We use the phrase “bait and switch” a lot, but its original meaning seems to predominantly stem from
fishing retail. The modern standard for the bait and switch is basically what you see every Black Friday: tremendous deals are advertised (bait), but when the customer arrives, all that is actually available are the same two Luigi amiibos you bought last year (switch). Unfortunately, this is basically how modern advertising works on a nearly global level, and it winds up applying to not only retail, but also politics (see the entirety of the Republican Party), employment (“This job will be fulfilling in a spiritual way”), and live theatre (“Sorry, Idina Menzel isn’t available tonight, but here’s Tammi, her understudy”). In fact, it’s hard to think of a facet of modern life that doesn’t frequently involve a bait and switch, as fleecing the customer is pretty much expected by anyone over the age of twelve. Nobody ever got rich actually giving the public what it wants, now go out and buy your new iphone 7 8.
Like everything else, the videogame market has a tendency to use bait & switch marketing. Gamers repeat stories about “fake” demos going back to the 90’s, and “real time graphics” wound up being a watch phrase for a solid couple of decades. Cloud looks amazing on that motorcycle, but you know he’s going to be strangely Popeyeish when the player actually has control. And even older than the demos of doom, we have the ever popular cover lie-a-thon. Pick a decade, and I’ll tell you what’s on the back of the box. 3-D rendered graphics? RPG-like elements? A huge, open world? How about the old chestnut of 80 hours of gameplay (for a game that can be finished within an hour)? Gamers are used to being lied to, and about the only thing you can count on to actually be correct on that back o’ the box is the number of players (and, come to think of it, that’s usually on the front).
But once you get past being tricked into actually getting that new game into your old game system, you should be in the clear. Give or take a strange tendency for games to turn into shoot ‘em ups in the final ten minutes (or whatever the hell happened in Solar Jetman), what you see on the first level of any given game is usually about what you’d see on the final level. The bosses may have gotten more apocalyptic, or your hero might have gotten a little more loaded for bear (or maybe your main character became a bear? It happens), but, one way or another, the game is usually recognizable between first world and last. Whether your new purchase is the best thing ever or sucks beyond the pale, nine times out of ten, it’s a similar experience from start to finish. Once you’ve hit the cash register, there’s no more need for bait.
Well… most of the time. Let’s take a look at C: The Contra Adventure.
As one might expect, C:TCA is a Contra game. That’s good! We all love Contra, right? Run, gun, turn some off-colored falcons to paste. This was also a release from a post Contra 3/Contra Hard Corps epoch, so there were decent odds on gigantic bosses and crazy, completely ridiculous shopping cart robots. Okay, not every game can be as delightfully insane as Hard Corps, but you might get some missile riding or something similar in there. And, hey, this is from Appaloosa, the weirdoes behind Kolibri, so there’s a good chance this will be some good stuff.
C:TCA starts out a lot like a combination of Contra 3 and Super Contra, and that’s certainly a good thing. We’ve got 2-D run ‘n gun gameplay. We’ve got climbing hand over hand above flaming debris. We’ve got infinitely respawning backpack soldiers. We’ve even got a choo choo ride at the end of the stage, and a multi-part, gigantic boss. Wow! It is like someone actually played Hard Corps! Contra is the Contra we all love! And, yes, it’s a little difficult, but that’s Contra, too! Going to take some time to finish that first level with three lives, but you can do it, soldier!
But that’s just the bait.
Past the first level, C:TCA is nothing more than yet another lame, vaguely Doom-esque 3-D action game. Run around 3-D mazes that are the tiniest bit reminiscent of Contra’s original “base” stages while deftly dodging bullets and aliens. And guess what? It’s super easy to survive Contra gameplay when you have 3-D movement and bullets are moving about as fast as a disabled penguin (on land, to be perfectly clear). Aside from some familiar weapons (flamethrower, spread, grenade launcher), this could be any other early 3-D action game starring a grizzled marine-ish dude battling space aliens. In fact, the aliens of this Contra adventure are less Red Falcon and a lot more H. R. Giger. Yes, there’s always been some overlap there, but it’s so flagrant here that no one would bat an eye at this being a reskinned Alien title. Plagiarism aside, play through C:TCA, and you’ll find that only the first and final levels are actually “classic” Contra levels, everything else is a switch over to the world of generic (and tepid) late 90’s 3-D nonsense. You have to play through this weak wannabe Contra game to find a real Contra experience!
What was even the point of such a thing? Appaloosa went to all the trouble of creating 2-D physics, monsters, and bosses for… a whole two stages. Was it so they could release screenshots and gameplay videos of “classic” Contra action? Was it because Blockbuster was still a thing, and they figured no one would finish the first (and seemingly most difficult) stage and find out the rest of the game was a sham during a rental? Was it to placate fans that despised the previous Contra: Legacy of War and wanted some classic gameplay? … For… two levels? Whatever the reason, C: The Contra Adventure was bait and switch from case to CD, and the advertised “Contra” here was practically nowhere to be found.
Luckily, it looks like the bait didn’t attract that many fish. This contra adventure was apparently an abject failure, and nobody even bothered to localize it anywhere but the States. It would be another four years before we saw a new Contra game of any kind (and this was after seeing a new one every two years like clockwork). C: The Contra Adventure’s switch failed completely, and, to add salt to the wound, the franchise was left floundering ever since.
But one thing is obvious. Buyer beware: Contra adventures are not to be trusted.
FGC #313 C: The Contra Adventure
- System: Playstation 1. I guess this means the game may be technically played on Playstation 2 and Playstation 3 as well, but don’t go expecting any digital releases.
- Number of players: The general lack of 2-D also means a complete lack of 2 players. What were they going to do? Implement a split screen? Ha!
- Say something nice: There is one stage that features Ray, our Contra hero, trapped in a rapidly descending elevator, so gravity is right out. This allows for some neat, floaty gameplay that is pretty much what I always expected a Contra “underwater level” to look like. Of course, the whole thing is only one screen with randomly arriving monsters, so it still feels kind of cheap… but it’s the thought that counts.
- Favorite Weapon: The flamethrower is a fine example of the difference between 3-D and 2-D gameplay. In 2-D mode, the flamethrower practically encompasses the horizontal length of the screen, and can vaporize most any creature in its vicinity. In 3-D mode, it barely seems to stretch inches ahead of Ray, and is really only effective against generally immobile sub bosses. So, to answer the question, my favorite weapon is laser.
- Retro Roll Call: The final area (when it returns to 2-D) features a boss fight against the Terminator Twins and their colossal cousin from Contra 3. I have no idea why this boss fight was chosen as the reprise du jour in the middle of the alien base (where, I don’t know, maybe a more alien boss would make slightly more sense), but at least they got to rip off Cameron instead of Giger for a few minutes.
- Did you know? Recent releases in the Contra franchise include Contra 3D, a pashislot game, and Neo Contra, a slot machine. Long live Contra!
- Would I play again: Nope. Never. Man, this game is bad. There are so many actually good Contra games out there! Play those!
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Kung-Fu for the NES! Punch, kick, it’s all in the pagoda! Please look forward to it!