Tag Archives: contra

FGC #576 Contra

June 1, 2633

GIFs you can hearMy name is Lance Bean. I have been dispatched to an archipelago near New Zealand with my partner, Bill “Mad Dog” Rizer. Why is he called Mad Dog? Because he was responsible for packing for this mission, and the dumbass didn’t even bring any shirts for us. Multi-purpose gun? Check. Suntan lotion? Bug spray? A friggen towel? Nope. I am traveling with an animal.

And our superiors apparently recognized that. Mad Dog is here to shoot stuff, but I have been distinctly tasked with documenting this journey. Apparently, prior to two years ago, this was a completely abandoned island. Then a meteorite crashed on the area, and the place has been hopping ever since. Now satellite images show that there appears to be a heavily armed militia preparing for an invasion, and nobody much likes that. However, no one can figure out the exact affiliation of this army, so there is some conjecture among the science types that these dorks arrived here on that previously mentioned space rock. Do I truck with that theory? Of course not. But I have been tasked with documenting this mission and any “weirdness” (their exact words) that may be involved. I’m not holding my breath there, but it at least gives me a reason to send Bill out in front while I scribble down some notes.

Mad Dog, I’m going to spend most of this mission looking for a t-shirt shop thanks to you, so you’re going to deal with these dorks and their stupid exploding bridges.

June 2, 2633

What even is this thing?Bill and I have ventured through two distinct areas, and I have learned two things:
1. The “army” doesn’t seem to be affiliated with any known superpower, but they do call themselves Red Falcon.
2. Red Falcon hella loves backpacks.

Other than that? Nothing to report. Where we landed was some dense forest, and it was crowded with guys running around doing nothing. Guess we interrupted Red Falcon calisthenics? And then Bill blew ‘em all to whatever afterlife is relevant to backpack worshippers. There were a few turret guns and a literal gun wall, but nothing we couldn’t handle. I mean, look, our boys back home keep sending gun modulations through flying orb thingys, so we’re not going to be impressed when confronted with a cannon that can aim in a whole three directions.

Once we got on the other side of that defensive wall, we at least saw Red Falcon had some interesting tech. I emphasize “had”, though, because we blew it all to Kingdom Come. It is not my fault if you seal all your doors with extremely volatile, glowing red buttons. Oh, and head’s up, Red Falcon? Some weirdo doing jumping jacks across a wall is not the impenetrable defense you seem to think it is. Incidentally, as per my orders, I did want to stop and take a look at all this tech sprinkled around the base, but Bill… well… Bill apparently got a flamethrower modulator on his gun, and having a flamethrower pissed him off so much, he had to burn the whole base down. First world problems…

Regardless, nothing extraordinary about Red Falcon to report so far. There was some kind of weird, angry eyeball thing at the end of this labyrinth fortress, but it was probably a robot or a hologram or something. It shot bubbles? Literally nothing to write home about. Apparently we’re going back outside tomorrow, so looking forward to that.

June 3, 2633

Thar be dragonsMad Dog is a dick.

Look, Bill, this is really straightforward: you jump and tumble and whatever and shoot the bad guys, and I hang back and write up these mission reports. I have to stand there and take notes. It is my job. And it’s cool that you get to flip around like a coked-up acrobat on floating rocks or whatever, but do not leave me behind. This is pretty basic stuff. I am your partner. I am helping. And I will literally die if you run ahead of me and leave me to get blasted while I’m trying to catalogue that 800th backpack dude. Yes, I know you think this is stupid, but it is important to the mission, and that means it is important to you. You want to get medals, Bill? Oh, no, I guess you don’t, because you can’t even remember to bring a shirt. Dammit, Bill.

Stop calling me “scorpion”, Bill. Is that supposed to be an insult? No, scorpions are not known for being slow. That isn’t a thing.

For the record, the waterfall was nice and pleasant. Nothing too exciting going on here, but the “gun wall” from that first base was replaced with some kind of mobile dragon statue. Red Falcon apparently is really into robotic masonry, but this has otherwise been a pretty uninteresting day. Now for another day, another base.

