In the dying days of the 8-bit Nintendo, the SNES hype train was roaring along faster than even the Shinkansen. Not just by the months and weeks but seemingly by the days and hours. And every Nintendo geek had their own specific game they wanted to see through the wonders of 16-bit. Mario, Zelda, Gradius, Metroid, Castlevania, Mega Man, the list goes on and on. But for yours truly, and many others, Contra was right at the top of that highly esteemed list.
Commando wannabe geeks everywhere in the good ol’ US of A saw their wish come true when Contra III: The Alien Wars was unleashed in April of ’92. Yet ironically, it took me nearly FIFTEEN years later until I could finally call it my own. My SNES rebirth in January 2006 wasn’t merely a resurrection, it was also a chance at gaming redemption.
IN THE BEGINNING…
While many kids grew up on Mario in the mid-late 1980s, and don’t get me wrong — I liked the Italian plumber too, it was really Konami’s CONTRA that cemented me as a video game fan for life. There’s something about being a machine gun strapped soldier blasting alien chunks set over highly atmospheric levels with some of the most memorable video game bosses of all time. Perhaps the best thing about it: you could do it with a buddy. My brother Kevin and I fell in love with Contra when we discovered it at a rental store in 1988. Uncle Jimmy, who then recently moved in, also fell prey to the wonders of this game. I can recall many nights where the three of us rotated turns per level with aid of the infamous Konami “30 MEN” code. A part of me can’t believe it’s almost been 30 years since the three of us stayed up late huddled around the small Sony TV, taking turns saving the universe. Contra was an awesome two-player game. This is not a case of looking back with rose tinted glasses — the 8-bit NES conversion still stands up remarkably well to this day, even nearly 30 years after its release.
From the very first level, that memorable jungle romp, you knew you were in for some kind of treat. Contra conjured quite the intense atmosphere that very few others could. And it paved the way for future run and gun greats like Metal Slug and Gunstar Heroes. It did a lot for gaming, and richly deserves its lofty spot in gaming history. Thank you, Konami, you bastards.
Though ironically, as much as we loved beating the game over and over, Uncle Jimmy never did buy it for us. We rented it several times and a close friend of ours loaned us his copy in exchange of Legendary Wings — a fair trade if there ever was one…
So perhaps it’s fitting I never owned Contra III back in the day either. I never played it extensively until 2008. My old friend Tommy had a copy that I’d play here and there back in ’92 but mostly I would watch our mutual friends Brian and Bryce play. So yeah, it’s a bit strange that I didn’t jump at Contra III back then despite it being at the top of my most wanted list. I guess one reason why — Uncle Jimmy moved out in the spring of ’92 when his wife was pregnant for the second time… the same time Contra III came out — maybe I thought it just wouldn’t be the same without him by our side hooting, hollering and having a good old time. Whatever the reasons were, in October 2008 I decided it was time to finally right a 16 year wrong…
THE STORY, WELL, SUPPOSEDLY…
“Here we are again bro… just you and me. Same kind of moon, same kind of jungle…”
“Real number 10 remember… whole platoon, 32 men chopped into meat… we walk out just you and me, nobody else. Right on top huh? Not a scratch… not a fuckin’ scratch. You know whoever got you, they’ll come back again. And when he does I’m gonna cut your name right into him.”
The year was 1987. In an undisclosed location in Central America, a special task force was called in to take care of mysterious enemies that hid in the dense and dark jungle. The soldiers assumed it was yet another typical mission but tragically, it was anything but.
The band of soldiers searched the jungle but found no traces of the enemy, only the bones of the unlucky. At nightfall they split up in several mini-camps, keeping guard. As the men huddled around, an ominous chill filled the raw night air. A soldier’s sixth sense is well developed, and one in particular, Bill Rizer, knew something big was about to go down. His long time partner, Lance Bean, watched as the full moon continue its steady climb in the sky. At its zenith, the bloodshed began.
The soldiers were savagely attacked. All order and control went right out the window as many fled for their very lives. The vile creatures knew the jungle inside and out. The men were mice trapped in a snake’s cage. One by one, they were picked off by this invisible threat. The soldiers who did steal a glance saw a sight far too horrible for words.
Gunfire and screams of terror filled the jungle. The enemy was too fast, too smart and too cunning for the men to overcome. Those who stood their ground and fought head on were ripped apart, those who fled were gunned down and those who hid were hunted and swiftly destroyed.
