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All posts for the month December, 2012

Whether or not you’re into tabletop gaming, it’s hard to deny that Warhammer 40k features some of the most beautifully grim art to grace the world of military sci-fi. To Games Workshop‘s credit, they know exactly how critical it is to nurture an instantly recognizable image for their product. For the most part, nearly every licensed w40k product features excellent artwork. I’ve always been drawn to the world of w40k, first as a fan of the game, and more recently as a fan of the novels. W40k might be my favorite extended universe ever. The scale is immense, the back-story is interesting, and the human inhabitants are a refreshing departure from the typical USA in space (which I griped about last post). W40k is a perfect blend of military sci-fi and horror, so expect to see a lot more coverage of it on this site.

Being a casual fan of the w40k universe, I’ve always loved the artwork, but never delved into the artists who brought the 40k world to life. Hence, The Emperor’s Might, a recently released w40k artbook, seemed like a perfect way to journey further into the fiction.

Warhammer 40k The Emperor's Might Art Book -- Cover

The cover art is somewhat unimpressive

The Emperor’s Might
Author: John Blanche
Country: United Kingdom
Featured Edition: Black Library, October 2012

Warhammer 40k The Emperor's Might Art Book 17

The Grey Knights looking cool, as always.

The Emperor’s Might was compiled by John Blanche, Games Workshop‘s resident art director. John Blanche is an amazing fantasy artist, and landed his current gig with GW way back in 1986. As well as contributing his own art to the 40k universe, Blanche also oversees all the contributions by other artists and sculptors, and ensures that they match the required tone and quality. It’s largely thanks to Blanche that w40k looks the way it does. I’d be willing to bet that the 40k brand wouldn’t be nearly as successful as it is if it didn’t have such cohesive imagery.

Warhammer 40k The Emperor's Might Art Book 10

I love this sheer size of the Ultramarine in this image. Dat gauntlet.

The Emperor’s Might focuses on the exploits of the space marines. This isn’t the definitive 40k art book, but it is readily available, which can’t be said of books like The Art of Warhammer 40, 000, which are more all-encompassing, but are sadly out-of-print. Every space marine chapter gets its due in over 140 pages of high quality color prints. The quality of the images in this book can’t be understated. The colors are vivid and crisp. The hardcover binding feels solid, and fortunately survived the abuse I subjected it to in an effort to produce the scans for this post.

Warhammer 40k The Emperor's Might Art Book 18

My favorite image. Reminds me of Simon Bisley.

I can’t fault the quality of the package, but the price of the book seems somewhat steep considering the amount of content within. Then again, this is Games Workshop, so I can’t pretend to be surprised by a company that routinely gouges its customers’ wallets. For the same price of this artbook, you could probably buy a couple of plastic terminator units.

My biggest annoyance with this book is that it’s an artbook that barely credits the artists within! There is literally no way of knowing who produced each work without consulting the internet, or searching futilely for a scribbled autograph. When I open an artbook, I expect at the very least to be told the names of the featured artists. It would also be nice to see the title of each piece, and a date. The Emperor’s Might provides none of these details. The only mention of the artists is in a small piece of text at the back of the book, in small font along with the copyright information… I understand that the limited space was devoted to art instead of text, but it would have been relatively easy to include a proper index of the artists responsible for each piece.

Warhammer 40k The Emperor's Might Art Book 3

Possibly the most detailed w40k piece ever.

Warhammer 40k The Emperor's Might Art Book 9

This was the cover of one of the Space Marine codexes.

I purchased The Emperor’s Might because I wanted to acquaint myself with the artists of the 40k universe, but I found it difficult to do so considering the lack of proper credits. I’m sure that die-hard 40k fans are already familiar with the artists of their favorite expanded universe, and thus don’t need a set of credits, but this is still unfair to casual fans like myself. Irregardless, the artwork is still superb, so I wouldn’t discourage anyone from purchasing the book based on this sore point, but it is disappointing.

Warhammer 40k The Emperor's Might Art Book 19

Dark Angels.

