"The sad, blunt truth is that the GBA is a black hole as far as creativity is concerned. 95% of companies have decided to "grace" it with Super Nintendo ports rather then strive to make it the 2D revival it should have been; franchise after franchise has been squandered on ports of games I can find for $5. There was, however, a sole company that held strong in the face of such corruption, pumping out quality 2D games like it was 1994. Eventually, though, the titles like Castlevania: CotM..."
The sad, blunt truth is that the GBA is a black hole as far as creativity is concerned. 95% of companies have decided to "grace" it with Super Nintendo ports rather then strive to make it the 2D revival it should have been; franchise after franchise has been squandered on ports of games I can find for $5. There was, however, a sole company that held strong in the face of such corruption, pumping out quality 2D games like it was 1994. Eventually, though, the titles like Castlevania: CotM and Gradius Galaxies stopped, and Konami succumbed to the sheer profit in this nefarious deed of porting, deciding to cram the SNES classic Contra III: The Alien Wars into our pockets. However, realizing how besieged the market is with old games, Konami did something to make Contra Advance stand out from the pack.
That said, so are most games, as Contra III was one of the finest action games appearing on the (fat) SNES. Sure, the "manly men make aliens their bitch" setting may not have been terribly original, but did it matter? It pulled it off so well, featuring tight level design, screen filling and memorable bosses such as a gigantic Terminator-esque robot, a fantastic two player mode and a variety of goodies. And what a bag of goodies it was. Want to alternate two guns? Go right ahead! Feeling overwhelmed? Have a fun with this screen clearing bomb! Oh, you need pretty visuals? Well, you got em! And of course, you could always strike a sexy pose.
Well, guess what? Sometime between 1991 and 2002, a hobo ate that bag of goodies. Yes, it ruins the game just as much as you think it would, if not more. The SNES game's design mandated that you have a wisely chosen pair of guns at your disposal, taking special care not to posses two similar weapons. Trying to take the game on with just one is like playing Gradius without spinny ball things. The lack of a bomb also stings, as it gave you a great chance to fall back when overwhelmed. Inexperienced players needed the breath of fresh air it provided, while the hardcore even worked it into their patterns. But now it's gone. Whoever made these decisions needs to be spanked by a large, obese man.
The amazing heart of Contra III is still in there, though. Somewhere. No matter how hard you try, you can't take away the fact that it's a (now not so) well balanced action game that spews challenge out of its ass. Right as the game opens, you have to blow through an enemy city just packed with danger. Snipers, bombers, crazy running guys... it's got it all. Hell, there's even a cat that jumps out from behind you and tries to jam itself up your ass or something. Of course, not every level is as simple an affair. The third mission, for example, has you hanging from a series of pipes as you ward off a crew of killer bugs, eventually climbing up the sides of a skyscraper while being assaulted by a drilling robot.
However, the crappy new gameplay engine keeping up with Contra III's funnitude is like a virgin trying to keep up with Ron Jeremy; it just can't. Take the end of the fourth level, where you hop from missile to missile while attempting to shoot down an enemy battleship. Certain targets on the ship are too far away to hit with the flamethrower, which it is quite possible to have. But hark! You have no second weapon with range! You're screwed! Additionally, to make an awkward transition, they cut The Alien Wars' overhead stages. While they weren't the highlights of the old game, they were an amusing break from the sidescrolling levels, and were actually quite a blast in two player. Their loss is just another notch in Advance's grave.
There is something in the place of the bird's eye view stages, though. Specifically, the train and lab levels from the totally badical Hard Corps, the only Contra to appear on the (not fat) Genesis. While seemingly a positive addition, those dolts managed to hand pick the absolute worst levels from Corps. Especially the train, where the biggest enemy you'll face is the automatic ceiling hanging. Even if they were two of the better Genesis levels, though, how well do you think it works to slap levels from one game into another? That's right, it doesn't. This pair of levels sticks out like a haystack in a needle thanks to Hard's differing graphical style and heavy focus on boss battles.
Speaking of which, the bosses in this port are actually less shat upon than everything else. You see, for most of the game, in a vain attempt to "balance" it, Konami have made the regular foes even more grossly incompetent than in the original, as they hardly ever shoot at you. The bosses don't fall prey to this trap, thankfully, still presenting a large challenge for our hero. Ranging from a gigantic turtle that fires a variety of insects and lasers at you to a ginormous robot that forcefully stops the train you were riding on, the bosses are by far the highlight of Contra Advance. But, you see, that's just the problem. The most positive things I can say are "this part is only a little worse".
Of course, having screwed up everything else, it just wouldn't be right if Konami didn't rip the graphics a new one. To kick it off, they somehow managed to make the animation worse, despite that fact that the original had like two frames for each motion. Also, while the actual backgrounds are detailed and pleasant, all they did to fit them to GBA's resolution was scrunch, cut, and skew them. C'mon, you and I both know they can afford something more than MS Paint. Even worse is the overall color scheme - everything is diluted, from the jet blacks replaced by a moldy green to crimson reds that now sport an orange tint. I guess the special effects still look ok, though. The explosions are quite nice, even by GBA standards.
But then the sound. My God, the sound. I really can't put into words how horrible it is. While not a selling point, the audio design of the original was pleasant, featuring bassy effects that put you in the action and a simplistic but catchy set of tunes. It just wouldn't be Contra Advance if these, too, weren't ruined. The music is ten different kinds of tinny, for one. I almost want to say it belongs on GBC, but that would be an insult to aurally pleasing GBC games like Metal Gear Solid. The sound effects have also been sacked, the puncturing, bass-filled, manly beeps of The Alien Wars having been replaced by mere boops.
Forget feeding Christians to the lions. Nero should've gotten a time machine and made whichever Konami team handled this game cat food. While most GBA ports are quite lame, substituting rehashed experiences in the place of all-new adventures, they at least tend to be accurate. Take Super Mario World. The colors were bright and crisp, the gameplay didn't suffer in the least, and the music was accurately preserved. That only makes me wonder even more what the hell happened with Contra Advance, a game which is worse than the original in every possible aspect. Just go buy the SNES game, or put the money towards a pre-order on Metal Slug Advance. Hell, go get a hot sauce enema. Still better than this game.
Community review by Cornwell (September 25, 2008)
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