Contra III: The Alien Wars Portable Reviews
by Polly

Given the recent announcement of Contra 4 for the DS, and that I've already covered Operation C for the original GameBoy, I figured I'd go ahead and tackle the other two portable incarnations of everyone's favorite run and gun shooter. As it turns out, both are adaptations of the classic Contra III: The Alien Wars, which was released for the Super NES back in 1992. The original GameBoy adaptation, Contra: The Alien Wars, appeared two years after the SNES version. The GameBoy Advance adaptation, Contra Advance: The Alien Wars EX (which is one incredibly ridiculous subtitle) came ten years later.

Movin' On Up To 16-bit
Me and Contra III have a strange relationship. I've never been able to see it as the classic and "best of the series" as everyone else seems to. I can admit the game is fun in places, and that it brought a lot to the Contra series' over the top craziness that we see today, but it's always felt kinda sloppy, rushed, and "not quite right" to me.

The game's six stages are over way too fast and two of them aren't any fun to play at all. When Contra III stuck to its side-scrolling roots, there was a decent bit of fun to be had. The overhead stages just suck all kinds of ass. Firstly, they involved hunting down stationary targets in a maze, which really puts a damper on the Contra experience. Secondly, the controls for these portions of the game were awful. Moving across narrow pathways shouldn't be a "skill" I have to develop because the platform detection is awful. Making this worse is that when you turn your guy around the entire screen rotates rather than your sprite. It's disorienting as all hell and makes lining up those annoying "walk across the narrow bridge" parts even more frustrating. The controls and jumping always felt a bit stiff to me and some of the enemy attacks feel a bit cheap at times. I rarely ever felt that when I passed a Stage it was because of my skill, but more of just having good luck that day. Maybe I'm just complete shit at the game, I don't know. I rock all the others, so maybe something's wrong, right?

Contra III sported some amazing graphics for the time. Background graphics came packed with even more detail than before and even normal fodder enemies looked quite menacing and had really good animation. The explosions were quite sexy too. Bosses started getting larger in scale with Super C, but Contra III really blew the doors open and set the standard for what we'd be seeing in later installments. Contra III also has one of the best soundtracks of the SNES era with beautifully orchestrated tunes sounding like something right out of a movie.

I've never been able to fully like or dislike this game. If I were to give it a sock rating it'd probably be somewhere between a 3 and 3.5 sockseses.

Movin' On Down...
Good ol' ports. When a company is too lazy to do anything original or an executive needs a few hundred more yen to pay off that brand new sportscar to impress the high school girlies on the way home, we get ports.

Both the GameBoy and GameBoy Advance versions of Contra III are considerably stripped down from the original version of the game. You almost have to go in expecting that something's not gonna be right and since these are both portable ports of a huge 16-bit SNES game things are gonna be much smaller.

Let's start with the obviously smaller adaptation for the GameBoy/GameBoy Color, Contra: The Alien Wars.

Contra: The Alien Wars
GameBoy/GameBoy Color

From 8.36 quadrillion colors down to four shades of grey! That's how the tale of the graphics go for the GameBoy adaptation, and to be quite honest, just like Operation C, they made a pretty damn good looking game with those four shades of grey. All of the enemy sprites and background graphics are faithfully represented here to the best of the GameBoy's ability. Bosses lost pretty much all the "wow" factor they had in the original, but what matters is that they're here and they look exactly like you remember them. Just smaller and maybe missing a part or two.

The audio department is pretty much like all GameBoy games. You'll listen for a couple seconds and then realize that music comprised of blips and bloops and constant white noise sound effects that represent gunfire begins to grate on your nerves almost instantly. Other than that, they did what they could with the GameBoy's audio output to try and re-create the themes from the SNES game. While they were successful at doing so, the bottom line is that the tunes aren't very pleasing to the ears at all in this format. Add to this that you can barely even hear them over the sound of your constant gunfire and I'll guarantee that just like me, you'll play this one with the sound off.

Five of the six original stages are presented here. I'm guessing it was due to the GameBoy's hardware limitations that the motorbike/missile stage was nixed. The top-down stages are included in this version, however they're a bit more playable without the rotating screen bullshit and the A button lets you strafe with your fire locked onto a spcific angle. The stages laid out a bit differently and somewhat shorter, but still make for a decently long portable gaming experience. Also nixed was the ability to store two guns that you could switch between on the fly, so if you die you don't have another gun you can switch to, but powerups are constantly floating by overhead to make up for this loss.

The gameplay is also surprisingly handled well here. It's not quite as stiff as the SNES version and feels a little more "floaty" now, but it's still quite playable. The only real problem here is that the arsenal of weapons you can collect isn't balanced whatsoever. You wanna beat this game with absolutely zero effort? Just pick up the first Flamethrower you come across and never grab another gun again unless you die. In that case, just grab the next Flamethrower and keep on truckin. The Flamethrower literally kills bosses in a matter of 2-3 seconds as it just continues racking up hits so long as the flame is in contact with the enemy. If you opt to follow an unspoken "don't pick up the flamethrower" rule, then the game does provide a somewhat decent challenge, but it still won't take much to complete.