The artwork ranges from the early beginnings of the w40k brand to the present-day. Had the dates of the pieces been provided, it would have been interesting to see the evolution of the 40k world in concrete terms. About half the paintings feature portraits of individual Astartes, many of which are primarchs or individuals of high rank. Anyone who plays as space marines will instantly recognize many of the paintings from various codexes or rule books.

My favorite pieces of art are the large 2-page spreads that feature massive battle scenes. They epitomize what I love about w40k: massive bloody space conflicts performed on an epic scale. I recognize one of these pieces as the cover art for the UK Death Metal band Bolt Thrower‘s 1989 album Realm of Chaos, so I would assume that several of the other 2-page spreads date back to this era. I still remember being transfixed by issues of White Dwarf as a kid in the mid 90’s; apparently my tastes haven’t changed with age…

Warhammer 40k The Emperor's Might Art Book 2

This was the cover of Bolt Thrower’s Realm of Chaos

As well as the color portraits and battle scenes, there are also a number of black and white images. Although the quality of these meet the standard of the rest of the book, I’ve always preferred w40k’s color paintings. There are even a few pages of landscapes, which seem almost out-of-place without at least one space marine in sight. The book apparently features never-before-seen artwork, but without any index I can’t begin to guess which images these are.

Overall, I would still recommend this book, but don’t make the same mistake I did and expect to learn more about the artists of the 40k world. My ideal book would not only list the artist credits (as a bare minimum), but would even include some back story about each piece, or each artist. Oh well, knowing GW, they may one day release this fantasy book of mine, and subsequently charge $200 for it… As always, please join the xenomorphosis facebook page, it could always use some more love. I plan to do more artbook reviews, so stay tuned.

Clicking this link will bring you to this product’s Amazon page. Should you choose to purchase it, I will get a small commission, which will then be reinvested into the site. Although I’m including this link, my review’s and opinions will never be influenced by the opportunity to make a commission. This site is a labor of love, but costs money to maintain, so think of any commissions as a donation to the site.

Clicking any of the following thumbnails will open a gallery of my favorite pieces from The Emperor’s Might

Last week you got an action figure review, now you get a book review. I’m eclectic. The Forever War should be instantly familiar to most sci-fi fans. Because it’s fresh in my mind, I thought  I’d flesh out my opinions on it. TFW is respectably dark and grim, so I feel that it’s a fitting selection for this site’s first instance of literary coverage. It’s also a Hugo and Nebula award winner, which speaks for itself.

The Forever War -- Centipede Press US TBD

The Forever War — Centipede Press, US

The Forever War
Author: Joe Haldeman
Country: Unites States
First Edition: St. Martin’s Press, 1974
Featured Edition: Thomas Dunne Books, 2009

The Forever War -- Eos US 2003

The Forever War — Eos, US 2003

The Forever War, written in 1974 by Joe Haldeman, is one of those books that I had always meant to read, but just kept putting off. My loss, because TFW easily matches its hype. Heralded as one of the greatest military sci-fi novels of all time, I’ve always pictured it as sharing a podium with Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein, and Armor by John Steakley. What’s strange about my aversion to TFW, is that the two aforementioned novels are two of my favorites of all time. I can still vividly remember the first (and only) time I read Starship Troopers. I couldn’t have been more than twelve-years-old, and I eviscerated the book during a two-day period when I was home from school due to illness. I can’t remember any other book that I felt so sad to have finished. I wished there had been a sequel so I could ocntinue reading. Armor was another novel that I read in a couple of days. I’ve never felt so much empathy for a character in a sci-fi novel. And as I’ll soon explain, Armour and TFW share similar themes of alienation.

