Review by Christopher N. Denner
Ah, yes... Irem! Sweet, loving, caring Irem! Creators of the immortal "R-Type" series that has spanned the generations, and, along with Konami's "Gradius" line, revolutionized the modern day shooter and set the standard for all things great in the universe. The games that have brought many a joy to an old school gamer, from back when a "shooter" game was actually called a "shooter" game.
And now, looking back to the golden age of 16-bit in 1991, what is this I see? *GASP!* Konami has created a new, updated version of "Contra" called "The Alien Wars" for the recently released Super Nintendo system? And, can it be? Irem too is creating a new game similar to it, which will be called "GunForce" !?!
Oh, Joy! Jolly ol' good day! This is indeed a time worth celebrating! Now there will be TWICE as much fun! Surely, with the release of "Contra: The Alien Wars" and "GunForce" on the new Super Nintendo Entertainment System, I can finally relax and be assured knowing that the blissful amalgam of merriment and harmony from the run-and-gun shooter genre will ensue.
And sure enough, Contra: The Alien Wars, in it's ever graceful presence brought us into a new era of console gaming, with it's barrage of pulse pounding action, new challenges and difficulties, and array of mode 7 graphics and special effects that pushed the scales beyond all forms of prior comprehension. Adding to previous incarnations in the Contra series with the ability to carry not one, but two powerful weapons, superbombs, a load of new powerups, and it's full roaming overhead 3D worlds and that really showed off the capabilities of the SNES in it's infancy. Truly one of the greatest games from it's time.
And there could be no doubt that the awe-inspiring, soon to be released, GunForce would become the perfect companion piece to such a great game. For starters, It's got the word "GUN" in the title. GUN! I mean, how cool is that? Just think of all the fun you'll have shooting things, --BANG! BANG! --'cause you've got a big old gun in your hands! And it's packing a FORCE... that's right, a FORCE... to be RECKONED WITH! heh heh heh. Oh, man... It's like totally awesome! This game is gonna rock! After all, Irem couldn't possibly go wrong. Not the creators of one of my favorite, most underrated NES games, "Metalstorm". It's going to be perfect ...right? ...RIGHT?!?
Fast forward to late 2002/early 2003.
I'm on an eBay high, buying up NES, SNES and Genesis games left and right. Dozens and dozens and dozens of games that I've always wanted, but could never get as a youngster. And what is this I see out of the corner of my eye? Why, it's GUNFORCE: BATTLE FIRE ENGULFED TERROR ISLAND! --[And, yes... that IS the actual title of the game]. I remember reading about and looking at that game. "Man, I have got to get me some of that action!", I perpetuate.
So the bid is placed.
"YOU ARE THE WINNER OF THIS AUCTION."
I get the game, and, of course I'm feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. I love getting an old game that I've never played on my SNES before, and this was no exception. I stick it in SNES, turn the power on and voila! Its a... ITS a... ITS a... um... It's a little less than spectacular.
No, wait... it's a LOT less than spectacular. --INSTANT CRAPPINESS ENSUES! Hrmm. Only now, I was left wondering... "Wha... Wha...? WHA..?!?!?!"
All right... I'll lay it out straight for you.
GunForce is a poorly conceived and poorly executed rip-off of the Classic NES Contra games, with a little bit of Alien Wars tossed in for seasoning. If you've played any of the side scrolling Contra games from the pre-Shattered Solider era, you'll know exactly what kind of game this is. Unfortunately, in this day and age, when there are people who don't know who Mario is, chances are some of you probably DON'T know what the games are like. So, I'll explain as simple as I can: YOU RUN AND SHOOT THINGS AND TRY NOT TO GET YOURSELF KILLED.
Now that we've established the point of this game, I shall progress. The game is set around Run-and-gun mayhem, where you blast away anything and everything "evil" on the screen before it does so to you. Only, once you take away everything that was new, innovative and fun about the Contra game series, you will be left with THIS one.