June 4, 2633

Where is my shirt, BillFirst task of the day: another dumbass series of hallways. Who cares? This is, like, exactly like the last base, but with more guns. Been there, done that. There was even some kind of hologram monster thingy shooting bubbles at the end. Red Falcon apparently has decent technology, but it uses it all for bubble cyclopes and dragon statues. I admire that, though it isn’t particularly effective in the face of Mad Dog.

But speaking of Mad Dog, I was cursing my dear companion for most of the day (again), because today’s adventure was blanketed in snow. How does that work? We were looking at a reasonable 50-60 when we touched down (yes, Bill, I understand that it is Summer at home, but we’re in the southern hemisphere, genius), but now we are trudging through a blizzard. Technically, we are also close to where that meteor touched down, so it is possible there was some manner of ecological event here, and, (conjecture) the meteor is somehow “draining” the life (and temperature) out of the area. Or maybe Red Falcon invested in a weather machine, and is training its grunts for snowy backpacking. Really could be a lot of explanations here.

Regardless, Bill couldn’t care less, and he seems to keep warm by pressing himself up against “spike trucks” (his words) and firing away. I guess the adrenaline is keeping his shirtless self going. There was some kind of “hover ship” at the entrance to the next base, but that thing barely warrants a mention. However, it does seem like that base is going down into the Earth and “following” that meteor that hit the archipelago two years ago, so we might see some answers tomorrow.

And maybe, once we’re inside, Red Falcon will turn up the thermostat.

June 5, 2633

I do not like this dudeThis has been a… memorable day.

So our first stop was some kind of factory or power company or… something. It’s hard to tell, because whatever was ever supposed to be going on here appears to be partially broken now. There are pipes that are half broken, expelling… something that is deadly. You do not want to touch that stuff. And, whether the place is actually functioning or not, there were a pile of soldiers defending the area. Maybe they like the energy blasts? Trying to warm the place up? This Energy Zone (Bill’s naming scheme, based on the fact that he woke up and “crushed” some stupid energy drink) is a complete mystery, and I can’t see any humans actively working within this “factory”.

Oh, and the reason I note that “human” thing? There was what appeared to be a person in a football uniform guarding the following area… except he was about three times the size of your average human. This goliath tossed some disc thing around the area, but the biggest threat was the fact that he was just… big. I could have reasonably described everything “big” we faced up to this point as some kind of robot, but this was definitely a biological entity. He (it?) smelled alive, at least. Is this the effect of the meteor on a human? Some genetically manipulated malcontent? However this beast came into existence, we put it in the ground, albeit after it soaked way too much artillery.

By comparison, the following area was fairly mundane. It seemed to be a deliberate “trap zone” (how does that work for you, Bill? Hangar Zone? No, that’s stupid) to keep invaders like us out. Of course, the whole area seemed… off. Like maybe someone on the planning board had read about how to repel invaders, but didn’t quite understand what was actually going to be useful. Spiked walls? Deadly. A mine cart that just putters along at 5 MPH and doesn’t go anywhere? Maybe head back to the drawing board, Red Falcon. You’ll get us next time, I’m sure.

Regardless, one final door busting, and we’re good to go. Given all these fortifications, I’m guessing we’ll see the heart of this mission tomorrow.

June 6, 2633

Java is cancelledOkay…

Okay.

That was… something.

I will keep this report brief: yes, the meteorite apparently brought some aliens with it. I have no idea how to even describe these things, but Bill called the big sausage-looking thing “Java”. Why? It made me spill my morning coffee, and Bill was having a laugh. He has been a jackass to the very end. Also, I would love to document more of what we experienced on that wretched island, but our favorite jackass blew up the whole island. Was that part of his mission? Destroy every last trace of the nightmare I just experienced? Good job, Mad Dog, you shot a pulsating, mammoth heart until an entire archipelago detonated. Oh, did I not mention the solitary heart the size of a Hummer? And how it was protected by an army of spider-aliens that were continually spawning from acid-dripping eggs? And how I had to spend like twenty minutes prying one of those suckers off Bill’s face? That was not a fun time for anybody involved.