The Forever War -- Hayakawa Publishing Japan 1985

The Forever War — Hayakawa Publishing, Japan 1985

Although The Forever War and Starship Troopers are often mentioned in the same sentence, their tone is quite different. Starship Troopers is decidedly grim, but the underlying message is unashamedly pro-military. TFW, on the other hand, leaves the reader feeling that the military apparatus is relatively pointless, and exists only to keep the civilian populace in check. As every piece of promotional material for TFW will tell you, Joe Haldeman served as a combat engineer in Vietnam, and was awarded a Purple Heart for his contributions. TFW parallels Haldeman’s disenfranchised sentiments towards war, and the subsequent alienation he felt upon returning home as a veteran. Every time I’ve seen TFW mentioned, this fact has been heavily espoused. What I find slightly irritating about these sentiments, is that they make it seem as if it’s rare for science fiction to deal with real world issues. As all sci-fi literature fans know, every good sci-fi novel is a subtle reflection of its author’s beliefs, and is influenced to some extent by their real-world experiences. Maybe I was born way too late, but I don’t find it especially impressive that when writing a war novel, Haldeman channeled his personal sentiments on the matter. I mean no disrespect to Haldeman, I just don’t see why others find it so impressive that TFW is a sci-fi novel that explores real-world issues.

The Forever War -- Polaris 1996 Czech

The Forever War — Polaris, Czech, 1996

In the late 20th century, humanity has found wormholes called collapsars that allow them to travel across vast interstellar distances in a split second. Haldeman doesn’t spend too much time explaining these collapsars, but after some digging, I realized that collapsars are really what we now call black holes, which was a term that hadn’t been popularized in 1974. While travelling through these collapsars, humanity meets what seem to be a hostile alien race, which they dub the Taurans. William Mandella, a physics student, is conscripted along with a group of other physically fit, genius academics to engage the supposedly hostile alien race.

The Forever War -- Mondadori Italy 2003

The Forever War — Mondadori, Italy 2003

To be honest, I found the book’s first act to be somewhat dull. The soldiers are transported to a hostile world to learn how to operate powered armor suits under hostile conditions. These suits were obviously inspired by Starship Troopers. In fact, the entire segment felt like a weak version of ST’s training section. As with many science fiction novels, the humanity of the future is especially promiscuous; male and female soldiers alternate sexual partners every night. Although this might be the military’s ideal answer to the stress of army life, I would imagine that in the real world this would result in a considerable degree of conflict and tension. Because sexual promiscuity is so prevalent in sci-fi, I’ve always wondered, is this a result of sci-fi authors’ unfulfilled sexual desires, or were the sci-fi authors of the 60’s and 70’s just a bunch of free-loving hippies?

The Forever War -- J'AI LU 2001 France

The Forever War — J’AI LU,  France 2001

After receiving the requisite training, Mandella and the crew are sent through a collapsar to engage the Taurans in the first ever on-land encounter. The battle turns into a massacre; the Taurans are virtually defenceless, and are obliterated by the humans. Haldeman doesn’t shy away from graphic detail. The following excerpt describes the humans’ first violent encounter with a group of harmless animals on the alien planet: “Whenever the laser had opened a body cavity, milk-white glistening veined globes and coils of organs spilled out, and their blood was dark clotting red”.

The Forever War -- Elmar Netherlands 1978

The Forever War — Elmar, Netherlands 1978

The most interesting concept of the book is introduced after this first skirmish. Because the collapsar has transported the humans thousands of light years away from Earth, the subsequent time dilation means that in the period of two years for Mandella, dozens of years have passed back home. The time dilation also means that the Taurans have significantly more time to develop new weapons and methods of warfare. Upon returning home, Mandella and the woman he loves, Marygay Potter, realize that time hasn’t treated the Earth kindly. The Earth is unified by one government, and it exists primarily to fuel the war effort. Resources are scarce, meaning that everyone lives in government sanctioned poverty. I would imagine that Haldeman patterned this society after that of Soviet Russia. The conditions are akin to America’s worst impressions of communism, circa 1974. Furthermore, due to an overabundant population and limited resources, people are encouraged to be homosexual. I’ve never seen this suggested as a method of population control, but it’s certainly interesting. Mandella and Marygay, both of whom are pacifists, can’t adjust to the Earth of the future, and thus decide to rejoin the war effort. The theme of alienation is core to this novel. Mandella’s experiences are said to mimic the alienation that Haldeman felt when returning home from Vietnam. The time dilation exists as the perfect literary mechanism to subject Mandella and  Marygay to constant “future shock”.