The men were fighting against an enemy not of this earth. It attacked with an unrelenting fury. This force, this thing that lived inside of them came from a source too VIOLENT, too DEADLY for you to imagine. It grew inside them — contaminating their souls. And now these alien invaders have come to Earth… to kill.
But miraculously, two strong soldiers not only survived the menace — they destroyed it! These two elite soldiers were named…
“Jesus ain’t got nothing to do with this.”
“And we’re supposed to somehow KILL THAT?!”
“If it bleeds, we can kill it. No sweat.”
“I see you sweatin’ from over here!”
“I AIN’T GOT TIME TO SWEAT.”
And you sure need a whole lot of it! Thankfully, now even your default gun is on auto-fire. Some old favorites, like the classic spread gun returns, along with some new updated weapons thanks to the advent of the 1990s (or the 27th century, I suppose). You also have one powerful M-80,000 Helio Bomb per life to blow the aliens to Kingdom Come!
As mentioned above, at least your standard issue rifle is now automatic. It’ll get the job done in a pinch but you definitely want to make an upgrade soon. The laser cannon packs quite a wallop but it’s pretty damn slow.
Glad to see the spread gun back, but in my view it was much better in the NES game. The homing missiles definitely come in handy, though weak compared to others.
This is quite a powerful weapon, especially when you have it in both hands.
The flame thrower is very useful against certain enemies, and it earns cookie points for looking so damn cool.
You now have the ability to carry two different weapons at once! Plus, when you hold L and R, fire the trigger button to shoot both weapons at once like a mad man.
LEVEL ONE: NEO CITY
Where were you back in 1992? Do you remember the first time you fired this game up and anticipated the 16-bit wonders ahead? This stage set the stage!
Weapon Wings appear high in the sky just like in the original and must be shot down. You can switch to your other gun, nab that spread shot and have that as your second gun. When you feel like you might die, switch to the less effective gun. That way, when you come back, you still have the good one. Nice! And here we see the smart bomb in its first phase of action. Players get one smart bomb per life. Unfortunately for you, they do not serve as invincible barriers so even a momentary lapse in attention can prove fatal. Smart bombs expand in a massive destructive arc and are best saved for the humongous bosses. The closer you are when you unleash this devastating force the better, as the victim will receive more damage from that extra bit of prolonged exposure.
Watch out for these sucker guns bursting from out of the ground. And be sure to watch your back for incoming guards.
Another advantage over the NES game is the ability to hold your ground while shooting in any of the eight directions. So now you can fire away anywhere you wish without having to worry about changing your position one iota! Gotta love that SNES controller
Who could ever forget the very first classic boss from NES Contra? It was so huge that it blew my little five-year-old mind away back in ’88. Talk about one imposing structure! It was a lot easier to kill than it looked but it’s got to be one of the most memorable level one bosses of all time. From the lone red sniper up top to the funky looking gumballs it spewed out, and the cool looking hi-tech square cover at the base there, man, Konami knew HOW TO WORK IT.
And while it was a lot more intimidating in the original, it was still nice to see this base make a comeback. And since it’s not a boss, one can see why it’s a much smaller model than its big brother classic.
I love when companies acknowledge their prequels by resurrecting some of the more memorable baddies. It gives the sequel a certain touch of class and history.
Another satisfying explosion. Gotta love the flash flash. Simply classic stuff.
[Say a prayer, but let the good times roll.
In case God doesn’t shoooow…
And I want these words to make things right…
… but it’s the wrongs that make the words come to life.
“Who does he think he is?”
If that’s the worst you got, better put your fingers back to the keys!
One night, and ONE MORE TIME! Tanks for the memories, TANKS FOR THE MEMORIES! Even though they weren’t so great… ahem, sorry… -Ed.]
Some Weapon Wings contain a Barrier Shield, which conveniently turns red as it’s about to expire. It doesn’t last very long so better get a move on it.
Nope, just a tank and a foot soldier reject. Kind of a wasted opportunity here at a really cool mid-boss but it’s all good. This guy’s OK and kind of a throwback to another Contra baddie…
Remember this heavy-duty tank rumbling toward ya in level five of NES Contra?
[How could I forget? It killed my guy every gawd damn time! -Ed.]
Some shades of that nightmare-inducing tank no? Too bad Jimbo doesn’t have his own tank here as well. That would have been too sick.
Whereas this tank, not so much. It barely puts up a fight.