I am done with this nonsense. Yes, there were aliens. Yes, a lot of those “backpack dudes” were probably aliens, too. It was, probably very literally, aliens all the way down. And I am done. I’m not doing that again. You want to send this “Scorpion” against an army of aliens again, you can count me out. I know that meteor had to come from somewhere, but If these aliens strike back, that’s super, but I’m staying home.

I’m going to need thirty lifetimes’ worth of therapy now…

FGC #576 Contra

  • System: We do not have time to name every system that has hosted Contra. I can at least confirm that everyone thinks of the NES or Arcade versions, but some of those ports have appeared on the Nintendo DS, Nintendo Switch, Commodore 64, and… let’s say Playstation 4.
  • Number of players: Two player simultaneous in a time when that was rarely ever seen. Particularly in an action game! That’s important!
  • Back in Action: And, while 2-P is important, I’d also claim that one of the chief reasons Contra became so popular was that “instant respawning” was practically unheard of at the time. Nobody likes to restart from the beginning of the level! They want to pick up right from where their corpse lies! And Contra’s instant respawns were wonderful! Just a shame that Lance and Bill were always so… fragile.
  • Favorite Weapon: Spread. It works in other games, too. Special shoutout to the incredible uselessness of flamethrower, and the horrible “tiny shield” that is generated by coupling a laser with a rapid-fire controller. It’s like tackling the alien hordes with a blowtorch!
  • Land of the Rising Fun: The Japanese version of Contra includes cutscenes, snow, pulsating alien hives, “mission reports”, and a full map. It’s all available on the modern console Contra collection, and I will admit that not being able to read those mission reports may have inspired this article.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: This is a game I can finish without ever taking a hit. I rarely “practice” that hard on a game, but it happened with Contra, because I had to record Contra footage about a decade ago, and I refused to record any deaths. My mortal enemy is this pipe, though.

    Stupid pipe

    Or maybe Achille’s heel is a more appropriate moniker for that one…

  • Did you know? American editions of Contra seemed to downplay the whole “future war” thing, but keep all those whacky aliens and magical guns. This is a weird choice that nobody in 1987 actually cared about.
  • Would I play again: I like to run ‘n gun. This is the ideal game to play for like a half hour and just be done. That happens a lot in my household.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Rock ‘n Roll Racing for the 16-bit system of your choice! First we are going to rock, then we are going to blow up a race car, and then we might roll. Please look forward to it!

Hate this guy

FGC #475 Contra 4

Get 'emSometimes a game isn’t the “best” in the franchise. Sometimes a game goes well beyond such an accolade. Sometimes a game is the “most” in the franchise. And, for the Contra franchise, Contra 4 is the most Contra that has ever existed.

When considering the most a franchise has ever been, you immediately realize that some franchises will literally never have a “most” entry. Final Fantasy, for instance, wildly bounces around different narratives and gameplay styles within its own releases. By the time we hit Final Fantasy 7, for instance, you could say its techno-magic world was already trite within the franchise (see FF6) or a crazy deviation from the franchise’s origins (see FF1). That gulf has only widened with time, so your “best” Final Fantasy has equal odds on containing a Ramuh that is a wizened old lightning wizard or some manner of buff centaur. They’re both valid, but also equally impossible to quantify as the definition of a feature within a franchise. Mario games are similar, as it’s very difficult to see Donkey Kong existing in even the same universe as Super Mario Odyssey (and not just because Bowser got bored and literally rebooted the universe). You’ve always got your goombas and your princesses and whatnot, but the simple act of jumping varies incredibly whether or not there are four players or black holes about. How can you say what is the most Mario when the only connecting tissue in his universe is a pair of blue overalls?

But sometimes the more iterative games are even worse. Mega Man had a very straight line through the NES era, and, even when a Mega Man title is released today, it is still very much like its forbearers. However, it seems every Mega Man title adds some new wrinkle to the formula, whether that be something like slides or armor made from dogs (well, one dog). And, while you can still subjectively choose a “best” Mega Man, the entire franchise doesn’t seem to include one title that is simply the finest of literally everything that has come before it. You won’t earn that accolade by adding gears or a dash to the preexisting gameplay. And, ultimately, that is how we define what a “most” game must be: a game that takes everything from the previous entries, cuts off the crusts, and forms an enchanting sandwich filled with only the absolute best parts.

