There's an old saying that the third time is the charm. In many cases,
it is. Castlevania 3 is still heralded by some as the best of the series.
Dragon Warrior 3 is certainly the best of the four titles that came out
in America for the NES. And Super Mario Bros. 3 is one of the most popular
video games ever. On the other hand, it has also turned into a bit of
a curse...witness the slightly lackluster Ninja Gaiden 3. But there
are worse; Contra Force is the third in the popular series, but seems
to more of a side-story than anything else.
Contra Force does not technically fall anywhere in the Contra series. The
first big difference is that it has nothing to do with aliens...instead
the game takes place in a modern setting with human bad guys. None of the
characters are the same, the weapons are totally different, and, sadly,
the gameplay isn't quite there either.
The commissioner of Neo City (well, Neo City's about the only link to
other Contra games...it's the first level in Contra 3) has been kidnapped
by some nutty terrorists. His only chance is C-Force, an elite selection
of warriors skilled in various weaponry. Instead of just having two
characters of duplicate abilities, each of the four members of C-Force has
different weaponry, speed and jumping power. Each of them are generically
(Burns, Beans, Smith, and Iron) and all have the personalities of rotten grapefruit (even the commandos
of olden days even portrayed a badass image...these guys just look like losers.)
You can switch players in
the middle of a level simply by pressing Start. An innovative addition is
the ability to call a computer-controlled second player into battle for
a short amount of time. You set the method of attack (behind cover, front
cover, etc.) and let him help you out. It's at least a valid attempt
to make the game more strategic and commando-like, but it doesn't quite
work as well as you'd think.
Instead of just shooting little canisters and releasing power-ups, the
method of obtaining weapons in Contra Force is a bit more like the Gradius
series. By shooting boxes, walls, etc. you can find briefcases that advances
your "power meter" by one notch. When you advance to the weapon that you
want, press Select and it will be yours. This is an interesting way to
let the player pick which weapon to use in what situation. However, power-ups
seem to be scarce, and you not only lose your weapon when you die, but your
power meter gets set to zero. And your normal pistol is absolutely
pathetic...it can't even fire the whole distance of the screen. It really
makes me wish for the more simplistic shoot-the-flying-eagle and get a
machine gun routine.
There are five levels in total. Three of them take place in the traditional
side view, while the other two are in overhead. Instead of just scrolling
forward in these birds eye scenes, you can move in any direction, allowing
some degree of exploration. Additionally, the side-scrolling levels
occasionally move around a bit, instead of just left-to-right. But the path you must follow is still pretty
much the same, as it's still linear.
Since it is one of the later titles, the graphics aren't half bad. They're
fairly bright, but that pretty much ruins the dark and sinister mood that
the first two Contra games had going for them. The character animations
are pretty stiff as well. And the music really isn't
that great, sounding a bit generic.
The game control isn't quite like the
previous NES games, as everything is much slower. The bullets don't fire
as quickly, your characters don't run as fast, and the slowdown that
permeates the game doesn't make the deal any better. Plus, for some reason,
you can't shoot at a downward angle unless you're jumping.
The actual gameplay itself is irritating as well. There are parts
where the enemies are position in such a way, it becomes difficult to dodge
them. One part in the third level, the construction site, has three bad guys
lined up, all carrying homing missiles, making it extremely tough to make
it past them. There's also a bit more jumping around here as well, since the
game doesn't hold the standard left-to-right movement of the other games.
There are other little quirks. Each character has three lives. If you
run out, then you lose and get sent back to the beginning of the level. Yet
if you lose two lives, you can just change to a different character and
use up his lives. Why not simply change to the next guy in line instead of
sending you back to the beginning of the level when you lose all of your
lives? Who knows...
For a Contra game AND a Konami game, Contra Force falls short. If it were from any other
company, and not had the Contra title, I'd probably be a bit more forgiving of it...but not much. Overall,
it's not a horrible game, but it's just too slow and annoying to really
be very much fun. The game isn't all bad though. The weapon selection and
characters do add a bit of strategy to the game that wasn't there before.
There's also more freedom to blow up different things (certain floors, walls
and objects) that makes everything a bit more amusing. But it's just a somewhat average
Nintendo game and a chapter of the Contra series that can be skipped over.