Review by Dogg

Reviewed: 12/24/02 | Updated: 12/24/02

..... Contra ..... Advance

Some of the best entertainment (and fun) one could have had with a Super Nintendo would have been with Contra 3: the Alien Wars. Though not as superb as the original, or the action-packed Super C, Alien Wars was the perfect game any player can simply pick up and not beat. It was definitely a challenge, and this challenge was something that made this game (and other early Konami franchises like Castlevania, et all). Following the Alien Wars, Konami delivered another solid package, only this time it was on the Sega Genesis. It was called Contra: Hard Corps. And it was a wonderful game meshed with many of the elements that had made the series early on.

Though both near-perfect games, one would have had both of the systems in order to play them both (and today these games have soared, as far as prices are concerned). Enter Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance. While not perfect, thanks to the finger-tearing controls and the dark colored screen, the GBA has, however, been known to re-releases, many for old games (like Aero the Acrobat and Super Mario World, among others). And somehow it must have occurred that a Contra 3 re-release would have been much appraised for, so Konami went ahead and did it.

Contra Advance is, simply, an Alien Wars remake, but it takes out a few of the levels and adds in two bonus ones, these two being ones from Contra: Hard Corps. Though this may displease some (a brand new action-packed Contra would have been better and the way to go), it gives others a chance to play half of two games most people talk about nowadays – games now considered classics.

For those who never played a Contra game before, here goes: you play a soldier and fight everything that comes on screen, while avoiding explosions, flames, traps, and other enemy attacks. However, these enemies don’t just die and then disappear, they come back (sometimes in even greater numbers). However, the enemies don’t come close to the bosses, which require patience, much thinking, and a quick finger to guarantee a quick win. One shot though, and you’re dead. If you haven’t been enthralled or taken in on these last sentences alone, then I give up.

In Contra Advance you play the role of soldier Billy, one of the few people remaining after an invasion attack by a group of aliens calling themselves Red Falcon. So, now, it is basically up to Billy to go on a suicide-killing spree through six levels, filled with alien soldiers, mechanical bosses (asses), and other hazards so he can survive and free the world from this catastrophic event of epic proportions. The story isn’t anything special, nor is it complex. But when did a Contra game ever really focus on a story? To this series, it’s all about the action. And in this it doesn’t fail to impress, nor surprise.

Billy has a few actions he can perform. He can run, shoot, and jump – almost as graceful as Sega’s beloved Sonic the Hedgehog. Also, if needed, he can climb on specific platforms. The control scheme of the whole thing isn’t overly complicated, and figuring and mastering the controls is very easy (only the A and B buttons and the D-Pad are used). Billy carries one weapon at a time, but he can get different weapons through pods that fly around levels. These weapons include such things as flamethrowers, homing missiles, lasers, and energy shields (which sadly are only temporary and pretty rare in a level). Though this sounds good, the many alterations Konami have done with this game leaves much to be desired.

First off in the original SNES Alien Wars you could carry two weapons at a time, and you can swap between them. Here, players can only carry one weapon; and this not only means you’re stuck with the weapon you acquire, but once die, you won’t be able to keep it. Also, whose idea was it to get rid of the super bomb; a powerful bomb, which eradicated all enemies and potential hazards in the part of the area you were in? Though you can find yourself not needing it too much in the early levels, later on, however, it would have been a big help against many of the gargantuan bosses (and I mean big – these guys can fill an entire screen) and never-say-die enemies.

The key to winning in most of the Contra games (and that is seen here) is all about memorization; simple run-and-gun techniques, and maneuvers, would only get you killed. Finding out enemy patterns is vital to survival, as is noticing all the environmental hazards that pop up on screen (this is a game you’ll be proud to get blind with). You must pay attention and not rush into stuff, that way you have a chance. You can also try timing your enemies attacks, this way you can avoid getting hit in the same spot or area continuous times. In this game you’ll have three lives each continue (there are five continues available), and keeping these lives won’t be an easy thing.

The challenge of this game is high. There are only two difficulty options you can pick from, Novice or Normal, but both will lead you to an afternoon of hardcore gaming action and large amounts of aspirin. Novice is basically an easy mode, but I won’t recommend it to any of the veteran players. With Novice you’ll only reach level 4 and then be asked to try the game on Normal mode. With Normal Mode, however, you’ll be shown the whole game, and this time more enemies will come at you and the overall challenge will be much harder.

Throughout each of the six levels that Contra Advance presents to you, you will have to face at least two bosses per level. These bosses range in size and in difficulty. Some can be the size of your character and still pose a challenge, while others can be thrice as big but still have their asses easily handed to them. Each of the bosses varies in style and in presentation. One can resemble a giant behemoth only seen in Blizzard’s classic Diablo, while others simply have the look of a huge robot, which fires at you and has hopes of crushing your bones with its big legs. No joke. Some of the bosses even have multiple forms (for the final boss you begin fighting on ground, and then in the boss’s final change you’ll be hanging on to a helicopter, while aimlessly shooting at him from below). Konami has even reworked a few of the boss fights now making them even more obtuse, unfair, and still strikingly challenging.

Each of the six levels also vary in terms of presentation. In one area you’ll find yourself hanging on a railing near a boarding train, while in another you’ll be riding a tank and causing mass destruction to the area around you. They are all very unique. Also, to those who were wondering, Konami has substituted the Mode-7 overhead levels for the Hard Corps levels. While some may feel displeased or even aggravated at this, the Hard Corps levels are both pretty cool and should please those who’ve never even touched this game before (even if these levels are not as flashy, graphic-wise, as the aforementioned Mode-7 ones).

To add to that, Contra Advance supports the GBA link cable (which you buy separately) so both you and a friend can play together through this demanding game. Also, unlike the SNES version (or even the Genesis one), Contra Advance has a password system. Each time you beat a level you’ll gain a password, which allows you to continue from that point later on. My only beef with this is that the passwords are just too damn long and can even come close to a whopping five minutes just making sure you typed one down correctly on the password screen. (It’s like River City Ransom all over again.) Though beneath these treats, that’s pretty much it. Contra Advance doesn’t have much to garner replay once its been completed. Some additional levels, harder difficulty options, and hell, even an additional boss would have been nice.

In terms of graphics, one will be impressed. The visuals are bright and colorful and can easily stand out on the dark Game Boy Advance screen. They’re easily on the same level with that which was seen in the Super Nintendo and Genesis versions, and Konami has even added some new menus and artwork for you to feast your eyes on. Backgrounds look great, and the nigh amount of enemies that appear on screen do very little to slow this game down. Characters sprites also look great. Billy really looks like a soldier, and the enemies really do look like aliens, as they show their faces, and stupidity, on screen. Bosses look fine too and they show what the Contra series has always been about. My only major complaint, as far as the graphics are concerned, is that they feel a little washed out compared with other games on the system, like Metroid Fusion, Castlevania: White Night Concerto, and even Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4.

The audio is also something to have a few complaints about, though the overall aspect of it is well done. The sound effects are really nice. The sound of your gun pouncing on enemies, the loud, burling explosions, and even the sudden screams of the game’s cast all sound really good, especially since they are all being done on a handheld. The only thing that brings this game down aurally is the background music, or should I say the lack thereof. The background themes are all low quality and can barely be heard most of the time. Also, many of the themes sound alike and this music can definitely be said to be inferior to the Super Nintendo version. A final note, true players of the Super Nintendo version can even notice that a few of the sound effects have been removed from this update (I doubt Konami’s to blame, though).

Finally, Contra Advance, despite its glaring flaws, is a strong port of a true classic. The Hard Corps levels are pretty good and provide a lot of variety to an already varied game. This game, however, isn’t for simple players. Only the hardcore and truly lucky will probably beat this game, and that will only happen after a long run. The difficulty isn’t to blame, though. If Konami focused more on a straight up port of the Alien Wars, and even another straight up port for Hard Corps, then this version would have been perfect (two of the best games on classic systems all in one package… wow). Instead, Konami has worked in alterations, soothing to their nature, and these changes, while probably for the best (I guess), should’ve been more thought-out and better executed. Still, Contra Advance is a solid 2-D side scrolling shooter, one to be played simply for the first two levels (which sadly might be the only levels many will experience, no offense really).

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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