And Contra 4 is that sandwich. And it is delicious.

… Even if it is stuffed with an overabundance of alien larvae.

Creepy CrawlyIf you hadn’t played Contra (1) in a while (which, considering Contra 4 was released in celebration of Contra’s 20th anniversary, was very likely for many people), you might be forgiven for assuming Contra 4 was some kind of remake or reimagining. Many of the familiar trappings of Contra are right there from the beginning (like a certain laser core wall or a dragon gate at the top of a waterfall [its name is Gromaides, you buffoon]), and levels do have a tendency to switch from radical 2-D to tolerable 3-D hallway-based fortresses. And there’s a giant, pulsating heart at the (an) end, too! But then you might notice there are a few items from Super Contra (3) in there, too, like a ruined cityscape ruled by an enormous alien, or a final alien monster that needs to be brain-blasted. And isn’t that giant robot straight out of Contra: Hard Corps? Black Viper from Operation C? A mountain of corpses from Shattered Soldier? Is that whole ruined city the one from Contra Force, a game absolutely no one has ever played? Holy cow, this isn’t a remake! This is everything that has ever appeared in a 2-D Contra! It’s maximum Contra!

And it’s not just about the setting, bosses, and strangely high number of gross bugs scuttling about: Contra 4 is also about condensing the Contra gameplay to its most recognizable form. The grappling hook feels like the only thing we haven’t seen before in 2-D Contra, and it vaguely feels like something that was added more for managing the dual screens of the DS. But aside from that addition? There is literally nothing here that hasn’t been seen before. Two weapons for runnin’ n’ gunnin’, a jump for alien vaulting, and your always trusty ability to duck (eat it, Mega Man) is all you need to complete this adventure. And the weapons are all basic Contra mainstays, like the laser, machine gun, or that whaddyacallit thingy that blows up real good. Grenade launcher? Crusher? Something like that. But even though everything here is familiar, it’s also its best possible self. You will not be straddled with the crappy laser of the NES version, this laser gun is the best it has ever been (and we will hear nothing of classic versions). And Spread? Your opponents have seemingly been arranged in ideal spread formations, so Spread has never felt so… right. ZAPAnd that’s how Contra 4 feels in a nutshell: there are so many situations and abilities involved that, while it’s all been done before, it is done so perfectly here that, when you hit your stride, it feels amazing. The fact that later levels are gated behind limited lives and continues is not an accident: it is a way of telling the player that the ideal way to play Contra 4 is to play it while coasting on the high of a death-defying run.

This article could just be a list of the ways Contra 4 references other Contra games. This could be a list of the ways Contra 4 refines the Contra experience that has come before. I could even do my best to note how upgrading weapons starts out impossible, and quickly becomes second nature. But, when you get right down to it, everything about that would be entirely perfunctory. In much the same way Contra 4 is the most Contra, there is no real way to explain how Contra 4 works beyond just saying “go play Contra 4”. It is Contra. It is every Contra. It’s all the good of the franchise wrapped up in one perfect little cartridge.

Contra 4 may subjectively be the best Contra game, but it is certainly objectively the most Contra game that has ever existed.