You play some random guy who is sent down to an Island Jungle, to battle through 5 stages of enemy territory. Basically, it's the same exact story as Contra. I don't have the instructions, and there is no plot mentioned in the actual game other than a brief ending caption, so whatever the official storyline is, I don't know. But it's Contra to the core, right down to game ending. Not that these games are ever built around a story, but if you think I'm going to "spoil" the game for you (ha!), you should probably continue reading so I can save you the anguish of actually playing it.
And, let's face it, the game has been out for 12 years now and if, for god only knows what reason, you are interested in this game, you probably already know the gist of it. Besides, if you owned an 8-bit or 16-bit system, you've already played the game under numerous names by other various other companies anyway.
You start off in a jungle stage, with your character dropping from above. It seems that the creators were so cheap, the background of your character dropping to the ground was recycled and used as the background of the title screen. Whereas a helicopter drops you off in Super C, you parachute down in GunForce. Whereas you obtain weapons like the laser, machine gun and flamethrower in Contra, you obtain weapons like the laser, auto-gun and flamethrower in GunForce. The main enemy of Contra is the evil red falcon alien heart with little alien spider creatures that pop out and come after you. GunForce's main enemy is an evil mutant bug entity with little mutant Ewoks that pop out and shoot you. And it's almost the same exact screen layout at Contra too! Yippie, skippy!
The first thing anyone would probably notice when playing this is the amount of slowdown in this game. I don't even know how a game could be this bad, when Contra: The Alien Wars was so smooth and had 100 times as much action going on, on screen, and that was released beforehand. We're not specifically talking "Super Ghouls and Ghosts" slowness here, but, at least the slowdown in THAT game actually made it more fun and easier to control. This just hinders on being a pain to move and control.
Why? Because, often, the screen does not move with you. You sometimes have to PUSH the screen by getting very far to the side, and much like most other run-and-gun games, you cannot backtrack once you've passed something. So, you'll be walking toward the edge of the screen, and it will slowly chug along and start moving over to the next, when BAM! You get shot from something moving ever so slightly into the screen, from off-screen. Aggghhh...!!!
What makes that worse, that is that the controls in this game are sluggish and often take some time to respond. Your character moves way too slowly. The jumping action is not touch sensitive, so you will always jump the same height, no matter how long you press the button. You can't aim very well with shooting or jumping. If you want to shoot at a diagonal, you will have to move as you shoot, because the L and R buttons, which could have been used to lock your character in place, work as jumping buttons as well. And the WORST part about it is, the standard "Jump" and "Shoot" buttons are reversed by default, and you cannot change the controller options at all! So you have 4 jumping buttons and 2 shooting buttons. And you don't suppose they could get 1 of them in the right spot, do you?
But I guess it can or cannot help your playing, because the artificial intelligence in this game is cheap. So cheap, that unlike almost all run-and-gun games, there is NO collision detection. You can walk into the enemies and you will NEVER get hurt! The only time you do get hurt is it they specifically shoot you, which seems to happen at random. For one of the stages, I was dying more from boxes fall on my head than I was from enemy encounters! And that's always fun, you know, dying from boxes.
Most of the characters die from 1-hit shots, but a few will require 4 or 5 blasts to take out. On some occasions enemies will be grouped up in a row, and/or out of the way of fire and you will be forced to travel a certain path the advance, giving them a clear shot at you and no way to fire back at them, which will lead to many an unforgiving death. Other enemies will just run out in large groups and never fire a single shot, and just continue jogging along off screen. NEVER FIRE A SHOT. If they aren't going to shoot, and can't hurt you by collision, what's the whole point of having them?
The bosses, or lack thereof, consist of motionless machines and guns... like, say... kind of how the end of first few stages from the original Contra are. Except, there are no cool aliens or mutants popping out, or little bubbly things chasing you. It's just 3 or 4 guns, shooting in the same spots, every time. You can easily take out every boss without even making any effort. And nothing says "bad ass" more than a row of 4 radar dishes shooting big red energy globs of... um... ENERGY GLOB, at you.
