look I'm one screen away from the boss and have 4 bombs! Oh wouldn't you know it, there's 2 more bombs! Golly Gee Willikers, I'm lucky today!"

Contra games have never been known for their innovations from game to game, and Contra III is no exception.

Changes to the, at the time pretty much untouched gameplay of the original Contra, were few, but key nonetheless.

For instance, players could now climb walls and across monkey bar style overhangs, as well as carry and switch between two different weapons at will.

There was also a retarded somersault attack the player could execute using both weapons at once, but it would probably be best if we forgot about that.

There's a time and a place for somersaults, and this is not one of them.

Speaking of weapons, Contra III introduced a whole of host of awesome new ones  to the franchise.

It was in this game that the Flame Gun and the Homing and Crusher Missiles made their debut.

Despite it’s reputation from past games, in my opinion the Spread Gun lost it’s luster in Contra III due to the supreme effectiveness of the Homing Missiles paired with, well, just about anything.

Pictured: The Spread Gun in Contra III.

Like other early Super NES titles, Contra III also made use of Mode 7 graphics for it’s top-down sequences.

I remember sucking-ass at the top-down levels as a kid, largely because of the imprecision in the movement controls combined with those damn narrow bridges.

Yeah, 'cause this isn't confusing at all.

Players could also pick up screen clearing bombs, however I’ve always had a habit of dieing before being able to set them off, so in my eyes they were mostly useless.

In addition to this, players could, for the first time in a Contra game, commandeer vehicles, although there is only one real instance of this, and it comes and goes within the first minute or so of the first stage.

Oh well, “some tanks” are always better than “no tanks.”

Okay, I officially want one.

In all, Contra III was my first, and for the most part, my favorite, Contra game.

In fact, outside of the excellent Contra: Hard Corps for the Genesis, and the obscenely difficult Contra: Shattered Soldier on the Playstation 2, I can’t really think of a close competitor.

When it comes to run ‘n gun games, I’ve always considered myself a die hard Metal Slug fan, however in the case of Contra III, it just has an indefinable charm to it that puts it at or near the top my list.

That being said, The Best Track in Contra III is…

Stage 4 – The Bike Chase

Why?

The question is, why not?

If the word “Contra” was a verb, this stage and the piece of music that accompanies it would probably be it’s definition.

Remember that next time you go out on a motorcycle/helicopter ride/killing spree.  It’ll definitely save you a minute or two when it comes to explaining your actions to the authorities.

"What the hell did you think you were doin' son!?"

"I WAS TAKING MY WOMAN OUT CONTRA'ING YOU FUCKING GIRLIE-MAN!"

Seriously though, this track is all about fun and excitement and it goes perfectly with the colorful and over-the-top nature of the level it occupies.

It’s worth noting that this track, as well as the rest of the games’ soundtrack, have that classic “early 90’s Konami” sound to them.

I don’t know if it’s that they recycled the same midi tones a lot over at Konami, but something about their sound just has a wonderful uniformity to it.

It's always a good time for kittens!

In general, Contra music, especially in later games, is a mix of military cadences, pulse pounding electronica, and heavy metal style pseudo-guitar.

Another constant of most Contra soundtracks however, is a slight tinge horror movie soundtrack elements.

Hmm, kind of like Aliens?

Contra games are about fighting giant, grotesque aliens, and the music often reminds of us of the fact that, despite the over-the-top one man army style gameplay, the environments that the games take place in are meant to be grim and violent.

Contra III makes great use of the action-horror sound throughout, though the Stage 4 track is easily my favorite, largely because of how retardedly insane and intense that particular level was.

Seriously, you have to see it in action to understand where I’m coming from:

Playing this stage a kid was like playing the Gallimimus Stage in Jurassic Park 2: The Chaos Continues.

I rarely, if ever, got past it, but damn did I have fun trying to over and over.

Runner-Up:

Stage 1 – The City

Why?:

While my choice as Best Track in the Game was a track that was somewhat atypical of the series, my choice for the runner-up is not.

The Stage 1 theme in Contra III is classic Contra, with equal parts military influenced badassery and horror influenced creepiness.

Hmm, kind of like Aliens?

In that sense, it’s the perfect track to begin the game with, as it effectively invites players into the next generation of Contra with something familiar, yet different at the same time.

I love the harshness, the sense of urgency that this track exudes.  It really works as a piece of music meant to inhabit a very dark and hostile environment.

The only reason this track doesn’t get the nod for Best Track in the Game is because it’s simply not as fun to listen to as the Stage 4 theme.

Both are exceptional in their own right, however in this case I’ll take “fun” over “intense.”

With that, I leave you with “What iz diz’ place?”

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2 Responses

  1. Stage 4’s level design is inspiringly ridiculous. Some of the craziest, most over-the-top action I’ve ever seen in a game of that era.

    • aznbadger says:

      Yeah, for sure. It’s kind of funny though, how virtually every stage in Contra: Hard Corps on the Genesis puts Stage 4 to shame in terms of craziness. Even so, I still like Contra III better overall.

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