SNES WEEK: Day 5
1) Contra 3: Alien Wars
2) Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium
1) Contra 3: Alien Wars - Jamie Davies (Spatial101)
Aliens. Never the friendliest bunch are they?
Take those in the Contra series. Despite being driven back, time and again, by Earth's mightiest heroes, they always seem willing to come back for another try. In Contra 3:The Alien Wars, 27th Century Earth is caught with its pants down and the evil alien overlord Red Falcon seizes his chance, managing to destroy most of it. Stepping up to answer the call of duty this time is a set of unlikely named heroes, Jimbo and Sully.
OK, so plot-wise the game is never going to win any awards, but you'll be too busy blasting seven shades of shinola out of everything in your path to even care. Contra 3, also known as Gryzor in some territories and Probotector in Europe (where the humans were replaced with robots for a more PC slant), is possibly one of the most entertaining run and gun games you could hope to play on a 16 bit system.
Giving you very little options to play with, other than choosing one or two players, Contra 3 drops you right into the action, assaulting the player from all sides with enemies and bullets. This is a game where you really are required to make quick use of the jump button in conjunction with the fire button (which thankfully includes a handy auto fire feature when the button is held down) if death is to be avoided.
Players are allocated two weapon slots which they can switch between at will, with the ability to upgrade weapons by shooting down the weapon pods that zoom overhead. A surprisingly large variety of weapons are on offer from the start, including things such as Flame Throwers, Spreadshot and Homing Missiles, each having their advantages and disadvantages. Thankfully, in old school tradition, these weapons are gifted with infinite ammo. The exception to this is the limited number of Smart bombs allocated - rather sensible when you consider that they are able to obliterate almost everything on screen. Moreover by holding down the L and R buttons players can also perform a spinning jump attack which fireís ammo from both weapon slots (albeit with limited manoeuverability).
From all this you'd be mistaken for thinking that the odds are stacked in favour of Messrs Jimbo and Sully. The game does a good job of keeping the player on their toes, with sections challenging enough for even the most veteran gamer. This point is further reinforced by the fact that playing the game's Easy mode actually cuts it short, while completing it on Normal just gives your playing stats. To achieve an actual ending, the game must be completed on the devilishly challenging Hard Mode.
Initially both enemies and levels start off with a very cybernetic feel, cannon fodder consisting of generic suited and booted foot soldiers. However during the later episodes, players can expect to see lumbering organic monstrosities and even a hideous cybernetic mixture of the two. Some of the larger enemies are impressive even by todayís standards, featuring winged demons with spear like tails, giant robots of all sizes, shapes and colours, and bloated spidery monsters with human / alien faces.
The bland design of the first level soon gives way to greater things, with Contra really coming into its own. Later on, players are expected to scale the side of a building whilst under assault from a Robotic Walker, ride a futuristic hover cycle in a bid to bring down an enormous alien craft, and even hitch a lift on missiles to speed through the sky and take down the invading hoard. Itís intense and exciting moments such as these that make Contra a frantic and memorable gaming experience.
Interspersing the sideways and vertically-scrolling levels are two Mode 7-heavy ventures, featuring a top down view. These take a little getting used to, thanks to the player needing to utilise the L and R buttons to orientate the onscreen action. However, once mastered, the levels aren't obtrusive enough to cause problems.
While Contra 3:Alien Wars is a short game, comprising of only six stages, this makes it the perfect pick up and blast game. Look past the challenging difficulty and persevere to be thoroughly engrossed and rewarded.
2) Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium - Adam Richards (babs)
Not just the best name for a wrestling game ever, but also probably the best wrestling game ever. Human had been churning out the Fire Pro games since 1991 on the Super Famicom (and before that on the PC Engine), but SFPWXP is widely regarded as the best of the bunch, and rightly so.
The first thing most people realise when they first play a Fire Pro game is the graphics. Small but beautifully drawn characitures represent the wrestlers, and the intricate animations for the various moves are all hand-drawn and very detailed. The 2D view was commonplace when the series began, but by the time X Premium was released 3D had started to become popular, but all credit to Human for sticking to their guns at the risk of losing potential mainstream appeal.
The roster of grapplers is huge, close to 80 from just about every federation going. The major Japanese feds are well represented, but the US wrestlers most Westerners are familiar with are slightly lacking. This doesn't make any difference though, as most Wrestling fans will tell you 'Puro' (Japanese wrestling) is where it's at. The atmosphere, personalities and vast array of moves add to the appeal and go toward making the spectacle what it is. Fans of the biggest names such as Jushin Thunder Liger and The Great Muta won't go disappointed as all of the trademark moves are recreated in great detail, not to mention the iconic headmasks, face-paints and costumes.
The gameplay is what stands this game, and series, head and shoulders above all challengers though. The majority of people who pick this up for the first time with no idea of how it plays will do the same as I did: Attempt to play it like a traditional arcade wrestler like WWF Wrestlefest or Wrestle War where button bashing is the order of the day, realise that it doesn't work, get irritated and resort to the manual (or an FAQ for non-Japanese readers). Timing and judgement are paramount in SFPWXP, there's no power bar, no 'rage' bar, no 'special' bar. The only way to tell how worn your opponent is, is to gauge the time he takes to recover, how groggy he is when he gets to his feet and how quickly he fights out of holds.
Offensive moves revolve around three buttons, best thought of as soft, middle and strong. Whilst moving about each of the buttons whips out a move of the equivalent strength, with the usual penalties for missing a strong move (that is to say left vulnerable). The guts of the system are revealed when two opponents get too close and grapple. A set animation begins as they move into the grapple, and it's a case of timing the button press for the intended move at the exact instant they touch. The player with the better timing wins, it's as simple as that. The skill comes in when choosing what strength of move you attempt though, players need to be worn down or otherwise that strong throw will just be reversed. The d-pad directions combined with a button each invoke different moves, and there are a variety of different ways to deal with a floored opponent. The usual pin is there as well as stamps and elbow drops, but there's also the option of rolling them, picking up by various parts of the body or setting up a submission hold.