At last you reach the end section. You knew it was boss time. You just didn’t know who or WHAT. But knowing Konami, you knew it was gonna be good…
Konami, never one to disappoint, certainly didn’t here. It’s the giant mutant turtle monster BEAST KIMKOH! Man, I thought the first boss from NES Contra was impressive. This guy is a true terror in every sense, especially in how realistically it seemed to twitch and pulsate.
Watch out for that horrible long neck of his. He also emits blue bullets from God only knows where…
That way you can avoid both his fire breath blast and his bullets. But on the ground? You’d be screwed because it cancels out the option of jumping. You develop lifesaving strategies as you go along and learn the finer points of the game. Good stuff.
Beast Kimkoh was such a memorable design. The way it pulsated and squirmed left a lasting impression, and pumped you up to see what horrors lay ahead…
LEVEL TWO: MARIA CALDERON HIGHWAY
With Neo City swept and cleared of all villains, it’s off to the Maria Calderon Highway. Now things are viewed from a top-down perspective. Your goal is to eliminate five Red Corporals hiding in domed manholes. All the while overgrown insects and mad guards hunt you down through this maze of elevated roadway and bridges.
Flamethrower should definitely be one of your two guns here if you can nab it.
When playing the 2 Player Mode A, you get a split screen for this overhead level. However, if you wish to play this stage in a single screen, select 2 Player Mode B. It’s the little things that help make a game (extra) special.
Level 2 in Contra III reminds me a bit of level 2 from NES Contra. It’s different from the traditional side scrolling stages. They are decent diversions to lend the game some variety. Interestingly enough, just as there were two of these “into the screen” levels, there’s two overhead levels in Contra III. Coincidence?
HINT: Each time it descends, the red spot rotates 90° from its last position. This mechanical spider-esque menace spins high above you before it comes crashing down. Keep moving to avoid being squashed like an ant.
The flamethrower is a gem as it can reach the eye without being centered on; remember, it can go through objects to reach an enemy(‘s weak point)!
LEVEL THREE: THE OLD CYBER STEEL MILL
I remember seeing this damn stage every single freaking time I headed over to Tommy’s house back in ’92. I just love the atmosphere this stage brings. That dark smoggy sky, the brown depressing colors… playing this level particularly on a dark afternoon is rather surreal.
The evil forces of Red Falcon have taken over the last remaining functional steel factory in Neo City. The aliens use it as a landing pad for arriving allies. Be sure to equip yourself with a flamethrower — you’re gonna need it…
You see? These Gigaflies are toast. BURN BABY BURN!
Say hello to ole Chrome Dome, and I’m not talking about the villain from the Ninja Turtles. He’s a cinch with the flamethrower as you can reach him from there. Otherwise you gotta grab hold of his “arms” and shoot his red eye as you go around in circles. Once killed, he’ll flip his arms wildly in one last ditch effort to take you down to hell with him.
Far be it for Konami to let you have a nice and easy climb, no, another mid-boss terror comes right after you. Shoot down those missiles.
Running out of the pod, the wretched flock swoops down on our hero… like lambs to the slaughter!
Uh oh… glancing through the opening, you see clear as day what lies ahead. There’s no turning back now, Jimbo…
AH-HA! The evil robots spring to life and war is waged. This is one of the coolest boss fights ever. Once disposed of both BOBs (remember their torsos flying around?)… it ain’t quite over yet…
Uh oh… you knew it couldn’t be THAT easy, and you were right! [I always am -Ed.]
It’s the ROBO-CORPSE!
I have fond memories of watching Brian and Bryce tackle this titantic tin of terror. Back in ’92 this literally blew our minds and EVEN today it still impresses.
This is one of the most memorable and classic sights from gaming history. It was stunning then and remains an epic experience even to this very day, nearly 25 years later.
Robo-Breath fires homing lasers from his eyes and also does one mean Godzilla impersonation. What a perfect boss — it was gorgeous yet grotesque!
Pelting him like no tomorrow is utterly satisfying. Watching his whole body flash and waiting until the last possible second to get the hell outta dodge. Climb to the top, drop down and repeat. It was as intense as it was epic. Konami FTW again.
When Robo-Corpse bites the dust, he REALLY bites the dust. The very thing that gave him “life” so to speak is the same thing that swipes his head clean off… a fitting end to an unforgettable boss encounter. Konami were freakin’ maestros in this domain, bar none.
