Total time played: 1.5 Hours
Short review: By far the weakest of the NES Contra game. It shows signs of intelligent game design but is ruined by slow down and some poor design choices.
Interesting links related to Contra Force
Where Did I Get This Game?
At some point over the past 25 years I picked up Contra Force but I have no idea where. The fact that I don’t remember probably means it was cheap or free. However, I am still haunted by what I did after getting my mint condition copy along with the original box and manual, also in mint condition.
In 2008 after the stock market crash I was laid off from my job. I immediately went into survival mode and started restricting my spending and selling things I didn’t need. One of those things I didn’t need was a box of video game boxes. I decided I would never own all NES games complete so there was no reason to keep the 200 or so boxes and manuals I had. I ended up selling them all for $35 on Criagslist.
Of all the things I sold, the mint condition Contra Force Box and Manual and complete copy of Rockin’ Kats are the ones that bug me the most. Just those 2 things are worth close to 10 times what I sold the boxes for. Oh well, live and learn.
What happened? Contra and Super C are both Konami and NES classics. They are fast paced, have great guns, responsive controls and interesting levels and bosses. Contra Force was clearly not supposed to be a Contra game. It feels like this was going to be a stand alone game and at the last minute the developers slapped the Contra name on it to increase sales. Based on how expensive the game is i 2018 I am guessing they didn’t move many copies.
Sometimes Less Is More
I don’t even want to get into the initial character selection menu where the up, down, left and right directionals buttons on the control seem to move the cursor in random directions. I’m not going to go into how each character has multiple weapons with an upgrade system similar to Cobra Triangle, Life Force or Gradius. Just know, I have complaints about all of those things too.
I want to talk about the multiple options you have in game for controlling two characters at one time.
Sorry for the crappy image quality, it’s the best I could find online and honestly the image quality sums up how useful these options are.
On the pause menu you can use any of the 4 characters at any given time. You start with 3 lives for each but if any one character gets a game over the whole team gets a game over. Luckily there are unlimited continues.
Notice in the above image that Smith is set to 1Player. You can select any player to be the one you control, in fact, the game lets you set any number of players to 1Player, you just can’t unpause until only one player is set to 1Player.
You can set a secondary character to any of the 6 options from the screenshot above. This will provide you 5 or so seconds of another character helping you out. The only problem is, you NEVER need the help and even if you did having an extra character on the screen slows the game down so much it is basically pointless.
It was a good idea, but it just isn’t executed well so instead of being innovative it just becomes an option that you will never use bloating the game.
Each of the 4 characters has some combination of these weapons. I found the only useful weapons to be HM (Homing Missle) and FT (Flame Thrower). Some of the weapons were so useless I would take an intentional death just to get rid of them.
Everyone knows a good Contra game has to have 8 levels, this one only has 5. I will give the game a little credit that in those 5 levels there is quite a bit of variety including 2 overhead and 3 side scrolling stages. The stages are all pretty large and the side scrolling stages give you the ability to move up and down as well, in fact, there is almost a chance you can get lost in the last level as there is no clear direction where to go.
Wing Walking in Level 4
Level 4 has to be the highlight of the game though. You get to walk across the wings of a plane, and, when you get to the end another plane flies by and you have to jump across to the wings on that plane. The level even features wind, if you aren’t moving the force of the wind will force you right off the back of the plane.
As cool as Level 4 was the other 4 levels are not cool at all. There are some funky hazards and platforming required that are nearly impossible. Stage 3 features a bunch of chains you have to hang from and jump between but not being able to gain momentum between jumps meant I spent a lot of time getting through this short section of the game.
That was until I found an interesting glitch that made that section really easy. If you hold down the jump button and pause the game and then unpause the game without ever letting go of the jump button your character jumps again in mid air. Using this technique I was able to jump right past this section of rope jumps.
The game wouldn’t be that bad if it had more polish. My biggest gripe is how slow the game is and how clunky the controls are. It wouldn’t be that bad if the 2 Contra games that came out first didn’t have such incredible controls and speed. The secondary character mechanic is definitely a nice touch, but it wasn’t implemented correctly. There shouldn’t be a time limit and it shouldn’t cause the game to slow down so much. Having the ability to switch between multiple forms of help that were needed to get through specific sections of the game would have added a nice bit of strategy. Instead we get a feature that isn’t needed at all to beat the game.
Because of the games sub-par programming I had to rate it 2 stars, with another month of polishing and cleanup of the code and maybe even removing the Contra name which provides insane expectations this could have been a game people remembered.