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Contra Force for the 8 bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

Following the success of Contra and Super C, Konami released the run 'n gun game Contra Force for the NES in 1992. What's obvious from the game's intro is that this is not a continuation of the Contra series, as Bill and Lance are nowhere to be seen. Instead, the player takes on the role of Burns, a modern-day Special Forces agent bent on avenging his fallen friend Fox at the hands of a ruthless terrorist organization called D.N.M.E. This is a far-flung storyline compared to the futuristic aliens in the Contra series, but Contra Force is a good game in its own right.

Contra Force was originally an unreleased game called Arc Hound that was later renamed and packaged under the Contra banner. The game retains the basic controls of the Contra series, namely the firing and jump functions. However, the falcon-shaped special power-ups of Contra are replaced by briefcases that advance the abilities of the character. The player can choose between four characters, each with separate lives. Switching between characters is also possible if one is near death. The four Special Forces members - Burns, Smith, Iron, and Beans - each have different abilities and weapons. This variety makes the game more enjoyable and non-linear. The levels also take on a side-scroller view as well as an overhead view and are set in different locales such as aboard a battleship, inside a submarine, and even on the wing of an aircraft. Overall, the game has a more realistic feel to it compared to other shooters at the time.

However, Contra Force does have its detractions. The levels are difficult for a beginner of run 'n gun games and can even prove too challenging for veteran players. A special option in single player mode where you can call for backup by having the computer control one of the remaining characters and aid you onscreen is a brilliant add-on, but the backup can only stay for 5 seconds before disappearing, making this ability somewhat useless. Also, the computer controlled backup is extremely clunky, often firing in the wrong direction and walking around aimlessly.

Contra Force NES is a good game that has its merits even though it doesn't match the excitement of the adventures of Bill and Lance in Contra and Super C. Downloading Contra Force or playing Contra Force online will let you judge for yourself whether this entry is deserving of the Contra name, but you'll still have fun playing it even if it doesn't live up to the standard.

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