The Forever War -- Gollancz 2010 UK

The Forever War — Gollancz, UK 2010

The rest of the novel has Mandella and Marygay being sent to various battlefronts, each of which are thousands of light years away. As a result, they constantly return to an Earth that has left them far behind. I find this concept ridiculously interesting. Without delving into spoilers, from the age of twenty to twenty-five, they experience hundreds of years of human progress. The war seems to destined to last forever, hence the term The Forever War.

I can only assume that like Mandella, Haldeman is a pacifist. For this reason, there were only a few segments of the book that really delved into the actual warfare. Readers who are looking for pure action would probably be best served elsewhere, but there is at least one really satisfying battle at the end of TFW. Haldeman devised a unique arsenal of far future weaponry for TFW. The weapons range from “finger lasers”, to mines that are sensitive up to a one kilometer radius. I really love when authors get creative with weaponry, and I wish modern military sci-fi wasn’t so dominated by “20th century marines with 20th century weapons, but in the future!”

The Forever War -- Ballantine Books US 1976

The Forever War — Ballantine Books, US 1976

I would recommend TFW to any sci-fi fans, and almost any literary types in general. The core concepts really transcend pure sci-fi, so fans of military fiction will also feel right at home. My only word of caution is that the book contains a considerable amount of actual science. Haldeman was trained as a physicist, so this is real science fiction through and through. For anyone interested in theoretical methods of counteracting the pressure differentials caused by traveling at up to 25 gees, you’ll find plenty of intellectual entertainment. Even though I sometimes have a hard time understanding it, I love when sci-fi delves into real science. That being said, there’s a healthy dose of social science fiction at play, which should please those who are inclined towards the humanities. I’m also a sucker for a bit of romance in my sci-fi, so I’ll admit that I really enjoyed the relationship between Mandella and Marygay. The ending alone is enough to rival any romance movie.

Perhaps TFW’s greatest strength is that it introduces so many interesting ideas, all while keeping an interesting narrative. Although TFW may not have been as influential as Starship Troopers, it obviously contributed it’s fair share to the world of military sci-fi. This book entertains on so many different levels, not the least of which is the desire for war in space. Basically, if you’ve found this site, and you haven’t read this book already, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot.

As always, you can contact me by email at xenomorphosis@gmail.com, or on the facebook page. The next installment of Alien Rip-Offs in Film is still incoming; creating it is a pretty tedious process. Later space cadets!

Clicking this link will bring you to this product’s Amazon page. Should you choose to purchase it, I will get a small commission, which will then be reinvested into the site. Although I’m including this link, my review’s and opinions will never be influenced by the opportunity to make a commission. This site is a labor of love, but costs money to maintain, so think of any commissions as a donation to the site.

Clicking any of the following thumbnails will open a gallery of different editions of The Forever War

I shot and edited these photos your enjoyment

Unsurprisingly, Prometheus was my favorite movie of 2012. It was what I referred to as my “most anticipated movie of the decade”. How could it not be? Ridley Scott, the master of science fiction movie direction, returning to the genre after a 20 year absence. And more importantly, returning to my favorite series of all time. I must have watched the trailers dozens of times before lining up to see the movie on day 1.  I went with a friend who also happens to be an Alien super fan, and to put it simply, we weren’t disappointed. You know you’ve seen a good movie when you can spend the remainder of the night debating every subtle detail and nuance. As far as I’m concerned, the art direction, screenplay, atmosphere, and performances were near perfect. And as an Alien fan, I love the connections between Prometheus and the Alien series. Establishing the alien as a bioweapon was ingenious, because it allows for near infinite variations of the xenomorph and its life-cycle. Truly the epitome of infinite horror in space.