LEVEL FOUR: THE BATTLE OF THE BLAZING SKY
No rest for the wicked, but thankfully you’re able to give your weary legs a break as you leap aboard a hovering motorcycle (like the speeder bikes from Return of the Jedi). Psycho Cyclers attempt to cut your quest short with a few well-placed grenades.
You’ll be attacked both on the ground and in the air. Thankfully you can leap above your motorcycle and not worry about becoming roadkill — they will automatically move under you because of their advanced rider-tracking system. It makes for one intense, fast-moving, action-packed level.
A gigantic battleship flies just above you as it rains down a parade of laser beams. Lock your position and let ‘er rip! Later, a bomb is dropped that engulfs the entire road, so make sure to time your jump well. One split nanosecond off and you’re fried.
This strange looking mid-boss can be somewhat unpredictable, swinging his legs around wildly and even charging at our hero. The longer you let it live, the more erratic his pattern seems to grow.
After catching a lift on a helicopter, Slash comes to greet ya. He’s pretty tough, attacking with a sword and throwing shuriken-like blades.
LEVEL FIVE: THE MUCHO GRANDE BADLANDS
The Mucho Grande Badlands (what a funky name) is a return in concept to level two’s Maria Calderon Highway. Players must gun down five enemy entrances while avoiding mutant insects and crossing precariously thin strips of land and collapsing bridges.
On easy mode he can be finished with the laser gun in literally under 10 seconds. But on Hard… YEAH. Good luck…
LEVEL SIX: RED FALCON’S MAIN BASE
This is it. The last stand. The final whistle, if you will. Better stock up on bombs…
Who could ever forget this monstrosity from the NES game? I used to call him the “Long Neck Alien Monster.” My brother, Uncle Jimmy and I loved killing this guy. When I think of Contra, this parasite here is always the very first bad guy that comes to mind. He blew our minds back in ’88 and he wasn’t even a boss! Remember how you stood at the edge of that wretched pillar there, blasting away at his jaw while your buddy took care of the shrimp? I know you do. I know I do. There are video game enemies that you remember for life. This is one of them.
In a true nod to the fans if there ever was one, Konami resurrected the nasty Para-Slug for Contra III, once more serving as Red Falcon’s “mini-boss” terror in the game’s final stage. He’s not quite as intimidating and menacing as he was in his first appearance, but he still looks pretty dang cool.
Speaking of knowing and appreciating one’s history, remember the last stage in the NES game? That decrepit alien lair littered with scorpion-spiders and abominable parasites? Let’s see how they do it 16-bit style…
Here’s another classic sight seared into our memory banks. It’s the final boss from NES Contra, that vile beating heart of Red Falcon! Nothing quite satisfied like pumping that organ full of lead until it exploded unmercifully! Ahhh, just thinking about it warms the heart (no pun intended). Really hard to fathom it’s almost been 30 years, no?
I love seeing the old memorable baddies from NES Contra resurrected for this 16-bit sequel. Although this is a neat design in its own right, the NES one I have to say was that much more memorable. Still, it’s a most welcomed sight indeed.
You thought at first you had saved the world but a pesky feeling kept gnawing at you as you stood there admiring your handiwork. And just up ahead the sinister path, you got your answer…
Suddenly the landscape changes to an even more rotten state. The ground rumbles madly and from the rubble comes forth a truly horrific monster!
He’s easier than he looks. When he rushes you, be ready to jump onto his spider-like legs. You can even catch a lift up top. When he lets his guard down, aim for his face and don’t hold back.
The fourth and final mini-boss, the Vicious Slave Hawk, can be a bit of a bitch if you don’t have the flamethrower.
Sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words. What a spectacular sight for sore eyes this was and still is.
How astute an observation on your cunning part, Jimbo. Who needs college, eh?
Here are a few examples of his offensive attacks. The Russian Roulette manner is pretty neat. Never know what form you’ll get and it makes fighting this final boss slightly different each time.
I like this one. It’s got a nice look. He moves pretty fast so don’t get too greedy in shooting him down. Pick your spots and move along accordingly with him so you don’t get squashed!
WOO HOO, you saved the universe — job well done, soldier. Now… GET TO DA CHOPPA!
In typical classic sci-fi and horror movie style, the bad guy comes back for one last stand. This only happens on Hard, and it is only on Hard that you can get the real ending.
Some lovely black and white photos are shown in the real ending.
