Contra Force (1)

Genre: Shoot-’em-up
Year: 1992
Developed by: Konami
Published by: Konami
Platforms: NES
Feeling Like: Contrary

Contra is one of those franchises that unfairly dug itself a hole early. The first game in the series is nearly perfect; a timeless 2D platformer that relied on brutal difficulty, impeccable controls, a catchy soundtrack, co-operative play and was released at the absolute perfect time. Released in the late 80s, you had the Alien and Predator movies in full swing. Macho dudes gunning down horrific aliens had pop culture in a tizzy. The stage could not have been more set for Contra’s success.

Contra Force didn’t enjoy such luxuries. It’s timing of release was peculiar; the far superior Contra 3: Alien Wars had been released seven months earlier and most fans had already moved on to the Super Nintendo. The alien craze had faded a bit, which is maybe why they went in such a different direction with Contra Force. Rather than space creepy crawlies, you’re fighting a terrorist organization. It certainly feels less like a traditional Contra.

That’s largely due to the fact that it originally wasn’t. It was supposed to be launched as “Arc Hound” in Japan. It never did. Konami instead bought the license, picked up the pieces and slapped the Contra name on there. Think Super Mario Bros 2 / Doki Doki Panic, but they didn’t bother replacing the characters. Instead of Sly and Arnold clones, you had Burns, Smith, Iron and Beans. Not quite as inspired, although I did love Beans in True Lies.

If you take all that into account and are prepared for a different experience, it’s not devoid of pleasantries. On the contrary, it’s a weird, solid platforming experience that allows for switchable characters, summon-able allies and some exciting levels.

Contra Force (2)
Shirtless, packin’ and wearing green jeans is no way to go through life, son.

The fourth level is the star of the show. Normally I find the vertical scrolling levels inferior to their horizontal counterparts, but in this case I’ll make an exception. The obstacles are clearly labelled, so traversing through the bullets and parked fighter jets isn’t a hindrance. It’s definitely most military themed level of any Contra game to date. Scores of enemies come from everywhere, but I never felt overwhelmed. Eventually you’ll hop onto a flying airplane and, mid-air, hop onto different ones. All the while, button mashing your way through enemies, explosive boxes and bosses who all look nine feet tall. Splendid.

Admittedly, t’s hard not to comment on how slow Conta Force. I didn’t mind, since I felt like I had an easier time anticipating enemy fire and since this isn’t (is!) a Contra game, I believed this to be a fair trade off. It still feels weird and you can’t help but think that it should have stayed as Arc Hound. The corresponding sound effects of shooting your gun, killing an enemy and dying are straight out of the previous Contra games. The level clear music, the bigger sprites and longer levels are not. Hmm.

The final boss is underwhelming and the ending literally tells you that you didn’t rescue who you set out to rescue and that they’re still missing. Sadly, I’ve seen worse game endings. In the end, Contra Force is fine, but nothing special and certainly doesn’t deserve the reverence that Contra, Super C or Contra 3: Alien Wars did. A difficult legacy to live up to.

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