Engineer (Pressure Suit)
Manufacturer: NECA
Release Date: September, 2012
Height: 8.5″

A nice shot from the film for comparison

A nice shot from the film for comparison

I love that external rib cage

Anyways, enough gushing about Prometheus; the purpose of this post is to give my impressions of NECA’s Engineer (Pressure Suit) figure. Before I begin, I’d like to stress that I am by no means an action figure connoisseur. I sometimes indulge in figures from my favorite movies or video games, but I am far from an expert on the finer details. That being said, I really want to see every form of media covered on this site, and I can’t pass up the chance to write my first action figure review. So let’s get this show on the road.

As I mentioned previously, Prometheus has gorgeous art design. The conceptual designers, led by Arthur Max, did an incredible job with the creation of the Engineers. The pressure suit they wear is a perfect blend between sleek, modern sci-fi design, and Giger’s original vision. Giger’s familiar ribbed shapes are present, and the chest is actually enveloped by an exoskeleton-like rib cage. As a quick piece of background information, the purpose of a pressure suit is to counteract the damaging effect of exposing the human body to a low pressure environment, like you might find in Earth’s upper atmosphere, or in space. When exposed to a low pressure environment, the human body expands, thus damaging sensitive muscles and tissues. Pressure suits counteract this expansion by mechanically contracting (exerting a counter pressure). There, you’ve now learned a science lesson from an action figure review; pat yourself on the back.

I love this bit of imagery. The mask is killer.

I love this bit of imagery. The mask is killer.

Prometheus Engineer (Pressure Suit) — The bum is made of a rubbery material

Released in September along with a chair suit engineer figure, the pressure suit figure is fairly tall, standing at 8.5″. I did a quick calculation, and if the engineers are approximately 7-foot tall, the scale on this figure is 1:10. Like the other NECA figures that I’m familiar with, the detail is superb. There are indentations in the neck that are a shorter than a millimeter apart. Similarly, there are tiny painted dots on the irises that are teeny tiny. Most importantly, the detail is on par with the models from the movie. Nearly every shape, curvature, and indent is represented. In this regard, NECA has done a great job. Taking the hands as an example, every fingernail, knuckle, and vein is perfectly sculpted.

My first minor gripe is with the body proportions. The abdomen seems to be slightly more elongated than it should be. The discrepancy is ever so slight, but the added height gives the impression of the engineer being skinnier than expected. My more major concern is something that seems to be somewhat universal among NECA’s figures. The toy is difficult to articulate, and as a result feels fragile. There are 14 points of articulation, but most of these points are fairly rigid. Although I doubt any of them would snap, some degree of caution is warranted. My engineer’s left hand, in particular, keeps falling off. Luckily it snaps back on easily enough… Essentially, this probably wouldn’t be a great toy for young kids, but then again it’s not exactly marketed towards kids.

The dressing room

The dressing room

More photoshopped goodness. If you intend to use these images, please just make sure to credit me. Thanks.

The final element I’d like to emphasize is the paint job. In short, the paint job is quite good. Because the model only consists of two tones, it would be fairly difficult to have screwed this up. If I was forced at gunpoint to paint it myself, I’d be relieved, because the job could easily be done with a dark primer and several layers of simple drybrushing. Nevertheless, every detail is appropriately shaded, and as I pointed out earlier, the paint job on the eyes is particularly impressive. If I were to point out one flaw, it’s that the underlying dark tones aren’t as dark as they could be. Had they been darker, the details would pop out even more prominently.

In summary, this figure is highly recommended for any Prometheus or Alien fans. There are several flaws, but overall they’re quite minor, and shouldn’t negate a purchase. NECA makes figures that are great for my desk, but maybe not so great for kids. Either way, I’m satisfied. If you liked this review, please send me an email at xenomorphosis@gmail.com, or on the facebook page. I plan to do more figure reviews, so any suggestions are much appreciated. Until next time, keep it classy space cadets!

Clicking this link will bring you to this product’s Amazon page. Should you choose to purchase it, I will get a small commission, which will then be reinvested into the site. Although I’m including this link, my review’s and opinions will never be influenced by the opportunity to make a commission. This site is a labor of love, but costs money to maintain, so think of any commissions as a donation to the site.

Wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of that glare

Wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that glare

Forbidden World (1982)

Forbidden World (1982) — Very reminiscent of Harry Dean Stanton’s solo scene in Alien

As I’ve stated several times on this blog, I’m a pretty big Alien fan. As far as movie franchises go, the Alien universe is fairly expansive, meaning that the various spin-off comics, books, toys, and video games will keep you entertained for a while. However, I’m someone who loves to explore a franchise’s entire sphere of influence. For example, I can’t watch just one cyberpunk anime whithout wanting to know everything about cyberpunk anime. In practice, this almost never pans out; I start out with the loftiest of intentions, but then I quickly burn out or lose interest. Nevertheless, this desire to consume everything has led me on a journey into the darkest depths of Alien‘s influence.

Inseminoid (1982)

Inseminoid (1982) — The perfect atmosphere

Although there are a number of  movies that ripped off Alien, there was really only one that was even remotely as influential: John Carpenter’s The Thing. Even then, The Thing only became a cult hit way after its cinematic release, whereas Alien was instantly popular. Every other imitator falls strongly into the B-grade of cinema history. I don’t mean that in a demeaning way; as you will soon see, I love many of the imitators, but they were almost all made on incredibly limited budgets. Also, just as imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I use the term rip-off in the kindest way possible. I have nothing against rip-offs; I’ll take any half-decent Alien clone over most other movies anyday.

The Terror Within (1989)

The Terror Within (1989) — Seconds before chestbursting

So, which ingredients are necessary to brew an Alien rip-off? First, you need a tightly confined or secluded space; usually this is a ship or a space station, but contemporary settings like submarines or military bunkers are also appropriate. Second, a sci-fi setting is ideal, but not necessary. Although the obvious imitators take place in a futuristic setting, plenty of Alien clones are set in the present day. Next, you need one or more creatures that slowly pick off a human contingent one-by-one. Best case scenario, the creature is an alien; even better case scenario: an alien that looks like a xenomorph. That being said, mutants, robots, infected organisms, and the like are all equally acceptable. Continuing onwards, the human prey is usually composed of a small crew. We’re not talking large scale alien invasion here; the smaller the crew, the more we sympathize with them before they die (and the cheaper the budget). Finally, the keenest imitators replicate the chestbursting element. Nothing screams Alien harder than alien impregnation. Again, this element is reserved for only the most die hard clones.

To recap, Alien rip-offs usually contain the following elements, which I’ve ranked in terms of importance:

  1. Tighly confined or secluded space
  2. One or more creatures that kill humans one-by-one
  3. Small cast of humans
  4. Science fiction setting
  5. Chestbursting
Galaxy of Terror (1981)

Galaxy of Terror (1981) — One of my favorite locales in any sci-fi horror movie

Now that I’ve set the ground rules, I plan for this series to be the definitive source for Alien rip-offs. Several blog posts and forum threads have been dedicated to this topic, but they’re either limited in scope, or consist of lists that don’t delve into any details. Through intense scientific research using only the most peer-reviewed sources, I’ve compiled my own personal list of over thirty movies that I plan to cover. I’ll admit, I’ve only seen roughly half these movies, so this series is a strong incentive for me to actually watch the other half. It goes without saying that I’ll only cover movies that I’ve actually watched (duh). Also, I’d like the coverage to be done in a somewhat chronological fashion, with approximately five movies covered per post. I’m pretty excited, so you should be too! If you have any suggestions for this series, please contact me at the Xenomorphosis facebook page, or by email at xenomorphosis@gmail.com.

Dead Space (1990)

Dead Space (1990) — The hydralisk’s long-lost brother

Necronomiclones: Gigeresque Imagery in Video Games is an ongoing series that covers Swiss artist H.R. Giger’s influence on video game art design.

Contents:
Introduction
Contra

In continuing the theme of covering Contra games, this post will explore the gigeresque imagery in Super Contra and Super C. The popularity of the original Contra led to a bevy of sequels, each of which drew more liberally from Giger’s vision. The first of these was Super Contra, which was released for arcades in 1988.