The referees play their own unique part too, with some counting quickly and others putting a big pause in between '2' and '3' to build the tension. A stab of the X button will send your character into a run, which can be used for lots of different attacks including suicidal catapults over the top ropes. The vast majority of wrestlers also have what most people are dying to see when they load a wrestling game, and that's the finishing moves. With a very worn down opponent a press of light+medium (Y+B) will break out the signature moves, and these aren't just limited to grapples but also running, catapulting, from the top turnbuckle - wherever necessary really.
There are enough game modes to keep anyone happy, from 1v1 exhibition matches to the Hyper Battle Royale - which with a multitap opens up 4 player matches. A full character edit mode is there if you feel like bringing it bang up to date with your favourite wrestlers, or maybe add yourself. The sound is about as good as you'd expect, nothing special but perfectly functional and atmospheric. There's no better wrestling game on a 16 bit format.
Playing The Game Today
It's still an amazing game, loads of depth and no two matches ever the same. Whether it's the best is open to debate, with Yukes (who developed the Dreamcast Toukon Retsuden series and some of the modern WWF/E games) and Aki both making games that have equally big followings. It's very hard to come by it in an original Japanese cartridge format, which is a shame as there have been some very good patches made for those who own it and want to patch a legally owned rom image. Full English translations for example, or replacing the original cast of fighters with the modern day American counterparts.
However, Human knew how to milk a good franchise and there are versions of this game for almost every system going. From Fire Pro Wrestling: Combination Tag on the PC Engine to Fire Pro Wrestling Z on the PlayStation 2. Most of the modern versions have been produced through Spike and are 100% true to the originals. Any wrestling fan owes it to themselves to get a copy of one of this series and spend a little time getting used to it, it's hard to top.
3) F-Zero - Matt Allen (Mayhem)
At the launch of the Super Famicom in November 1990, F-Zero was quite likely referred to as "that other game" by the frantic hordes of Japanese scrabbling for Mario's latest adventure. It's understandable. When there's the choice between (at the time) the world's most famous video game character and a new unknown franchise, which would you go for? Thankfully F-Zero not only survived, but generated its own fever which has spawned many further games and a reputation of its own.
Like Pilotwings that was released soon after, F-Zero put the Super Famicom's Mode 7 on the map. It may look, in today's light, as being flat and somewhat blocky, but at the time it produced incredibly smooth scrolling courses and a very fast pace of action. And speed is what F-Zero is all about. The technique would later be used by just about every other racing game produced including Super Mario Kart, but that's for another review.
Unlike many modern racers, F-Zero presented the player with just four vehicles to use for the entire game. No unlockables, no hidden ships along the way, just four unique constructs with their own ups and downs. These fell in the ubiquitous categories of quick acceleration (Golden Fox), high top speed (Fire Stingray), high toughness (Wild Goose) and all rounder (Blue Falcon). The Blue Falcon was probably best to start with upon learning the game, and then switched to whichever vehicle suited the style the player preferred to use.
There were also a number of tricks and features to help the player along. A boost was given after the completion of each lap, which could be strategically used to bypass parts of the course, go over rough terrain or just plain catch up to the leaders. To this end, there was also the ability to boost start the race and then try to get in front of the other racers and get them to bump you along to regain your speed.
Aside from the mines on some courses, there was the ever present danger of stranded vehicles to halt progress. Contact with these would cause a fair amount of energy and speed loss. Even worse were those still actually moving about on the course, some split second reactions needed to avoid their attention. Bad enough actually trying to just navigate round the tracks without worrying about dealing with all the other racers.
Indeed course design is all important in a racing game. F-Zero provided not only ingenious and challenging courses, but also the opportunity to experiment and push the limits of each vehicle. Combined with the boost power and ramps, many possible shortcuts looked so invitingly just out of reach. Were they possible? That was the telling nature of the design, you never could be sure. These designs were practically perfect for time trialling and scraping one hundredth off your best was a sense of achievement. Just a pity only seven tracks were available in the designated mode; the rest could only be raced during Grand Prix mode.
Aside from course design, the other aspect everyone seems to remember is the music. Every planet has its own theme and many of them have left an indelible mark on the memory. From the opening theme on Mute City, it's hard to stop yourself from humming along or tapping the foot. Aside from Mute City itself, personal favourites include Fire Field, Big Blue and Sand Ocean. There's something for everyone in there and they are all suited to the courses in question. Nintendo seemed to have a way of being able to "do" music just right for each occasion.
Like a number of Nintendo games from the time, F-Zero has a properly graded difficulty. It noticeably increases both across the cups raced and the actual difficulty level chosen, but at the same time, starts fairly high to begin with. Just getting around the first Mute City track early on takes a bit of practice. But the better the player gets, the more they appreciate just how well balanced it all is. If you can get first place racing Fire Field on Master level, then you can achieve anything.
The legacy that F-Zero left was huge. It paved the way for other sci-fi racers such as Wipeout, and set the standard regarding how to do a racing game in general. It was fast, in your face and dared everyone to try it and see if they could beat it. It was also successful enough to inspire further games on the N64 and Gamecube which have been classics in their own right. Even the GBA version of Maximum Velocity isn't quite in the same standard as the original, and it definitely shows you don't need weapons in a futuristic game either. A title every Super Nintendo owner should have.
SNES Week: Day 1
SNES Week: Day 2
SNES Week: Day 3
SNES Week: Day 4
SNES Week: Day 5
SNES Week: Day 6