At least they TRIED to do something interesting, allowing you to use the vehicles and mounted weapons at your disposal. Much like the tank in Contra: The Alien Wars, you have the ability to ride vehicles such as, jeeps, helicopters, mechs, rafts... yes, you read "RAFTS". Also, much like Contra: The Alien Wars, you will encounter zip line ropes that you will be required to crawl across or be lifted from. These can sometimes be a pain, because enemies will try to shoot you while you are crawling across it and the only choice you'll have is to let it hit you or plummet to your death!
You can also control makeshift gun turrets left behind from enemies, which, for the most part, do nothing to help you since the other enemies are almost always out of range or aren't even there. And the gun only shoots in 3 specific lines of fire. It could have been a great idea, if only they had applied it to something. Of course, trying to get OUT of the gun controls can be a pain. You'll have to toggle around sometimes just so your character we regain control of himself to continue.
The graphics are a mildly above "Altered Beast" territory. You'll feel like you're playing either a shiny metallic early era Genesis game, or a muddy, muted era Genesis game, depending on where you are at the time. The character animations, all THREE of them, are bland. Nothing really MOVES in this game. You'd think some leaves may be blowing in the jungles? NOPE. The vehicles, such as helicopters and tanks, all have almost zero animation. The gun patrol enemies have TWO animations. When the guns move from the right to the middle to the left side of the screen, it's just TWO animations. The original frame, the middle frame, and the original frame flipped backwards.
The enemies, your character, the bosses... nothing stands out. In fact, your character looks almost the same as the generic canon fodder enemy. And there are only, what... maybe 6 or 7 different kinds of canon fodder enemy in the whole game. "Ooooh, look! It's guy that runs around and does nothing!" and "hey, check out the other guy that stands at his gun doing nothing while you shoot him!" and "wow, it's purple guy that floats around on his jetpack waiting to be shot!".
The sound is bland. The music is instantly forgettable. After finishing, and even while playing, I couldn't tell if the music actually changed by stage or not. I never noticed. The gunshot sounds are all the same. The explosion sounds are all the same. When you die, your character will yell "Aaagggghhhh...!", which sounds horrid, as if it were worse than 8-bit quality.
And what makes it even worse... even WORSE, is that there is a TIME LIMIT. So once you've made it to the boss without dying once, you'll be killed instantly, because your time is over. Apparently, we train soldiers to die on queue when in battle for some reason. What's good, yes, there actually IS a good point about dying, is that, while you get a couple continues, you can continue on from the spot you died at. Of course, when you make it to the final boss, there's even a specific spot you can stand in to take him out without ever getting hit, and in about 5 seconds. Amazing!
The game was produced by "Bits", whoever THEY are, for Irem. According to the end credits, EIGHT people worked on this game. And TWO of them were just people being thanked.
Aw, screw it... I'll save you the bother. I know how much you're just DYING to find out who they are!
Written by Tony Smith.
Anywho... Surprisingly though, it does have a decent amount of replay value. The game itself, ISN'T GOOD. At best, it's average. But it's the worst thing I've ever played either. It's like a bad game that people love to play anyway... such as Tomb Raider or Mortal Kombat. What can I say? The game tries nothing to prove it is anything but a bland Contra rip-off, as I'm sure you've picked up on already, but for being a bland Contra rip-off, it's not downright horrible either. And much like Contra, it's very short. You can most likely beat it in a 20-minute span.
Though, you should keep a lookout for the Arcade sequel, which I'm told was never commercially released Stateside. I hear it's closer to Metal Slug territory and void of anything relating to this game. If you want some run-and-gun fun, I suggest checking out the side scrolling Contra games, Gunstar Heroes or Metal Slug, but I'll assume you already have anyway.
There are many other games that do the same thing better. So, unless you're into poorly made Contra clones and have played the other 800 or so Super Nintendo games out there, you might want to give it a try for the nostalgia factor. Otherwise, it's probably wise just to skip it. Which is why I'm giving it a bland, but playable average score of 5... out of 10.
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