Contra has quite the reputation for being really rather difficult, and so seeing Contra III: The Alien Wars creep up the 1001 list as more and more games before it got played was somewhat daunting. Thankfully, though, I had no reason to worry, because it looks great and has options for adjusting the difficulty.
The planet is - as is often the case in video games - under attack from aliens, so we better single handedly see to that with all manner of weaponry and plenty of skill.
Sorry, Earth. Once again, this won't end well for us...
My first attempt at Contra III was to try it on the normal difficulty but at least give myself some chance by upping the number of lives I started with to 7.
They all went pretty damn quickly.
One hit from anything will kill you, but you are - assuming you still have lives - right back into the thick of it, ready to try again and with a few seconds of invulnerability to wreak havoc and get revenge.
In order to see anything beyond the first stage with any regularity, though, I had to drop the difficulty down to easy.
And then the fun began. Really it would begin after a few attempts, getting used to the way things worked, but eventually, the fun began.
Contra III gives you a screen wide bomb and two weapon slots that you can fill with the likes of spread shots, laserguns, homing missiles and more. You can switch weapons whenever you like and you don't have to worry about ammo for either. Once you're comfortable with the movement and in shooting in any direction under the sun (though limited to the 8 you're more familiar with in these kinds of games), Contra III really picks up.
Movement is slick and responsive, weapons don't slow down for anything (though there is slowdown if you're too trigger happy while dropping a bomb and the SNES is desperately trying to draw everything as intended) and the way you hop and climb around the stages makes you feel pretty strong and heroic.
There are some set pieces scattered throughout the level that mix up the gameplay. Here, the floor decides to catch fire, and you're forced to traverse the stage dangling from your hands, which is a nice introduction to those mechanics, which will get used in boss fights later on.
The boss fights come in all shapes and sizes (mostly huge) and different weapons will work better for some bosses than others, giving you some incentive to mix and match each time you replay the game - which will happen often, such is the rate at which you'll likely lose lives until you get the hang of it.
Eventually, the first stage will end and Contra III will show off another trick. Top down stages bring out those Mode 7 graphics and task you with navigating a map and destroying a set number of targets. Gameplay continues with multiple weapons, but you get the addition of being able to decide where in the map you drop in, meaning you could give yourself an easy time and avoid a potential hotspot, or you could drop right onto one of your targets and get firing as soon as the level begins.
After your task is done, a top down boss fight finishes the stage. In this case, it immediately crushed me, resulting in my final life being lost, but it was fun while it (and the many before it) lasted.
I looked the rest of the game up on YouTube, as ever, and it seems to get harder and harder from there. The difference between easy and hard difficulty is almost night and day, where only the doggedly determined will persist with making progress through the hard difficulty, and only the insane will attempt it with 3 lives to start, rather than 5 or 7. Because those kinds of people are out there, though, these kinds of games get made.
Contra III is fast paced and action packed. If you stop, it's probably because it stopped you - time out to gather your thoughts doesn't come often here - but as I say, provided you have another life you are right back in the fight and that's all you want to be doing in a game that feels as good as this.
You're going to learn how to play Contra III by failing to get through Contra III, and that's ok. It's expected. It's almost welcomed.
You can't even use the Konami code to get 30 lives in Contra III, unless you're playing the Japanese version.
Contra III: The Alien Wars, developed by Konami, first released in 1992.
Version played: SNES, 1992, via emulation.
Version watched: SNES, 1992 (Cinemassacre)