Unlicensed games are a funny breed. They are like a box of chocolates: you never know quite what you're going to get. More often than not, bootleg titles just end up being goofy hacks of games already released, as was the case in the many "Super Contra" games I've already discussed (be sure to check out our coverage of Super Contra 6, Super Contra 7, and Super Contra 8 for more details). But every once in a while, every once in a blue moon, we actually get an original product where programmers actually sit down and do more than edit the logo and copyright information in a half-hour and then prepare to sell their product in underground flea markets. Such is the case with Super Contra X, and to be perfectly honest, I'm surprised.
Super Contra X is, at heart, another Contra game, but it definitely has its differences. The first thing you'll notice is the weird title screen. I'm going to ignore the fact that the logo itself looks like nothing the series has ever seen. It's the menu below that strikes me as odd. Your options are "1 PLAYER", "2 PLAYERS" (these make sense so far), and... "3 PASSWORD"?! What does 3 PASSWORD mean? Did the programmers literally make an enumerated list for the title screen, assuming "3 PASSWORD" makes complete sense?
The game's levels have been divided into two separate sections plus a final boss for each one. These bosses are mostly new, although at least a couple are extremely influenced by the original Contra (that pumping heart at the very end of Contra makes an appearance halfway through the game and is the easiest boss I've fought in decades). Your surroundings are typical fare: ruined streets (in surprisingly green decor), subterranean sewers, the jungle, a weird cave fortress... You know, the places Contra games tend to visit frequently.
But what makes Super Contra X unique is in its two auto-scrolling stages, the likes of which have not appeared in a Contra game to date. The second area takes place beneath a flying behemoth of an airship, and we get to see Bill Rizer, Legendary Hero, with a jetpack, shooting down enemies from old space shoot-'em-ups. It's cute but downright bizarre. It DOES add some much-needed variety, though, as the regular side-scrolling platformer stages can get dull and repetitive very quickly. The sixth area is atop a moving trolley bus, and this one's probably the most difficult area of all, mostly because you can't take your time to plan any actions.
One issue comes with the weapons. The game employs a similar set of weapons to other Contra games, but how exactly they work is a little different. You start out with the puniest and least-effective gun possible, but like Contra, you can shoot down flying containers that will drop powerups. The "N" capsule gives you a greater bullet size, which helps, and the "L" will give you a laser. But the "F" capsule, which used to signify a flamethrower upgrade, now causes Bill to shoot stars that swirl as they move. That hardly qualifies as fire. Like the fire powerup in any Contra game, I did my best to avoid this. The "S" spreader is also back, although it only shoots in three directions rather than five.
My biggest problem is that the controls are very sketchy. There were repeated issues with jumping followed by a delay in being able to fire, resulting in untimely deaths. I also had some issues with being temporarily stuck after laying down. He got back up...eventually. Oh, and occasional instances of the game freezing. Yeah, it's...it's all good. But these control problems does make the game harder than it needs to be — and Contra is already one tough-as-nails series. Thank goodness for passwords, eh?
Super Contra X is the most creative of the Super Contra bootleg series that I've seen yet. You can tell someone actually put some thought into it with their own level design, boss design, and even some pretty decent (if not a tad repetitive) music. Too bad it's very tough to find unless you have some really good connections. These screenshots will have to tide you over, Contra fans: