Contra Force is a 2D side-scrolling run and gun action game for one or two players simultaneously. Its also the anomaly to the Contra franchise. Its a Contra game in name alone. It sounds the same as its two predecessors and even has the same controls, the graphics have changed and now you can select from four characters to play as. As good as it sounds, the major problem here is the game’s slow speed hinders any fun and shifts the challenge from dodging bullets to fighting the slow processor. On paper it could have been a good game, even if a radical departure from Contra’s alien themes.
The controls offer eight directional shooting when you jump, but it feels far different than the original pair of Contra gamest. Contra Force is sluggish when there’s anything more than just your player on screen. To the game’s credit there is little to no “Nintendo flicker,” but at the cost of everything moving like tar. The slow effect does help your response time, but a Contra game should feel smoother, act faster and be more dangerous than this game.
Another sin with its programming is the ability to jump when you hit the ground if you continue holding the jump button. This becomes a problem when having to jump onto higher platforms. When you land, you jump again. You may ask if its really a problem to just tap the jump and let go, but the other issue is the fact that as soon as you release the jump, you fall back down. So you can leap laughably low, or you can hold the button to reach the maximum height. This allows for some precise jumping, but it still feels off.
While the fresh graphics look good, they just set the game apart from looking like its two predecessors. The sounds are identical from those of the previous games, but that’s early Nintendo development for you. Take the familiar sounds and carry them over to the next project. In a game where everything seems like a misstep, the music is still a credit to the franchise.
There are some other new elements such as fans that push you up, conveyor belts move you along and destroying boxes to platform over or pass through.These boxes even play a part in a catapult later on, so if the box gets destroyed, you’re out of luck. You can even climb and hang off of objects which is a welcome change.
Contra is no stranger to death trap hazards and well in any Contra game for Nintendo is one hit is death. This game is no different. Crushers slam down, floors turn electric and rolling barrels can kill you.
While you have four characters to chose from, they all start with the same gun, even if it looks like they’re holding different guns. From there, you can find duffle bags that will let you equip different weapons. To select the weapon once you have enough duffles for it is to just press select.
Burns has grenades as his first upgrade and rapid fire as his second. Smith has a long shot rather than a limited range starter weapon and then homing missiles. Iron has short range flames and then a long shot. Beans has bombs, one with a longer timer than the other. I’d rather shoot the enemies than set a trap for them. Smith’s homing missiles are always a wise choice. Each of these characters can have the same third and fourth tier upgrades. The third is being able to fire three bullets at once rather than two and the last is invincibility when jumping.
In terms of other issues I’ve encountered, there were several times where the screen was stuck and refused to push forward. Even when the glitch corrected itself I had my gun barrel against the side of the screen to make it move rather than being in the center. It turns into a game that has no response time when you’re that close to the edge.
As for the bosses they’re bland and ordinary such as a man with a gun, a bigger man with a gun and well who could forget the boss with a gun. In a game full of men with guns, its easy to forget about these bosses, especially when the Contra franchise as a whole has been about huge alien creatures as bosses.
Between levels, you get to see a cut scene that consists of two faces talking to one another. This is hardly a treat compared to other games with cut scenes at the time. It feels tacked on and unnecessary. They do pad out the game time a little bit so Contra Force manages to hit a thirty minute mark like the previous two games. Speaking of padding, there are several segments where you’ll wait. Hop on a small elevator and wait as it slowly ascends to the top. Then leap on moving platforms and wait as they inch you across a bottomless pit.
Back from Super C are overhead vertical scrolling levels. Under normal circumstances I would feel this is a joy to have variety, but the cold reality is these segments are just as sluggish as the core of the game. Even as a top down game, it could have been fun, but a lot of the enemies are too far off to engage you; instead I found myself easily running around them and laughing as they shot shout when I was north of them. One of these levels takes place on a plane…. the wings of it. You’re on the outside. It certainly is a unique setting and you feel the wind push you along the side.
Something interesting to note is this is the only Contra game where enemies don’t explode or fall backward into invisibility. You get to shoot your foes dead and see them slumped over on the ground. While that’s a bit more realistic, I’m amazed to see it in a Nintendo game.
A few moments of Contra Force feel unfair as if you’ll need to memorize the levels. That’s why its always better to go with a friend. More lives and two guns are always a good thing. One of you can spring the traps while the other continues on. There is also more of an emphasis on precise jumping between narrow moving platforms than any previous Contra. While its still doable it feels like a cheap trick in a series known for bullets and enemies.
Contra Force could be a worthy game in the franchise if it had better programming or at least different programming that hastened the pace of the gameplay. Even then I think people would reject the game for shying away from the alien nature of its predecessor.