FGC #475 Contra 4

  • System: Nintendo DS. This is the only issue, as not only is the game tied to an extinct system, it is also made flawlessly for said extinct system. There was no way the dual screen-based stages were ever going to work in a WiiU tablet/television situation, and it barely works (thanks to screen dimensions) on the 3DS. And now either option barely exists anyway! Sorry, everyone I just told to play Contra 4!
  • Number of players: I’m going to assume that it’s two, but I’ve never played this game with a buddy. Maybe the two player mode isn’t great? Maybe it’s wholly perfect, too? Don’t know. Don’t care.
  • Damn bugsFavorite Character: I know it’s Wayforward being Wayforward with its female characters, but I appreciate Sheena Etranzi, the heroine of Hard Corps, appearing in Contra 4. She’s, what, the only female character in the franchise that isn’t at least partially a robot/bionoid? Is that right? Even if she winds up being “the hot blonde” on the roster, she’s still representing 51% of humanity like a champ.
  • Super Code: You can enter the Konami code to obtain some extra lives (which are rather essential when you’re starting out in this death-coaster), but code entry requires screen tapping in that familiar pattern to earn your cheat. This is simultaneously very cute and very annoying.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I would like to stretch this article to insane lengths so I have more room for screenshots, but… that apparently isn’t happening. Damn!
  • Did you know? The boss of the city zone, Crustacean Cruiser, is eerily reminiscent of a similar giant bug boss in Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Ohme. Given that giant slug is one of my favorite fights in both franchises, I’m going to allow this random, universe-shattering homage.
  • Would I play again: This is the best Contra and one of the best Nintendo DS games available. It’s just a damned shame that the Nintendo DS isn’t so viable anymore… But I will find a way to play it all again! I swear!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy 9! Speaking of games that try to encompass everything that has come before, here’s the adventure of our second-favorite Saiyan in fantasy land! Please look forward to it!

The eyes have it

FGC #427 Yume Penguin Monogatari

PENGUIN!In a world where Spider-Man isn’t popular enough to merit game preservation, what hope does an overweight penguin have?

Yume Penguin Monogatari is a supremely unusual game. Hailing from a time well before videogamin’ had codified itself into anything that made sense (you know, back when your next mascot creature could be an electric rat that hides in the forest), Yume Penguin Monogatari is the story of… a penguin. And that penguin has a girlfriend. But! Our hero penguin, Penta, has gotten fat. And previously mentioned penguin girlfriend, Penko, is not having it. So Penko dumps tubby Penta, and leaves him for Ginji, a nefarious penguin in a top hat and shades. Now Penta is setting out on a quest to lose some weight and reclaim the heart of Penko, but Ginji is on to Penta’s plans, and schemes to recruit an army of ridiculous creatures that all aim to fatten Penta back into obesity. So Penta has to find his way through six or so levels, and hopefully maintain a slim figure while battling monsters like a sentient/delicious birthday cake. It’s a hard life for an overweight penguin!

But, depending on how badly you want to see Penta achieve his chubby penguin dreams, it might not be a hard life for the player. Yume Penguin Monogatari features fairly unique gameplay for a NES (well, technically, Famicom) title: Penta cannot die. Get hit by every enemy across any given stage, and Penta will still survive. In a time when a mere life bar was a godsend, Penta is practically invincible compared to his dramatically more fragile 8-bit brethren. But, make no mistake, Penta is not going to experience a cakewalk (wait… dietwalk?) on his quest to cut out calories. Every stage features a generally unforgiving Here we go!timer, and, should the hourglass run out for Penta, it’s time to repeat the stage from the start. Additionally, every stage has a “diet goal”, and if Penta manages to beat the boss, but still looks terrible in a speedo, it’s back to the beginning. Considering every boss tosses out copious amounts of edibles, and Penta is an accomplished glutton, there is a very real possibility Penta will be forced to restart a stage due to excess flab. Said it before, say it again: it’s a hard life for an overweight penguin.

But, hard life or no, you’ll probably see the whole stage. Which is more than I can say for so many NES games…

Yume Penguin Monogatari is a Konami title. For Konami, much of the NES/SNES era was the epoch of the shoot ‘em up. Whether it was lil’ ships battling big cores, or lil’ dudes gunning down gigantic hearts, Konami had a number of titles available for satisfying your inalienable right to run around and shoot aliens. But the downside of nearly all of those titles? One hit kills. Assuming you don’t forsake your missiles and laserbeams for a shield immediately, the Vic Viper is going to fall to the forces of Bacterion after the slightest tap from a… one of those roundy things at the start of a stage. They probably have a name. Or Contra! The greatest game of all time that absolutely required a cheat code or you were never going to make it to the third level! Bill and Lance might be heroes of an alien invasion, but they’re just as vulnerable to bullets as weird dudes with backpacks. Basically, back in the day of 8-bit heroes, if you saw the final stage of a game (or even the boss of approximately the fourth level), it meant that you had a nigh-superhuman level of reflexes, or the ability to memorize a level like nobody’s business. I don’t care if Nintendo Power was helping you out with maps, you still had to have some major skills to make it to the end without that precious Konami Code.