Contra: The Alien Wars isn't perfect and I wouldn't tell anyone to rush out and pick it up unless they're an idiot "absolutely have to have everything" collector like myself, but it does make for a pretty decent Contra experience on the GameBoy. Even so, you're better off hunting down a copy of Operation C if you want an original and challenging Contra experience to have on the go.

Contra Advance: The Alien Wars EX
GameBoy Advance

Moving onto the bigger smaller port of Contra III. This one shoulda been a gimme, right? How could you possibly fuck up a port of an okay game to a system known to be pretty adept at handling SNES ports? There really wasn't much doubt that this could be a pretty decent portable gaming experience when I plunked down my $30 to buy it the day it came out.

What the fuck's my problem anyway? I'd already determined that I didn't like Contra III that much, so why the fuck did I dump another $30 into it? I think I have some kind of disease. Just put a fucking flaming C on something and I'll fucking buy it. It could be called "Cocksucker Motherfucker Adventures In Shitting Dicknipple Land" and be a game where you play a giant ejaculating dick stuffing yourself up dead folks' various body holes, but if you slap that fucking flaming C on it, you can bet your ass I'll fucking buy it! That's seriously the only excuse I can think of for me ending up with this and those fucking PSX abominations.

Guess what! Contra on GBA is fucking terrible! Just making sure I got the point across already or my hatred was too veiled for you to realize.

To be fair, I'll start with the good. What little there is of it.

Contra's GBA incarnation looks the part, for sure. All the backgrounds, enemies, and big boss monsters you're familiar with from the SNES version are here and retain most of their detail and animations. Backgrounds and bullets have been made brighter to compensate for the GBA's screen contrast, so it's pretty easy on the eyes. They also added the feature from later Contra games that lets you lock your aiming in one direction and continue running. A really helpful technique that would have made the original a bit more fun in the first place.

Four of Contra III's original stages are presented here. For the most part they contain all the original enemy placements and bosses you've come to know and possibly hate. In a smart move they ditched the overhead maze stages and replaced them with two side scrolling stages from Contra: Hard Corps. More on that bit later. They also added a password system that lets you save your progress. It stores your current stage, number of lives and continues remaining and weapon that you had when you completed the previous stage. It's all well and good, but I don't think anybody's gonna be carrying around a little piece of paper with a fucking 18 character CD-Key like password to plug in everytime you wanna resume. Be a man, play through it in one go, you pussy.

Can you guess where we go from here? Good job. Have a cookie.

I guess things start going downhill when they start nixing things from the original game that could have easily been fine on the GBA given that the hardware is pretty damn good. Firstly, the two gun system is once again abandoned. I can't really understand why, because the system is powerful enough for it, it just seems like they just couldn't be bothered to put it in there. Also gone are the screen-clearing smartbombs (which were even in the freakin GameBoy version for crying out loud). They're not a necessity, I don't suppose, but their exclusion is once again baffling becuase it's not like they couldn't put it in there. Another bit of laziness, perhaps.

I'm surprised Konami hasn't been arrested for murder, yet. Why? Because they took all the great tunes from the SNES game and managed to make them sound like synthesized farting on a pile of puke. Now, I think farts are funny, but you keep your God damn farts away from my awesome videogame soundtracks. There's a fuckin limit! The tunes are hardly recognizable as anything close to resembling the originals. The NES could have done a better job than this. It's true that the GBA lacks the awesome sound hardware wizardry that the SNES had, but you can do quality tunes on the GBA. Metroid: Fusion/Zero Mission, Golden Sun, and Advance Wars have all proven it to be possible to create great sounding tunes on the GBA, so there's no reason more time couldn't have went into developing the music here a bit more.

The addition of two stages from Contra: Hard Corps was originally pretty exciting news. I hated the overhead stages, so I was more than overjoyed that they were replacing them with two stages from one of my favorite Contra games ever. The problem is, they went out of their way to pick two stages that do not work at all with Contra III's style of gameplay. Both stages are boss-heavy and the problem is that the bosses weren't tweaked at all to work within this engine. They still operate how they would if you faced them in Contra: Hard Corps. Contra: Hard Corps had a much different feel and many different gameplay mechanics than Contra III, including a slide move you could use to evade enemy attacks and be invincible for a very short while. The big problem is that these bosses are a fucking pain to try and kill without the slide and guns you have access to in Hard Corps and to be quite honest don't feel very fair at all and take way too damn much time to kill.

The nail in the coffin is the hit detection, which is an absolute fucking joke. It seriously kills the game. I don't even undrstand how I get hit sometimes, but I end up dead, cursing, and wishing I was playing Cocksucker Motherfucker Adventures In Shitting Dicknipple Land. Sometimes, the hit detection is so stupid, it's like they were TRYING to see how far they could push it until you realized how stupid it was and shut the system off.

Take this, for example:

This is just a tidbit of some of the game's ridiculous hit detection. During this little exchange, you should see that when I get behind the guy, I'm clearly hit as he begins stepping forward, but nothing registers. However, when he begins stepping backward I die! If you watch closely you can see that his foot nor any other pixel of his sprite is anywhere near my sprite when the death registers. It's like this with every bullet and touchable enemy in the game and it's just God damn sloppy.

Contra Advance should have never happened. And if it was gonna happen anyway, they should have spent more time on making either a completely original game or tightening this one up and making things work right. Avoid this shit. Don't be a fucking [REDACTED] like me.

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