Nick DeMarco

TURN TO CHANNEL 3: ‘Contra III: The Alien Wars’ is a monster hardware and gameplay upgrade

TURN TO CHANNEL 3: ‘Contra III: The Alien Wars’ is a monster hardware and gameplay upgrade
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Regardless of what console it is, when an established franchise makes that leap to the next generation of gaming, the results aren’t always pleasant. However, it seems that if developers do their homework and find out what the best uses of this new technology are, then chances are the next incarnation of their beloved franchise rests in good hands, continuing to bring gamers a fresh new look at what we’ve loved for so long.

Today, as we continue blasting our way through the annals of “Contra” history, we take a look at “Contra III: The Alien Wars” on the Super Nintendo and just what puts it head and shoulders above what we had known as the “Contra” series up to this point.

Get your spread guns ready… it’s time!

“Contra III: The Alien Wars” (SNES, 1992)


Continuing the tradition of stellar soundtracks, “Contra III” and its composers treat your ears to another adrenaline-pumping, laser-blasting bunch of tunes that set the tone for this explosive journey. What’s super awesome is the fact that you don’t just get a rehashed version of the initial intermission between levels music, but amazing, foot-stomping music that, while different, fits right in with the previous “Contra” games’ canons of great music.

In addition, what can you say about the boss music that hasn’t been said before? It’s just pure bliss as far as this kind of music goes. You know you’re in for a fight before the boss even throws one thing at you. “Contra III” is almost like a ‘90s action flick, and the soundtrack reflects this in spades.


On the surface, it may not look like much of a jump in graphics from your NES “Contra” playing days, but the explosions are bigger, the action is more fluid and detailed, and the bosses are bigger and that much more deadly. What truly sets “Contra III” apart from its predecessors are two very important things in making a memorable game. First off, the attention to detail is just breathtaking at times, from alien dogs digging through garbage with devilish eyes to huge alien turtles that look to dismantle you. Everything is well thought out, a part of the action, and fits super well into the post-apocalyptic future theme of the game.

Lastly, “Contra III” uses what became the marketing word of the year for the SNES, Mode 7 graphics, which were made popular in games like “Super Mario World” and “Pilotwings.” If you really stop to imagine this time in your life, you probably know what I’m talking about, although perhaps not by the actual name. Mode 7 graphics are what made Bowser’s evil clown ship look like it was going to fly through your television set or, in the case of “Pilotwings,” made the ground look like it was rising up to meet you as you (tried) to land on a bullseye. For “Contra,” this was used mainly for the bosses in the bird’s eye view levels to make them look bigger, deadlier, and more menacing. Trust me, as a kid at the time, I can tell you that it totally did. It was also used in moments to further the theme of the game, such as when a giant green plane dropped bombs on a level, turning it to flames and rubble.


Obviously, as with any “Contra” game, “Contra III” is tough, very tough, because you need quick reflexes in dealing with some of the obstacles in this game. I found the one boss fight, as you leap from missile to missile (yes, you read that correctly) exceptionally hard, and all the action on the screen can get overwhelming, especially since “Contra III” continues with the one-hit kills of its predecessors.

However, you can cheat, kids, and cheat like a dastardly gamer, with the 30 lives code back in effect here, as well as getting all weapons and even a level select, so is “Contra III” truly as difficult as it seems? Well, yes, if you want to play it as it was intended. Rewarding, yes, but tough as nails, “Contra III” is yet another fun romp through the grit and guts we’ve come to know from the franchise.


Action-packed from start to finish, “Contra III” will run you anywhere from $33-$40 for the cartridge alone, but as the only representation of the franchise on the SNES, this is to be expected. Definitely a key ingredient in building a stellar SNES collection, this is a game you should be picking up if you have the means.

Next time on Turn to Channel 3, we head over to the Sega Genesis for its take on the “Contra” franchise with “Contra: Hard Corps!”

Until then, school is out, kids, so that leaves plenty of time to game on!

Tune in to NEPA Scene’s gaming column, Turn to Channel 3, every Thursday for new perspectives on retro gaming as well as fresh twists on the classics from the owner of Nick D’s Video Game Vault in Mayfield. All ratings for Turn to Channel 3 are based on a scale of 1-10.