Set in 2636 (which seems like a pretty random year, in my mind—not sure if there is any real significance to it), and populated with descendants of the PCs in the first two games, Contra III has similar gameplay to its predecessors. The main difference is that the player is now able to control two guns instead of one and, upon completion of the game on Easy or Normal levels is able to replay the game while maintaining their previous weapons. This made Contra III have much more longevity for "serious" gamers than it would have if you were forced to start over again from the beginning as you moved up in difficulties through the game. Similarly, the default weapon had several different upgrades that were available: laser, cannon, shotgun, flamethrower, homing missiles, barriers and bombs. They basically all do exactly what you would expect them to, given their names. The weapons also had a autofire functionality, and were able to be fired at the same time. This made speed runs, like the one featured below, much easier given the extra firepower.
There are six stages of the game, two of which are top-down views that give me incredible nausea. I realize that much of this was to show off the extra technology now available to the game, but really all it did was give the view the appearance of spinning out of control, and served to seriously disorient me. The other levels, however, exposed much more interactivity with items in the field of view than previous Contra games had. For example, at the end of the first stage the player is essentially required to navigate by jumping from hanging rod to hanging rod at exactly the right time in order to avoid the napalm coating the levels floor. This kind of engagement with items was new, and unusual for a game of this variety. The various stages are as follows:
- Stage 1: The Occupied City—this is essentially a backdrop of broken down sky rise buildings
- Stage 2: The Destroyed Expressway—this is the first of the two overhead stages, and reminds me of some kind of weird racing game that my uncle used to play. Obviously the name is escaping me right now. There are five different points that you need to find and destroy in order to advance onwards.
- Stage 3: Industrial Area—exactly what it sounds like—an industrial area that has now been taken over by aliens.
- Stage 4: Motorcycle Chase/Aerial Combat—first the player is being chased on their motorcycle, which they are inexplicably able to jump up and off of and then return right back to. Other than that, this is probably my favorite level, though arguably one of the hardest. After successfully beating the weird space-trawler-type-thing that is chasing the player on their motorcycle, they then take flight on a helicopter. The helicopter drops loose the missile that the player is sitting on, and they then need to jump from missile to missile in order to beat the boss and finish the level.
- Stage 5: Steep Cliff—Another over head level in which you need to destroy 5 bases to move onwards.
- Stage 6: Alien Base—You basically have to fight all the other bosses from the alien games
While looking at it now, I note that there are significant changes in the graphics from other games from around the same time. For example, the backgrounds are not entirely static images, but are also animated on their own—while this seems minuscule, the amount of power that it would have taken to generate that on top of the gameplay itself was a sign that the processors in the SNES were a serious advance. While it is still easily manipulatable if you know where to stand or ways to cheat the bosses (by lying down, or working with the field of view perspectives), this game was still a step up from others of its ilk. If you've never played it and are interested in giving it a go, you can do so here.