Contra 3: The Alien Wars is one of those maddeningly difficult retro games that will destroy you over and over if you're not prepared. Because I like punishing myself, I decided to see if I could beat the game without relying on the SNES Classic's save states.
The Contra series has made a name for itself as one of the most difficult yet memorable retro franchises. When compared to its NES and arcade predecessors, Contra III has the same gameplay where you run and gun your way through an alien army on your way to the aliens' lair. If you get hit once, you lose a life. Lose all your lives and you lose one continue and once those are gone, it's game over and you have to start from the beginning again. There is so little room for error that it always feels like the odds are against you. On the other hand, every time you beat a level, it feels great!
I love that the levels in the Contra series manage to consistently break expectations. Most games on the SNES follow the same gameplay pattern: Mario is what you'd expect from a platformer, Mario Kart is a racing game, Metroid is a 2D exploration game. However, Contra 3 is a different game depending which stage you're playing. For instance, level 1 is a side-scroller while level 2 is a top-down shooter and level 3 is a side-scroller with vertical sections. Level 4 is a biking level with a really cool segment where you fight bosses while riding a chopper then you jump around missiles that are being fired at an alien mothership. Level 5 is yet another top-down level and level 6 is a long and taxing boss rush stage.
Contra III is also the most action-packed game on the SNES Classic, period. In which other game do you blast your way through an entire alien army with no backup? Where can you shoot in eight directions in mid-air as you please? I also enjoy the little touches like how you can stop walking with R or how you can do a spinning jump attack to shoot bullets everywhere.
Once you eventually beat the game, you unlock hard mode. If you finish it on easy or normal, the game tells you that you're getting better but the war only gets harder. When you beat the game on hard, it tells you that you've stopped the invasion and brought peace to a ruined world thanks to the efforts of a gaming champion! Hard difficulty also offers a bonus boss. When you crush the alien brain and grab on to the chopper at the end of the game, the brain equips a suit of battle armor and starts chasing you into the sky.
Actually completing Contra III: The Alien Wars on hard difficulty is such a challenge that I can only imagine how great it must feel to actually pull it off. Given how short the campaign is on paper (because it only contains six levels), the addition of hard mode adds a ridiculous amount of replay value. I only beat it on normal and I must have put thirty hours into the game so far (it's now first on my SNES Classic's menu screen but I have trouble believing I have 30-40 hours on it like I have for Final Fantasy VI).
Contra 3 looks so much better than the originals. Everything from the characters to the enemies to the 3D backgrounds look amazing thanks to the graphical capabilities of the Super NES. The characters pop off the screen so much more than its arcade predecessor, too. The graphics are complemented with an action-packed soundtrack that has a different music track for each stage. For instance, in the very first stage, the music climaxes immediately so you can get excited right from the get go.
Contra III: The Alien Wars is clearly influenced by the movies The Terminator and Rambo. In those films, you had muscular protagonists (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, respectively) shooting people up with huge guns. At the time, the popularity of sci-fi movies like Star Wars and Alien is likely why you have two Stallone look-a-likes running around with machine guns blowing up aliens.
There are so many hazards that the only reasonable way to survive is to memorise where every enemy comes from and how they attack. I expect that most people won't like this kind of challenge but if you have patience and enjoy playing unreasonably hard games then Contra 3 should be a lot of fun. Every stage is quite difficult and the final one is the hardest of them all. Another option is to just use the SNES Classic's save states feature which is a perfectly fine decision if you just want to see everything that Contra 3 has to offer.
Even if you don't want to play Contra 3, you can't deny its value as a spectator game. Just take a look at Aquas' AGDQ 2018 speedrun.
After countless deaths, I finally managed to complete Contra 3. Granted, I had three lives the whole time but you can go up to seven in the options menu. I refused to have save states any further than the beginning of each stage because I wanted to get good at the game which was clearly Konami's vision when they created it. Anyway, if you want to play a game that you can beat and get rewarded quickly then you should stay far away from Contra III: The Alien Wars. However, if you have the patience to get good then Contra 3 can be extremely fun. That being said, I can't say I had fun the whole time because of all the countless, frustrating, pointless deaths.