Contra Force







Now, before you send me angry e-mails for ragging on Contra, just know that I'm not.  Contra is awesome.  And so are Super C, Contra III, and Contra: Hard Corps.  Shortly after Contra III came out on the Super Nintendo, though, Konami created one last NES game called Contra Force, which was greeted with very little fanfare.  Haven't heard of it?  Don't worry, you're not missing much.







Originally planned as a Famicom game called "Arc Hound" with no relation to the Contra series, Konami elected to make it a US-only release, using the Contra name to boost sales.  But, as the game was released after the advent of the 16-bit consoles, this scheme didn't work too well.  The game was also plagued with some rather severe lag issues; the game slows to a drag severely and often, which greatly inhibits any fun there is to be had.



 
Every cliche action hero of the 80s is at your command!



One interesting system in play in Contra Force was the ability to swap the characters in play by hitting Select.  Each character had their own stock of lives, so were you about to run out you could simply switch to someone with lives to spare; particularly useful for the fact that, like Battletoads, the game ends if one person loses all their lives.

Also of note was that the player has the opiton to summon another character as a CPU-controlled helper for a while.  The latter were particularly helpful in that they were invincible while onscreen, and would automatically bound around firing bullets in every direction for a few seconds, giving you some breathing room.  They would disappear after a short time, but could be summoned again by going back under the pause menu and setting another AI option.



 



Another interesting concept in the game was the Gradius-styled weapons system; each time you gather a weapon powerup, one of the icons at the bottom of the screen lights up; pressing Select will switch your weapon to the one selected.  However, these new weapons tend to just make things more difficult for you; Burns' grenades have much less range than his basic gun and tend to impact harmlessly against ceilings due to their upward arc, and Beans' time bombs require you to get close to the enemy to do any damage with them - something you definitely want to avoid in a game with one-hit kills.  There are a few decent picks, such as Burns' homing missiles and Iron's flamethrower, but for the most part these weapons are just more trouble than they're worth.  This is especially evident due to the fact that losing a life resets you back to your basic weapon; if you want your homing missiles back, you'll have to collect the powerups all over again.




Beans' 5th-level weapon can turn him invincible while jumping; good luck getting it though



 



Another of the annoying aspects of Contra Force was the awkward jumping puzzles; they happen frequently, and enemies are usually shooting at you the whole time, which makes it pretty difficult to concentrate on what you're doing.  The one pictured above left is particularly nasty; you must jump using the fan's lift, but jump too high and you'll hit the spikes.  Don't jump high enough, though, and you'll hit the spikes between the fans.  Oh, and there's a guy on the far ledge shooting at you too.  Have fun!

  Further adding to the frustration was the inability to duck under bullets; this especially throws you off if you've played the other games in the series, where it's almost a mandatory survival tactic. Here, though, your characters don't duck low enough to avoid any shots.  Even Beans, who ducks lower than the rest, still gets cliipped by bullets that look like they should easily fly over him.  Your only chance here is to jump every bullet, or just fire wildly at the edge of the screen and kill enemies before they see you.  The lone exception to this was the first stage's boss, who was tall enough to fire over your head if you ducked his shots.




The underwhelming first boss; just wait for him to stop rolling around, duck, and fire.  Repeat until he's dead







As with Super C, some stages took part in an overhead view.  These don't get a break from the annoying slowdown or a few other annoying design flaws.  Most notable of these is the fact that there's no invisible walls anywhere - get too close to the edge of a ship or bridge and you'll fall right into the drink and lose a life; and since the enemies' AI is so bad, that makes the lack of guardrails the most dangerous obstacle in the entire stage!  What a disappointment.







Here's the second boss; just stand in the position pictured and fire to win without a hitch.  The game's just too much of a chore for me to keep chugging through, so if you're really dying to see the third stage or beyond, you're on your own.



Rating: 3/10
One-line Synopsis: Unless you're a die-hard Nintendo collector, give this one a pass.

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