Did you know the Game Boy Advance doubles as an emulator? At least that appears to be the sexy trend these days anyway. Konami’s Contra Advance: The Alien Wars EX is one such example, a port of Contra III: The Alien Wars for the SNES. In fact, the developers have done one better, incorporating a couple of levels from Contra: Hard Corps for the Sega Genesis. Unfortunately, the resulting remix comes at a price that fans of the series might find all too costly.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Contra legacy, let me quickly get you caught up on the *cough* story. Alien forces have invaded Earth and it's up to you, as a commando with a penchant for heavy artillery, to exterminate the extraterrestrial threat. The ensuing side-scrolling action is reminiscent of Rambo’s one-man-versus-the-world theme, but you can also play co-op with a friend via link cable, albeit a second cartridge is required.
So what was left on the cutting room floor? Well, for starters, the two Mode-7 overhead levels from the SNES game are gone, replaced with a pair of side-scrolling levels from the Genesis title. They were two of the more unique stages and their absence results in a lack of variety in terms of level design. Even more curious, two of the best features from the SNES game were given their pink slips too; the ability to carry multiple weapons and the aura bomb, an item that obliterated any weak enemies or projectiles that were onscreen. The alterations take Contra Advance: The Alien Wars EX back to the roots of the franchise. If that was the goal however, why not just port the original Contra? Confusing to say the least, and a little disappointing.
The Contra franchise is known for being mind-numbingly difficult at times, and Contra Advance: The Alien Wars EX is no different. Due to the size of the screen, the already slim margin for error is made even slimmer, and the lack of aura bombs means you’ll have to fight through even the stickiest of situations. To ease the pain a little, players can save their progress after each level, a ridiculously long 18-character password save. It just might take you longer to input the string of text than it will to complete the actual level. The game isn’t very long either, lasting all of 6 missions. Even with a surprise at the end, the game isn’t particularly rewarding this time around.
Enough negativity though, Contra Advance: The Alien Wars EX does have its good points. Visually, the character sprites and backgrounds have been replicated perfectly, and the screen-filing bosses are as menacing as ever. The screen constantly fills with enemies, projectiles and explosions, yet the action never slows down. The only complaint in the graphics department would be the two Genesis levels, which stick out like a sore thumb compared to the other stages. Aurally, the sound effects survived the transition to the Game Boy Advance, but the music has lost a bit of its lustre. Still, I was very impressed with the presentation.
If Contra Advance: The Alien Wars EX is your first Contra experience, you’ll be treated to a solid 2D shooter that is both fun and frustrating at the same time, even if it’s a little too short. On the other side of the coin, if you’ve played Contra III for the SNES before, I think you’ll ultimately be a little disappointed at the alterations that were made and the features that were left on the cutting room floor.