CAKE BOSSAnd Yume Penguin Monogatari feels like it may be an answer to all those crying Nintendo kids. Yes, thanks to the timer and weight requirements, it may be impossible for some people to beat even the first level, left alone finish the entire game; but will everyone be able to see the majority of level 1? It’s pretty likely! Penta merely “trips” or inflates to bulbous size when attacked by an enemy, and is not immediately obliterated like so many Gradius defenders. And that’s great! The worst part of any of those one-hit kill games (or games that require a continue after rapidly vanishing “lives”) is that it was nearly impossible to be prepared for the end of a level. People expect increasing difficulty, so it’s only natural that the end of the stage would be the most challenging section. But if you spent all your lives on the initial, “easy” bits (because you’re, ya know, an eight year old just trying to have fun), then the finale is simply going to be a swift kick in the teeth before getting booted back to the beginning. In Yume Penguin Monogatari, however, you actually have a chance. Yes, Penta might be waddling along at maximum fat levels, and it might be abundantly clear that he’s going to get his tubby tail feathers dumped at the end of the stage, but at least you get to see what’s at the end of the stage. At least you get to play the actual game, as opposed to simply being annihilated at the starting gate. At least you can learn from your mistakes, and not be completely blindsided/destroyed by some manner of pig-zeppelin at the end of the level.

FLAP FLAPAnd, thankfully, this helps the player learn how to play the game. There may be traps and pitfalls all over the level, but with the ability to play the whole level, a player is going to get better and better with every run. All effort won’t be expended immediately just in an effort to conquer the start, and practice can make perfect across the entire breadth of a stage. In short, in one silly “fat penguin” game, Konami cracked the “difficulty appropriate for everyone” nut in 1991.

And then no one in America ever got to play the game, because it was never localized.

And, likely because it had the global appeal of… well… an overweight penguin, Yume Penguin Monogatari only ever saw rerelease in 2006, on the i-Revo… and I have no idea what that is. Some kind of smart phone? Smart TV? Smart penguin? No matter. Point is that this penguin adventure isn’t something that can legally be played in any country where there is currently an ongoing debate on the nature of videogame difficulty.

Yume Penguin Monogatari is an excellent, fun, weird game with some interesting twists on videogame difficulty…

And it’s lost forever.

FGC #427 Yume Penguin Monogatari

  • System: NES… or Nintendo Famicom. And, as previously mentioned, whatever the hell an “i-Revo” is.
  • Number of players: Oh lawd, one penguin comin’.
  • Everything you know is wrong: Considering the goal of many videogames (and nearly all NES games) is to consume as many food items as possible, it is really weird playing any game where you must avoid, say, succulent apples and enchanting rice cakes. The fact that apples are anything but a diet item pretty much goes against everything I have ever learned.
  • WeeeeeeLet’s talk about fat, baby: One could make the argument that this game is anti-fat, and ultimately body-shaming. And it is! On the other hand, being fat doesn’t kill Penta, it simply is the reason his girlfriend is going to leave him for another, slimmer penguin. So think of the moral less that “fat is bad” and more “some penguins are superficial, and will make you pilot magical planes to satisfy their own twisted desires”.
  • An end: Oh, and after defeating the final boss (it’s the bad alterna-boyfriend, natch), the ending is a now slim Penta hanging with the pleased Penko. But now Penko has developed an eating disorder, and she bulks up to gargantuan size. Ha ha! You two silly penguins are bad for each other!
  • Did you know? Pentarou, the penguin of Parodius titles, is supposedly Penta’s son. So I guess it is canon that Penta and Penko shake their collective penguin booty after the finale.
  • Would I play again: This is a great game! It would probably be right up there with Kirby’s Adventure and other late, great NES titles if, ya know, there was a legit way to play it.

