Contra Force
  • Genre:
    • Run and Gun
  • Platform:
    • NES
  • Developer:
    • Konami
  • Publisher:
    • Konami
  • Released:
    • US 09/30/1992
Score: 65%

This review was published on 07/29/2015.

Contra Force is a side-scrolling run and gun shooter video game published and developed by Konami for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was only released in North America on September 30, 1992. This is the third Contra game released for the NES, following the original Contra and its sequel, Super C. Despite bearing the Contra name, Contra Force is a spinoff of the Contra series and has no relation to any of the other games. The game was originally going to be released in Japan under the title of Arc Hound in 1991 and have no ties whatsoever with the Contra series, but that version was canceled. Initially, Contra Force was meant to be the third home console release in the series, predating Contra III: The Alien Wars, which was supposed to be Contra IV. Things didn't work out that way, as Contra Force was delayed until after The Alien Wars came out, forcing Konami to renumber Contra IV as Contra III prior to its release. In any case, Contra Force suffers from a plethora of technical issues that make it far less good than its predecessors.

Image

The year is 1992 and the location is the futuristic metropolis of Neocity. What a creative name. The threat of terrorism loomed over Neocity like... a thing that looms, which prompted the bureaucrats to take action. Therefore, a task force of former military professionals was assembled to defend the city from terrorists, and they were codenamed C-Force. Obviously, the C stands for Contra, hence the game's title. The leader of the team is a man named Burns, not to be confused with Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. One day, Burns receives a phone call from the team's informant, Fox, who tells him about troubling circumstances. Apparently, the Head of Intelligence is facing threats from a criminal organization known by some as the D.N.M.E. The bold Burns decides to meet Fox at a local harbor to discuss the situation in further detail, but upon arriving at his destination, he discovers that Fox has been murdered! With a burning resolve, Burns now leads the C-Force into battle against the D.N.M.E. Cutscenes similar in style to the ones in Ninja Gaiden appear before each stage, which do a decent job of conveying the plot without being too intrusive. Otherwise, this is standard fare for Contra plots.

Image

By default, you can run, jump in glorious flips, and shoot in one of eight directions, just like the previous Contras. Unlike the previous Contras, there are four playable characters: Burns, Smith, Iron, and Beans. All the characters are initially nearly the same, having similar movement capabilities and being armed with the same short ranged pistol. Their differences become apparent once you pick up a power-up, which come in the form of mysterious suitcases. Each character has a few unique weapon power-ups they can be equipped with, like Burns can get a machine gun, Smith can get homing missiles, Iron can use a flamethrower, and Beans has various bombs. The power-up system here functions differently than it does in most Contra games, bearing a closer resemblance to the system in Gradius. There's a bar at the bottom of the screen with letters that signify the power-up and grabbing suitcases will highlight a different option. When you press select, the currently highlighted option will be activated and you'll acquire the appropriate power-up. You're only allowed to have one weapon power-up at a time, which sucks because some weapons are very situational, like the hand grenades Burns gets. If you want to switch, you'll have to wait for another suitcase or die. Power-ups in Contra Force are annoying, especially if you don't have prior knowledge on what's what.

Image

Up to two players can play the game cooperatively, provided each one is controlling a different character. Both players can swap their characters by using the pause menu at any point during the game; the same thing can be accomplished in single player, as well. Like most Contra games, you die in one hit here, but a big difference is that each character has their own set of lives. If you switch characters before losing all their lives, you'll be able to last a bit longer. Exclusive to single player is the ability to call in a computer controlled ally for support. You can pick different AI options for them, like to have them cover you from the back or the front. During their support, the automated ally will be impervious to all attacks, but they'll only stick around for five seconds. This mechanic is actually kind of broken, because despite the time limit, you can do it as many times as you want. In addition to their added firepower, you can use your AI allies as meat shields, since they'll absorb enemy shots at no cost to their health. The only real consequence seems to be that your buddies will lose whatever power-ups you gave them if you switch back to them, which may or may not have been intentional. Given how easy it is to abuse this, I get the impression that this game didn't have much in the way of play testing.

Image

Upon initial inspection, this game won't seem that bad. The graphics are pretty good, especially for an NES title, and the stage design isn't too shabby. However, it should quickly become apparent that something is wrong, very wrong; nearly the entire game is plagued with massive slowdown and sprite flickering. The NES is no stranger to either of these problems, what with its restrictive hardware limitations, but most decent games minimize these issues as much as possible through good programming. You know, like the first two Contra games, which didn't have anywhere near as much sprite flickering and slowdown. The slowdown is particularly troubling, because it never seems to end. The only time the game isn't slowing down to a crawl is during the very brief moments when there aren't any enemies or objects on the screen. Another issue relates to the way the screen scrolls; sometimes, usually when you die, the screen will stop scrolling, even if you're at the very edge of it, and you'll have to go back and forth a couple of times to "fix" it. What truly sucks about this is that you'll probably die whenever it happens, because you won't be able to see incoming enemies due to the uncooperative screen. I didn't think camera problems were possible in a 2-D game until I played Contra Force.

Image

Besides the standard side-scrolling stages, there are also a couple of overhead ones. This shouldn't be too surprising, considering Super C and Contra III both had overhead stages, so it's a staple of the series. You may be under the impression that maybe, just maybe, these overhead stages won't have the same problems as the normal ones, because of the perspective change. Unfortunately, that isn't the case, as everything that ruined the regular stages is also present here: the slowdown, the flickering, and the screen getting stuck every so often. To add insult to injury, you can fall off these stages by walking too close to the ledges, which is silly and dumb. It's a shame this game is a buggy mess, because these stages look like they'd be fun to play if it weren't for the whole thing going at a snail's pace. For instance, stage two has you shooting a bunch of dudes on a ship, only to take a small boat to a nearby submarine, where you face the boss. Stage four is also sort of cool, because it takes place entirely atop giant planes. No matter how cute the stage concepts are, the obnoxious slowdown sullies them.

Image

I can see why this game never got released in Japan. Quite frankly, I'm surprised this game got released at all, considering the sorry state it's in. The constant slowdown and sprite flickering are totally unacceptable, even by the NES' standards. That screen scrolling oddity is also super frustrating, and it happens as often as everything else, which is very often. This game could have actually been good if it didn't run like molasses, because the graphics, music, and even level design are all solid. Contra Force is a tragic tale of tragedy.

Word Count: 1,394

Tweet