Gameplay, Story and Value:
Contra III builds on its predecessors in several welcome ways, while still retaining the spirit of the originals in most aspects. You’re still running and gunning from one end of a level to another, but you can now hold two weapons at a time, switch freely between them, and only lose whatever’s currently equipped when you die! It’s nice to be able to hold onto a Spread Shot in reserve for when I need it the most and not have to worry about losing it when (WHEN!) I die. Additionally, you have access to screen-clearing bombs like in most schmups and can fire both of your weapons at once by pressing both shoulder buttons at the same time.
Like Contra’s first person shooting galleries and Super C’s overhead scrolling stages, Contra III introduces its own form of intermission levels in the form of free-roaming Mode7 spin-fests… The D-Pad moves you in absolute directions (that is, relative to your TV) while the shoulder buttons rotate the entire map around you to simulate turning. You can avoid enemy fire by using the jump button to duck. I very much dislike this part of the game. It feels cumbersome and confusing, and ultimately just comes off as frustrating. Luckily there aren’t too many of these.
Stages offer a lot of great shooting and platforming opportunities, and mechanics introduced in each level are fun and challenging, however I kind of feel like Contra lost a bit of its “soul” with this game. While the first two games were indeed challenging, they were also methodical, thoughtful about it. Rather than bombarding you with bullets and other threats, those games rewarded you for careful planning and positioning, and punished you harshly for mistakes. Contra III veers a little too far into Bullet Hell territory for me, and I often feel like I’m “enduring” the game, rather than mastering it.
Presentation, Music and Sound:
The visuals in Contra III do their job well enough, with some set pieces being quite impressive technically. Sprites are all clear enough that you never lose track of things in the action, and despite the number of enemies and projectiles that tend to be on display at any given time the game still holds fairly steady framerates. Bosses tend to be impressive, screen-filling affairs and the epicness of it all adds a great deal to the fun. All in all, it’s a decent looking game that runs really well!
Both the music and sound are serviceable, but neither particularly excels.
I wanted to have more fun with this game than I actually did, but the unrelenting difficulty was just a bit too much for me to really enjoy myself. While Contra and Super C felt like challenges that could be (and were) eventually surmounted, Contra III is just an endless barrage that gets worse and worse. I didn’t not have fun though, and I can definitely see myself picking this one up from time to time when I’m feeling particularly masochistic.