What’s next? In the name of the moon, I will write about another forgotten videogame. Please look forward to it!

GET IT!?

FGC #403 Contra 3: The Alien Wars

CONTRA!Why are so many phenomenal games on the Super Nintendo?

If you’ve spent longer than five minutes on any gaming forum/group/site/underground fight club, you’ve probably heard the age old gaming question, “If you were stranded on a desert island, but somehow had a television and electricity and maybe access to Amazon.com, which gaming console would you want to have with you?” And, if you’re anything like the pedantic nerds that generally ask such a question, your response is only more questions. Does this “one system” allow for all games ever on the system? Are we talking about a fully backwards compatible Playstation 3? Are we including DLC titles that appeared on older systems? Is there online functionality? Is sand going to get in that cartridge slot, instantly ruining any hope of having fun at all? It sounds completely insane, but if we’re allowed one system equipped with every available game for that system, I might actually choose the Vita. That sucker technically has so many great games… even if its system exclusives are sorely lacking.

But, if you’re talking about exclusives (and not modern systems that are clearly cheating by absorbing entire classic libraries), it seems like the “best” systems are the second ones. Playstation 1 was fun, but Playstation 2 had an amazing library that practically defined modern game storytelling. Xbox was a drop in the online bucket, but Xbox 360 created the console online community of today. And the WiiU was a fine prototype for the concept of a “portable console”, but nothing beats the amazing portability and ergonomics of the Switch. And, when you get right down to it, this all makes sense. Videogames are, at their core, pieces of technology, and it’s rare that any technology gets it right the first time. Nobody is still driving a Model T, and the Wright Flyer isn’t our standard for aviation. To be clear, this isn’t to say that any “early technology” is inherently bad, simply that we usually first get a passable proof of concept, and then, a generation later, we’ve got the good stuff. It’s the way of the world.

WeeeeeBut the Super Nintendo was something special. Back before voice acting and online play and the very concept that you could have color on your portable system (or at least pull that off without 3,616 AA batteries), there was the Super Nintendo. And it’s easy to discount that previous sentence as an old man griping while he waits for the latest Kirby game to download 3 gigs of updates, but it’s worth noting that there was a time when all a videogame console was expected to do was play videogames. No DVDs, no Netflix app, not even the possibility of “updating the firmware”. If you wanted to do something unique and interesting with a later game, you needed to design a special chip, and plump that cartridge cost up to unreasonable levels (hi, Mega Man X3). You want to save? Go hit the battery store! And God help you if you want to require a damned contemptible misguided peripheral. But, through it all, it meant that, by and large, games were games, and all you kids better not be enjoying your walking simulators on my lawn.

Sorry, I had to take a quick break to go yell at a cloud. Where were we? Oh, right, Super Nintendo.

So the Super Nintendo didn’t have any gimmicks. This… might be the only time that ever happened with a Nintendo console. The original Nintendo Entertainment System shipped with its own robot, and a gun with which to shoot said robot (in case it ever demanded you play Beyond the Beyond). The N64 touted its lack of load times, four controller ports, and analog sticks in direct response to Sony’s betrayal. The Wii, WiiU, and Switch were all completely defined by their stunts. And the Gamecube? Its biggest failing was that it had a pile of gimmicks (weird controller layout, GBA compatibility, the fact that it is clearly a near-sentient lunchbox), and none of them ever stuck, because all anyone wanted to do was play Smash Bros. But the Super Nintendo only ever wanted to play videogames. Here’s a controller with some more buttons. Here are a few chips that allow for more colors, graphics, and sounds. Now go nuts! We’ll check back in in five years or so.

BOOMAnd it certainly seems like a lot of developers did go nuts. Nintendo itself (well, let’s include some “second parties” that were synonymous with Nintendo) was responsible for Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, Kirby Super Star, Donkey Kong Country, and Earthbound. There was also Super Metroid, which some claim has not been surpassed within its genre even to this day. Square gave us Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy 2 & 3, and Chrono Trigger, another luminary that is still unrivaled. Capcom presented Mega Man X and the last of the great Disney licensed platformers. And Konami was no slouch, either, as we saw the future of Castlevania and Contra, which neatly brings us to today’s featured title.

