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CONSOLE: NES DEVELOPER: Konami PUBLISHER: Konami
RELEASE DATE (NA): September 30, 1992 GENRE: Action/Run'n'Gun
// review by SoyBomb

Contra-diction?

The original Contra on NES, a re-realization of the arcade classic, is a staple game of the console's library with its heart-pounding run'n'gun action through eight stages of alien horror, either alone or with a brazen partner. Its sequel, Super C, also based on an arcade game, was just as awesome and provided an equally perilous trek while maintaining the series' non-stop bullet barrage into alien territory. Contra III: The Alien Wars on the SNES amped up the action even more, jacking up the heat to scorching degrees.

Then Contra Force appeared in 1992 on the NES. At first, we were excited for more Contra thrills. That excitement quickly transformed into visages of consternation, averting our eyes to the repugnance before us. We were left speechless. How could Konami bungle a series so hard?

First, a little background: there originally was no Contra Force. That is, it was never really meant to exist. The game was designed for a release in Japan as "Arc Hound", totally unrelated to Contra and its own property. For whatever reason, that game was cancelled, but hey, with a practically finished piece of code, why not use it anyhow? Released in late September 1992 and only in North America, the Game Formerly Known As Arc Hound was rebranded with a Contra logo and shipped out.

It's pretty obvious Konami didn't put much effort into the localization and rebranding. Aside from the lack of any connections to the three prior Contra games, the storyline is so outlandishly terrible, you'd swear no adults were involved in its conception. Neo City is under attack by the evil D.N.M.E. organization. That's right, the enemy is "D.N.M.E.", "the enemy". Ugh. Only the C-Force, a group comprised of apparently four guys — Smith, Burns (listed as "Burn" in the instruction manual... maybe he has a few clones on the side), Iron, and... B-BEANS?! There's a guy named Beans on your team? Gee, I wonder how he got THAT nickname! A hard gassy night rocked by an oversized campfire dinner? ...Anyhow, these four must quatrohandedly take down D.N.M.E. with only their wits and a few peanut guns among them.

After selecting your character of choice (whose differences vary mostly in their arsenal, though one guy can jump higher), you'll be sent through the ringer of five highly militarized locations, and boy, you don't want to hear the names of where you're headed. ...Okay, yes, you do. First off is — and I swear these are true, according to the game's manual — the "Dewerdye Warehouse". This boggles the mind how simultaneously inventive and uncreative the team was. Next, the C-Force is taken to a rather grandiose sea carrier: the U.S.S. Unkmy Battleship, before visiting the epic heights of the Sheeshee Towers Construction Site. At least the final two areas sound menacing: the Thunder Wolf Helicopter and C-Force Headquarters itself, where you return to find even more trouble.


This game is Contra Coarse.

Contra Force follows the same basic formula of running and shooting anyone and anything in your path. More parts of your environment are destructible than ever before, which is a plus, but the enemies, by contrast, are far more stationary and less of a bother overall. You would expect hordes of soldiers or grisly aliens to come at you from off-screen, but here, they just sit around, snacking on bologna and mustard sandwiches, anxiously awaiting your arrival. You'd also naturally expect eagle symbols to come floating by periodically with weapon upgrades inside, and you'd be wrong. As you move through the levels, you'll pick up suitcases to increase your arsenal, similar to the upgrading system in Gradius games. Weaponry like homing missiles, flamethrowers, and hand grenades are all waiting to be used. The only problem is, you'll probably get shot and die before you can ever acquire use of the stronger ones, making this an ill-advised change.

But the biggest flaw of all is just how it plays overall. Oh, it may look the part, and it may sound pretty good with that NES sound-chipped drum set from Konami that can't be beat, but with horrible controls and gameplay like this, the whole package falls apart. I can't recall playing an NES game other than Contra Force that feels like the slowdown is constant. It runs like molasses flowing down a five-degree angled mountainside. Banal activities like walking and jumping are impressively slow, and the whole experience feels like a slog in a swamp. Even the menus are slow. How do you manage to bring a game to a crawl with a bloody menu?

The platforming sections are absolute garbage and often involve camera-induced leaps of faith that may or may not work in your favour. The scrolling is programmed horribly as well, as oftentimes you'll be trying to move forward, but the camera will have other ideas, forcing you to either wait for the game to self-correct or just run backward then forward again. This is not particularly welcome during moments of platforming, especially when you're making those aforementioned leaps of faith to determine whether you're going to land on something useful or something pointy.

Whether or not you choose to actually play this game to completion, or even attempt to do so, will depend solely on your desire for punishment. Contra and Super C were difficult because the games threw difficult bosses, wave after wave of mindless drone enemies, and treacherous obstacles your way. Contra Force doesn't have even remotely the same number of enemies, but it more than makes up for the difficulty by impressively managing to kill you over and over with sluggish gameplay and unnerving platforming. There are fewer enemies, yes, and that means the game is less about blasting your way to victory and more about strategically traversing the environs as only a C-Force member can. But when the areas are poorly designed (how did I get myself physically stuck on a rowboat?), and it's often indecipherable what exactly needs to be done next without trial and error (or trial and error and death), there's little fun to be had.

You'd have to Contra Force me to play this again.


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