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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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Filed under: Games, The Best Track in the Game, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Best Track in the Game #4: Jurassic Park Part 2: The Chaos Continues

Yes, I was balancing the cartridge on my fucking foot. I tell yah', it's not easy being unemployed...

Jurassic Park Part 2: The Chaos Continues is a “Contra Clone.”

More specifically, it’s a fairly decent “Contra Clone” that attempts to inject a little depth into the run-n’-gun genre.

Note that I referred to the game as being “fairly decent,” and not FUCKING AWESOME like Contra III: Alien Wars.

No game in the history of Man-Games has "attacked" as "aggressively" as Contra III.

My experience in playing Jurassic Park 2 on the SNES came in the form of a single weekend rental.

I was spending the night at a not-so-close friend’s house.

Yeah, this was back when my mom was still sending me off on “play dates” with kids I didn’t really know too well.

I remember his mom helped us make some Nickelodeon Gak.

Yup, this shit.

I remember feeling bad about making such a crazy big mess of their kitchen.

That and I remember accidentally over-starching my baby blue Gak, rendering it nothing more than a rock hard, plasticky, smelly-ass paperweight.

Oh well, I could still make fart noises with it.  Well, until I accidentally left it out of it’s jar for too long…

Anyway, later that night my friend’s mom took us out to rent a videogame for the night.

Naturally, seeing as Jurassic Park the movie had come out just the year before, and dinosaurs were still the coolest thing going for 7 year old boys, my friend and I couldn’t resist getting our hands on Jurassic Park 2 for a night.

Oh yeah, and keep in mind that neither of us had been allowed to see Jurassic Park in the theater.

This would be our chance to live the movie!

Upon popping the cart in, we were treated to a vividly animated opening cut-scene, complete with VOICE ACTING.

This sequence was pretty impressive when I was a kid, but to look back at it now, as an older and wiser Azn Badger, it’s a pretty impressive technical feat to see high quality voice clips crammed into a tiny SNES cart.

It’s kind of funny, I have a sneaking suspicion that the dude yelling “Go!  Go! Go!!!” is the same voice actor that played Duo Maxwell in the dub of Gundam Wing… and pretty much every animated character from the early 90’s and on.

The voice of a generation... Damn, he's hella' rockin' the "Bret Michaels" look.

Anyway, as I said before, JP 2 was a “Contra Clone” through and through.

It was a co-op, side-scrolling run-n’-gun game wherein player one controlled some white dude in a gray shirt, and player two took control of a brutha’ in a red shirt.

I found out years later that the white dude was supposed to be Dr. Alan Grant.  The brutha’ was just some brutha’ Ocean snuck in there to cover their asses from Affirmative Action and what not.

I guess Dr. Grant spent his time away from Isla Nublar doing some hardcore military training or something, ’cause I was less than impressed by his proficiency in handling the SPAS 12 in Jurassic Park the movie.

That's right, Dr. Grant can't aim worth shit...

Innovations in the gameplay came in the form of a mission select system, a health bar in place of one-hit deaths, objective based levels, maze-like level designs, and a lethal/non-lethal weapon system.

That’s right, the game expected you to tranquilize the dinosaurs so as to preserve that bloody Scot, John Hammond’s, investment.

Oh well, the Mega Buster style Stun Gun was the shit.

That's right Mr. Raptor, you 'bouts tuh' get tazed.

Despite most of these deviations from standard Contra game mechanics being fairly minor, I remember them greatly affecting my experience with the game over the one evening I got to play it as a youngster.

The health bar was a clever innovation in that it gave my not-friend and I the illusion of playing an easier game, one that didn’t punish you for every little mistake I.E. FUCKING CONTRA.

Instead of getting shot dead every time you slipped up, the game would give you some leeway in the form of respawning you at the edge of a pit if you missed a platform, or better yet, giving you some Megaman style invincibility frames immediately after getting hit.

In truth, the health bar served to give us a false sense of security.

Kind of like these.

There were far more opportunities to get damaged in JP 2 than in any of the Contra games released up to that point, resulting in ones’ health bar draining quite rapidly.

On the plus side though, on two-player mode you could transfer health between players to even out both health bars.

Yeah, my not-friend and I had to rely on this trick to get us past, well, pretty much everything, ’cause we sucked pretty fuckin’ hard.

To make matter worse, we found out pretty quickly that you only got one health bar per level.

Good job finding the health kit Dr. Grant. Though I don't think brutha' red-shirt is gonna' make it...

JP 2 differed from the Contra series in that Contra games are about precision, about the memorization and mastery of a series of small scenarios.

JP 2 was more of a reflex game, and a cheap one at that.

Enemies (I’m lookin’ at YOU, yah’ Raptor fucks…) would often run in from either side of the screen at absurd speeds, often times respawning in greater numbers if you were foolish enough to try and run away.

In addition to the dinosaur enemies, there were also a multitude of human enemies armed with a variety of weapons ranging from pistols to flamethrowers.

Oh yeah, and helicopters.

While most of the dinosaurs were manageable for the most part, the humans were truly a pain in the ass.

Many took several hits to take down, and the ones that fired their weapons (yeah, not all of them were smart enough to do that) did so often, and with great accuracy.

Left: An example of normal and competent enemy. Right: An example of a pair of retarded, hoodie wearing joggers that don't know how to shoot.

This is what I meant when I said Contra was about “precision.”

In Contra games, enemy fire was accurate, but largely infrequent, and often pattern-based.

JP 2 puts you up against endless walls of broken-ass fuckers that pepper you to death with fast moving orange bullets.

Either that, or THIS FUCKER throws a grenade in your face when you try to jump over him.

As you can probably tell, Azn Badger wasn’t too good at JP 2 when he was little.

Thank God for the mission select system, otherwise my not-friend and I would never have gotten past the Raptors in the first level.

Seriously, who the fuck thinks to jump over a fuckin’ Velociraptor?

That's right, you can jump over not one, but TWO Raptors!

“T-Rex Carnage” was the first stage I remember my not-friend and I playing.

How the fuck could we not?

Of all the stage titles, it was the only one that promised the appearance of the fucking T-Rex* they slapped on the back of the box.

There was no way we could go to bed without at least getting to see the T-Rex.

It took us a good solid hour of Raptor-Rape before we finally got to see the lizard king himself.

It was fucking crazy.

Well, maybe not as crazy as Mr. Nolte here, but still...

It all starts when you wander off into the jungle, when out of nowhere the game fades up from black and a jeep pulls up alongside you.

Oh yeah, and did I mention there’s a fuckin’ T-Rex bellowing into the air about 10 feet behind you?

Well, there is.

Yeah, if you don’t hop on that jeep you are fuckin’ slow.  Like, Little Bear slow.

SLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWW.....

As soon as you’re on the jeep, the T-Rex gives chase, gaining on you the whole way.

Putting buckshot and 9mm fire into his giant-ass skull slows him down, but as expected, does little to deter his advance.

In the meantime, as this rampaging beast is charging at you full-bore, there’s a bunch of dudes hanging from the trees above you that just happen to be SHOOTING AT YOU.

Nope, still retarded.

Seriously?

There’s a fucking T-Rex on the loose and these guys can think of nothing better to do than hang from vines, directly in harms way, and put rounds in Dr. Alan-fucking-Grant and his brutha’ from another mutha’?

Priorities dudes, get it together.

Just as the T-Rex is within inches of getting his unforgiving jaws on you, the jeep suddenly launches off a ledge and into a pit.

Yeah, that guy in the jeep is fucked.

Yeah, my not-friend and I were just a little preoccupied with getting shot to bits by tree-faggots and, you know, BEING CHASED BY A MOTHER FUCKING T-REX to notice the ledge.

Needless to say, on our first time through, we went down the fuckin’ hole.

On our second time, the T-Rex inexplicably caught up to us and chomped us good.

Kind of like Dagobah Luke Skywalker here.

Yeah, turns out he does in fact catch up to you if you decide to prioritize shooting the fuckers in the trees over the giant fucking lizard.

Finally, on our third time through, we got our shit together and made the epic leap off the plummeting jeep and onto the vines hanging over the pit.

After shimmying across the vine and to the ground just past the pit, we got to see Alan Grant and brutha’ red-shirt whip out their PDA thingies to view this message:


“Unable to stop the T-Rex?”

The fuck kinda’ bullshit is that?

We put EVERY FUCKING ROUND WE HAD into that beast, and it didn’t so much as make him wince!

Are you telling me we were expected to stop that thing?

Well, needless to say, my not-friend and I were none to happy about this, and we promptly reset the game.

Of course, we had no idea that that was exactly how the game was supposed to go, (you don’t fight the T-Rex proper until the latter stages of the game) and because of that, we were determined to play the stage over to see if there was a way to defeat the T-Rex.

Well, naturally we never found a way to beat the T-Rex, but we did find out something silly in the programming of the game.