Contra 3: The Alien Wars is one of the few run ‘n gun games that presents a different playstyle every stage, but still manages to be absolutely perfect. Everything starts in a “basic” Contra stage, with invading aliens, marching soldiers, and the occasional giant turtle monster. Then it’s time for an overhead stage that is less wanton destruction and more hide ‘n seek. The third stage is predominantly climbing based, and the fifth level is a hunt ‘n kill in the desert. It’s only in the sixth and final stage that we return to the “original” gameplay of the first level, and then it’s time for a boss gauntlet that includes destroying a strangely high number of colossal organs. And sandwiched somewhere in the middle is the unbelievable Level 4, wherein Jimbo and Sully (real names withheld to protect the innocent) first ride hovercycles across a deserted highway (though it gets more crowded pretty quickly), proceed to fight a robo ninja beneath a helicopter, and then ride a series of missiles straight into an offending flying fortress. It is the most spectacular thing to ever happen in a Contra game!

GACKAnd that’s the thing: Contra 3 might be the best game in the franchise… And it was released on the Super Nintendo over 25 years ago. There have been other Contra experiences since, but so many of them have been… lacking. And even the best of these new Contra titles (Contra 4 comes to mind) revisit earlier titles rather liberally, up to and including whole bosses or set pieces from Contra 3, yet adding very little to the nostalgia. Then again, Contra 3 did repeat some of the greatest hits of Contra and Super Contra, so… has that always been happening? Is Contra just as iterative as Super Street Fighter 2: Turbo Edition?

Wait a tick… maybe the Super Nintendo is home to so many great games because it was a system exclusively built for iterative games.

The Super Nintendo was a “Nintendo, but super”. The system allowed games to be “the same thing as last time, but super”. Castlevania 4 was, ultimately, a reskin of Castlevania 1. Super Metroid was Samus repeating her zero mission all over again, but now she gets faster boots. Link vs. Ganon. Little Mac vs. Some Tall Guy. There was no need to make Mario a JRPG or fighting game (yet), and the public (or the market) was perfectly content to see the early “arcade” style games evolve into their more console-based final forms. Basically, all the games that defined gaming in the first place on the NES all went Super Saiyan at once, and the nefarious Frieza of Boredom was left floating in space.

BOOMSo why is the Super Nintendo so well regarded? Because it was a videogame system that had the technology and luck to allow itself to “only” be a place for properly evolved videogames. As we grew up, so too did our games, and the Super Nintendo was the host for many of them.

And then we got to murder a buttload of aliens, so that wasn’t bad, either.

FGC #403 Contra 3: The Alien Wars

  • System: Super Nintendo/SNES Classic, and then there was a remake of sorts on the Gameboy Advance. It included a few stages from Contra: Hard Corps in an effort to ditch the overhead stages, which makes for a very different experience. There was also an OG Gameboy port of Contra 3, too, and it was phenomenally awful.
  • Number of players: And the Super Nintendo was a great time for two players (and exclusively two players)!
  • Port-o-Call: Gameboy Contra 3 was terrible, but it had Super Gameboy enhanced features. Which… is vaguely confusing, because if you’ve got a Super Nintendo, and want to play Contra 3 on the television, I want to say there are other options…
  • Favorite Weapon: Flamethrower 4 life. There is no problem that cannot be solved by an unending stream of hot death.
  • I'm not the only one that sees it, right?Favorite… Uh… Thing: A swarm of alien bugs attempt to carry off your hero toward the start of Level 3, and I’ve always appreciated how they’re the approximately one monster in the game that can be touched without incurring instant death. It doesn’t make that section any less hectic (as they will drag you to an immediate death if you let them), but it’s nice to be slightly less destructible for all of thirty seconds.
  • Did you know? In Europe, our Contra heroes are (not) secretly androids fighting an army of alien robots. It’s basically the prequel to Nier Automata.
  • Would I play again: Contra 3 just reminded me that the Super Nintendo was a system of wonders. What do you think?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask! I guess you’ll see that update in… three days. Please look forward to it!