A Cursory Review of Contra Force

Editor's Note: This article is based on a post I made on the selectbutton.net forums.

A couple months back I had an interaction on a videogame forum, as one does:



Does anyone have any emotions about Contra Force?

Sloggy Lagfest: The Game

maybe i’d change my opinion if i played it on an overclocked emulator

A few days later, I decided to see if my opinion would change:


update: i messed with some settings in FCEUX

Emulator configured to effectively quadruple the NES's speed

this successfully gets rid of the lag in Arc Hound Contra Force

Contra Force title screen

but the game's still a slog

Now, without further ado, let's continue our scatterbrained look at things:

Unlike other Contra games, which take place centuries in the future, Contra Force takes place in the far distant year of 1992, with strange technologies like wired telephones:

NEOCITY 1992 "Hi. It's me, Fox. Is that you Burns?

...but it takes place in Neocities so it's impossible to say whether the setting is good or bad.

Anyhow, this is a game about dudes. Just look at these dudes! They rock:


Now, guess which dude the selector will move to when you press right once.

If you guessed Beans, then congratulations! You have what it takes to work at one of Konami's C-Teams! (I, for one, thought my keyboard bindings were busted.)

The game looks decently nice, at least:

Beginning of stage 1

Sadly, I immediately had an allergic reaction to how it messes up Contra's gamefeel. While walking, you cannot aim diagonally downwards, despite there being many situations where you would want to. Also, jumping works more like a traditional platformer, where releasing jump cuts your jump height short, and letting go of left/right in midair halts your forward momentum --- these changes feel a bit more understandable, but just feel icky to me in the context of a Contra-esque platform shooter, where commitment and forward momentum are key to enjoyable high-level play.

One neat thing is the amount of destructible objects in the environment. There are piles of crates with capital-P Physics. Destroy one on the bottom of a pile, and the ones above it will fall down. Some crates even move along conveyor belts! I'm sure these game systems are responsible for at least 50% of the game's lag normally.

Standing atop some crates

In addition to the crates, there are a surprising amount of cracked walls, ceilings, and other greeblings you can destroy:

Various parts of the ceiling have been destroyed

Destroying any of these background objects (crates or otherwise) has a random chance of dropping a power-up. You can scroll the stage back about a screen and a half to respawn these objects, allowing you to farm your characters up as desired.

The power-up system is Gradius-esque (Gradiesque?): collect generic power-ups to move the selection cursor on the HUD forwards a box, and press select to cash out on your reward. Each character has the short range starting pistol in the 1st slot, two unique weapons for the next 2nd and 3rd slots, a shot-limit upgrade for the 4th slot, and the screw attack (!) for the 5th slot.

The screw attack sucks because touching anything in mid-air with it kills your jump. Also, your main weapon is forced to be the starter pistol when you have it.

Aside from the shot-limit upgrade, all weapon upgrades are mutually exclusive, so you never have the feeling of gradually getting stronger like in Gradius (for better or worse). Barely any of the weapons feel good, and none of them are the spread gun. The flamethower, homing missiles, and bombs are particularly bad.

Pressing start brings you to the character selection screen, cutting the level music to a different song, and taking an obnoxious amount of time to fade in and out. The UI for this screen is perversely unintuitive:


You would think that switching to a different character would just be a matter of something like pressing A and then Start to confirm your choice, but actually you press left or right to select between multiple different options. You can select which character is player 1's, which is player 2's, or between 6 (six!) different CPU AI options.

Choosing an invalid option (e.g. with more than 2 characters in play, or with multiple player 1s), results in this obtuse error message at the bottom:

The COMMAND SELECT screen with too many options selected, showing a message at the bottom saying "CHOOSE ANOTHER PLAYER"

AI CPUs are weird. They are fully kitted out, invincible like Tails from Sonic 2, but only last for like 5 seconds, but also are infinitely spammable provided you have the patience to sit through the pause fadeout a bajillion times.

Also pausing grants you an extra mid-air jump for some reason (not complaining).

Now, regarding the level design: I've only made it to the end of the first stage, but I think I can say it's Not Good! While there are a few neat gimmicks, there is a very poor sense of flow and movement, and the enemy placement seems a bit suspect, especially with the limited range of the starting weapon.

After a few attempts I made it up to the first boss, died, and decided I was done with the game. Supposedly there are top-down stages in this as well.

There's a lot one could like about Contra Force, were it a better game, but the end result just doesn't congeal like it should. The Boys look cool, in a sort of proto-Metal Slug sort of way. They also have a bunch of weird differences, like marginally different jump heights, or kneeling versus ducking while pressing down. Unfortunately, like most design decisions in this game, they differences feel random or arbitrary instead of interesting or well-considered.

Overall, the way the game feels incompetent in both its technical and design aspects feels very bizarre, especially compared to any other post-SNES Konami game for the platform. In contrast, the cult-classic Bucky O'Hare and unfairly-maligned Zen Intergalactic Ninja are both technical marvels that showcase a very refined sense of design, while this is just sludge.


Contra Force -- It has a lot more problems besides the lag!