Contra: The Alien Wars
  • Genre:
    • Run and Gun
  • Platform:
    • Game Boy
  • Developer:
    • Factor 5
  • Publisher:
    • Konami
  • Released:
    • JP 09/23/1994
    • US October 1994
    • UK 1995
Score: 60%

This review was published on 09/19/2016.

Contra: The Alien Wars is a side-scrolling run and gun shooter video game developed by Factor 5 and published by Konami for the Game Boy. It was originally released in Japan on September 23, 1994, North America in October 1994, and Europe in 1995. The game was called Contra Spirits in Japan and Probotector 2 in Europe. This is the second Contra game released for the Game Boy, following the release of Operation C in 1991, which was called Probotector in Europe. As the subtitle of this game implies, it's basically a Game Boy port of the amazing Contra III: The Alien Wars, which was released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1992. It's unclear as to why the III was dropped from the title of the Game Boy version, but that's of little importance. What's more important is that this game isn't very good. It's vastly inferior to the real Contra III and not even as good as Operation C.

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Port is perhaps too strong a word to describe this game. It's more like the opposite of a remake. Demake is the term some people use to describe this phenomenon. The development team tried its best to replicate the 16-bit visuals and music from Contra III using the Game Boy's limited 8-bit hardware and monochrome screen, but it didn't work out. In other words, they failed, but to be fair, the task was impossible. In addition to the graphics obviously being much worse, this version of the game also moves at a much slower pace than the SNES one. That significantly reduces the game's challenge, though it's still hard. There's also minor support for the Super Game Boy, which is an accessory that enables the SNES to play Game Boy carts. All Game Boy games work on the Super Game Boy, but some get special bonuses, like this one. In this case, this game has a custom color scheme and enhanced sounds when played on a Super Game Boy. However, even with those enhancements, the game still looks and sounds terrible.

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Besides the obvious downgrade in graphics and sound, there are various other differences between this and the SNES version of Contra III. Most of the changes are for the worse, though surprisingly, there are some minor improvements. For one, this version of the game has a password system that lets you continue from where you last left off, whereas the original didn't allow for continuation of progress at all. This version also has more difficulty modes, but it's still overall easier than the SNES original, even on the highest difficulty. Unfortunately, just about every other change is negative. While the level design mostly tries to stay true to the original, there were countless changes to the layouts, usually to remove cool stuff. For example, Contra III is known for having tons of bosses, but many of them were removed in the Game Boy version. A few of the bosses that did manage to make the cut had some of their forms cut. Even entire stages were removed; stage four is no more. You're really losing out if you play this version of the game over the real deal.

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You take control of a manly man as he shoots down alien soldiers with his massive gun. The d-pad moves your masculine body, the A button makes that brawny body jump, and the B button fires your deadly weapon. Normally, pressing down in Contra III causes your character to go prone, but that's not the case here, as this game will have your guy duck instead. That means you can't fire as close to the ground as you could in Contra III, plus your hit box is bigger when ducking than when prone, making yourself a bigger target. Because this game recreates many of the same stage layouts as the SNES original, you'll find yourself in countless situations where the stage design seems to favor the prone position, but you're unable to do it. It's not known why this arbitrary change was made, but it leads to inferior controls. In a game where you die in one hit, this is a big deal.

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Power-ups are an essential part of every man's breakfast, and that's no different here. Most of the power-ups from Contra III make their return here, like the spread gun, homing shot, flamethrower, and explosive crash bullets. The limited, but massive bombs that damage everything on the screen are also here. Sadly, the laser gun is missing. Additionally, unlike Contra III, you can only carry one gun at a time instead of having two that you could switch between. This cuts down on the strategy that the original game had, plus it puts you at a disadvantage in many situations. It may not be a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but this is yet another thing that the Game Boy version does worse. As if it needed more reasons to suck.

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Like the real Contra III, there are some stages with an overhead perspective in addition to the side-scrolling ones. They've received some massive changes, however. Obviously, the Game Boy lacks the SNES' unique Mode-7 function, which was used in Contra III to simulate a cool rotation effect for the overhead stages. To compensate for the Game Boy's inability to rotate stuff, they give your character the ability to strafe by holding down the A button. While this is cool and all, it means you'll be unable to go prone like you could in the Contra III overhead stages. You can't even duck! Going prone was already an important maneuver for the regular stages, but it's arguably essential for the overhead ones, as it allowed you to dodge many bullets. So yes, even the overhead stages are worse in the Game Boy version.

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The Game Boy is home to many great games, but also many cheap cash-ins. This is one of the latter. Trying to put a 16-bit game on an 8-bit handheld with a black and white screen is foolish, and nobody should ever attempt such a thing. It would have been better to create a completely original game specifically tailored to the Game Boy's hardware, rather than attempt to port something onto the handheld that it's incapable of handling. The portability isn't worth the massive downgrade in everything the original game has to offer. It's best to just play the real Contra III on an SNES and avoid this trash.

Word Count: 1,086

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