First glitch I ever knew besides the Double Dragon II helicopter trick.

After you jump off the jeep and onto the vines above, you can still hear the T-Rex roaring after you periodically.

Because we were both upset at our perceived failure, we sat still for a moment, bitching back and forth over what we could have done wrong.

During this time, we let the game sit, unpaused.

After a minute or two, we noticed that the T-Rex’s snout started to appear from the left side of the screen.

Every time it roared, it would inch a pixel or two further into view.

Eventually, a large portion of the T-Rex’s form became visible, and we watched it repeatedly stand and bellow into the sky.

Finally, after several minutes, the T-Rex inched forward so far that it slipped off the ledge and fell straight into the pit below, completely submerging it in darkness**.

Despite this, the roaring persisted.

After seeing that, my not-friend and I burst out laughing.

We proceeded to the end of the stage and got the same bullshit message as before, but in our eyes, in our own special way, we knew we had beaten the T-Rex.

That was the only stage in the game we beat that night.

That being said, The Best Track in the Game is…

Protect the Gallimimus Stage Theme

Why?:

Did you notice how earlier in this post I made no mention whatsoever as to the quality of the music in this game?

Well, I did so for a reason.

Jurassic Park 2 was very much an average quality game, and as such, the soundtrack was nothing to really write home about.

Truth be told, there was nothing really wrong with the quality of the music, it’s just that the soundtrack is comprised of very few tracks, and most of them are very low key and best heard as ambient noise.

JP 2’s soundtrack is not one I would picture myself listening to outside of the context of playing the actual game.

Despite this, Protecting the Gallimimus is a good solid action track, with a surprising amount of dignity and pathos to it.

... Unlike this guy.

The bongo sounding drum beat is energetic and bouncy, while at the same time very organic and very much in line with John Williams’ work on the movie soundtracks, particularly The Lost World.

No, not this piece of shit. Dumb ass...

The music goes very well with the setting and flow of the stage that it occupies, which consequently, just happens to be my favorite stage in the game.

In fact, once my not-friend and I tried it, I’m pretty sure we kept playing it over and over until we passed out.

Basically, the level is a balls-out run through a massive field of death.

Other than the occasional family of Gallimimus running past you, every enemy in the level is a human, making the Uzi and Shotgun your best friends for the duration.

I remember my not-friend and I bursting out laughing every time one of us got trampled by one of the hoodie wearing dudes.

Even more so when one of us got beaned in the face with a gas grenade.

The boss of the level was the big-ass helicopter pictured somewhere above, and just below.

Cuttin' it pretty close there Dr. Grant...

Initially it starts out with a huge cage hanging down from it’s body that it likes to slam into you.

If you somehow manage to knock off the cage, the chopper starts sweeping the area with gunfire and bombs.

Lucky you.

As mentioned previously, my not-friend and I never finished any level other than the T-Rex stage, though we did get to the chopper boss many, many times.

Runner-Up:

Jungle Theme:

Why?:

This is the track heard most frequently in the Jurassic Park 2 soundtrack.

Basically, every time you are in the jungle, (ALL THE FUCKING TIME) this is the music that accompanies you.

Thankfully, it’s a pretty decent piece of music.

In fact, the Jungle Theme is good enough that in some ways I hesitate to call it a runner-up to the Gallimimus theme.

They both use a similar instrumentation, and both have that really slick, almost haunting quality to them.

Both track also share a similar length, with both adopting a number of subtle variations throughout their loops, resulting in extremely long tracks for an SNES game.

I think I hold the Gallimimus theme in slightly higher regard, not only because it belongs to my favorite stage in the game, but because it has a more thematic quality to it.

It is only played at one point in the game, and it’s composition reflects this.

The Jungle theme on the other hand, is what I would regard as sort of a “hub theme.”

There are stages where it is played only for a few seconds, simply because, well, you were in the jungle for a bit, and that’s the music that they play when you’re in the jungle.

Sorry, “Miscellaneous Jungle Music,” guess you lose to Protect the Gallimimus this time.

*SIDENOTE: Personally, I don’t remember ever referring to a Tyrannosaurus Rex as a T-Rex until after the Jurassic Park movie came out, was this an established thing by 1993, or was I just too young and uncool to :

**BONUS: I was lucky enough to find a clip that shows the T-Rex glitch!  When it happened to my not-friend and I it wasn’t quite so dramatic (the T-Rex only fell once), but hey, either way it’s pretty crazy!

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