CLASSIC KONAMI CHEAT? ON THE CONTRA-RY
Don’t bother looking for the infamous Konami code in the US version of Contra III because it doesn’t exist. If you really want to cheat, and I could understand why — the game’s blasted difficult as heck on Normal or higher, then you’ll need a Game Genie.
Game Genie Cheats:
Infinite Lives (on side-scrolling levels): 22BB-AD01
Infinite Lives (on top-down levels): 22BB-6F0B + 6DBB-64DB
Infinite Bombs (on side-scrolling levels): 2264-D760
Infinite Bombs (on top-down levels): 22B8-0766
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN US, JAPANESE AND PAL
That is refreshing, indeed. The Super Famicom box art is infamous for sporting a very striking Arnold lookalike. The Super Famicom version is titled Contra Spirits and has a 30 lives code (but is not done in the traditional Konami fashion). Unlike other US conversions (such as Super Castlevania IV), not much has been censored to the best of my knowledge. The US effort is by and large the exact same game as the Japanese one, except the US version is a bit more difficult to say the least. Contra Spirits gives you infinite continues, plus you can see the real ending on Normal not Hard as it is with Contra III.
I’M SO “AD” TO SEE YOU
FROM THE BOOK OF KONAMI
Throughout gaming’s history we have seen some amazing, mind-blowing bosses. Screen filling demons and monsters that ruled our living room, leaving us speechless upon sight and utterly pleased as we watched them crumble after a hard fought battle. Indeed, few companies had the magic touch that Konami had. Their bosses are simply the stuff legends (and nightmares) are made of.
Thankfully, Contra III continued Konami’s masterful tradition. From the very first boss, that menacing mutant snapping turtle, bursting out of the bloody walls, you were sure of two things. One, you would never forget the image. And two, Konami still had it. They still had that magic touch. The first thing that comes to mind whenever someone mentions Konami are the many memorable bosses the firm has produced over the years.
God I loved the ’80s…
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Contra III: The Alien Wars was destined for instant classic status the moment it hit game stores nationwide back in good ol’ 1992. Fans of the previous games and game reviewers everywhere ate it up. To this day, with as many Contra incarnations as there are, many still cite Contra III as being the very best Contra game of all. Mighty high praise indeed, considering the franchise had more than its fair share of stellar games.
- EGM: 9, 9, 9, 9
- Super Play: 90%
From the very start players enter a post apocalyptic war torn universe overran with alien forces. From blowing up cars and towers to hitching rides on tanks and braving through a flame-engulfed section, the stage is set beautifully for one epic, intense action fest. The graphics are often impressive and at times they are truly spectacular. The music is brilliant, with an excellent mixture of metallic guitars and big orchestral pieces. The sampled grunts and screams complement the on screen mayhem. It’s everything you hope 16-bit Contra would be and more.
Perhaps the best thing about Contra III is the same quality that made the first Contra so damn good. Crisp, smooth and intense action that lets you run and gun with a buddy. There’s something really cool (and fun) about strapping on your boots, teaming up with a pal and taking on evil forces that outnumber you by the hundreds. Contra III plays and controls like a dream. It is truly well deserving of all the hype and praise that’s been thrown its way over the past quarter century!
There are so many improvements over the NES game and that was already a great game to begin with! For starters, the smart bomb brings a certain back pocket security card to the table. Then you have the ability to carry two different weapons at once. The current weapon you’re holding is gone when you die. In a hairy situation you can even pause the game to switch! You can also fire both guns at once. In addition, they resurrected some old sights and baddies as a nod to the fans. There’s more strategy here than ever before. And let’s not forget about that handy lock feature. The different difficulty levels cater to players of varying skill. Contra III has got both style and substance.
The gameplay is still classic Contra, except now 10 times as intense. With two players it’s simply an unbeatable experience. I only wish it were a level or two longer. Breathtaking boss battles, memorable mini bosses, awesome set pieces, amazing atmosphere, smooth-as-hell run and gun gameplay, impressive graphics and sound to match — what more could you ask for? It’s a short game but I find myself coming back for more, and often. Contra III deserves all the hype it gets. A level or two short of perfection, this ain’t your Uncle Jimmy’s Contra — it’s even better. Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta get back to saving the world and blasting some alien ass. BOO YAH!
“Thanks for the top score, mate!”
“Hey, we earned it!”
“I only have one last thing to say…
… GET TO DA CHOPPA!!!!!!!!!!”