Super Contra -- Promotional Art

Super Contra — Promotional Art — Alien reference: check, Predator reference: double-check

Super Contra
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Featured Platform: Arcade
Release Date: 1988

Super Contra -- Opening Cinematic

Super Contra — Opening Cinematic — Red eye

The aliens from the original have returned, and this time they’re possessing human bodies. If there’s one thing (get it, human possession, The Thing) aliens are terrible at, it’s staying dead. Bill and Lance are sent to an infected military base to eradicate the alien menace once and for all!  This one’s a real tear-jerker, because our heroes are forced to kill their former comrades. Comrades be damned, we’ll burn the aliens out of them if we have to!

Super Contra -- Opening Cinematic

Super Contra — Opening Cinematic — Gas mask skulls

The game starts with an opening cinematic that features a one-eyed xenomorph. It’s lucky that Konami had the license to produce Aliens games, because otherwise they’d have had good cause to fear a lawsuit. Then again, in the wild west days of 80s arcade games, lawsuits probably weren’t much of a concern. Continuing the opening cinematic, Bill and Lance are seen running down a hive-like corridor. Jutting from the corridor are, for lack of a better term, the “gas mask skulls” that are commonplace in Giger’s artwork. An obvious example is the space jockey head from Alien, which was later revealed to be a helmet in Prometheus.

Super Contra -- Stage 3 Boss

Super Contra — Stage 3 Boss — Strange…

Super Contra commences with what would later become a trope in Contra games: our hero is dropped into the enemy base from a helicopter. He proceeds to fight his way to an assault helicopter boss, and then enters an Ikari Warriors-esque overhead stage where he destroys a large enemy tank that looks as if it was teleported in from the G.I. Joe universe. Continuing onward, he traverses a jungle, and encounters the first real Giger moment. Fixed to a wall is an alien head that fires red homing lasers. I’m really at odds with describing this boss. Even for a Japanese creation, he’s pretty strange-looking. He has an incredibly happy grimace, sort of like a really content alien cat. Scuttling across a platform below are several octopus cyclops that vomit pink goo. This boss is all kinds of weird.

Super Contra -- Stage 4

Super Contra — Stage 4 — That xenomorph is about to get sucked into the vagina door

Proceeding onwards, our hero enters the real meat of the game: the alien hive. This time around, the hive is fairly different looking from the arcade version of the first game. The color pallet is considerably grayer; in fact I think the mix of grey with purple in the original game’s hive is significantly more attractive than Super Contra’s abundance of grey on grey.

I’d like to take this time to point out one of my major criticisms with the arcade Contras. Man, the colors are ugly. The contrast is totally off; instead of any strong colors, the screen is dominated with muted grays. I’ve never seen any other arcade games that suffer from this problem. Because of the overabundance of grey, any time there’s a hint of colour, it looks incredibly jarring. Enough ranting, back to the game…

The floor of the hive consists of a skeletal webbing, and the ceiling is a network of what are best described as intestines. For the first time in a contra game, regular-sized xenomorphs are featured as enemies. They attack in droves; literally running at the hero. They’re in such a hurry that they’ll run offscreen should you jump over them. Even real xenomorphs aren’t this persistent. After killing dozens of xenomorphs, you’re confronted with one of the coolest bosses in video games: a giant winged xenomorph! The xenomorph has one eye, and a massive inner jaw that extends to at least eight feet (judging by the height of the protagonist). Coincidentally, one of Giger’s paintings features what looks like a winged xenomorph.

Super Contra Stage 4 Boss vs. H.R. Giger's winged xenomorph

Super Contra Stage 4 Boss vs. H.R. Giger’s winged xenomorph

Super Contra -- Stage 5 Final Boss

Super Contra — Stage 5 Final Boss — The creepiest eyes ever

After defeating the boss, you then negotiate a second portion of the hive, this time from an overhead perspective. The floor is bisected by gigeresque ribbed walls that curl offscreen. At the back of the chamber is the final boss. This guy is ugly, but in the best possible way. His giant head envelopes the center of the screen, and three smaller arms with faces worm their way out of adjacent tunnels. His headpiece has the familiar alien queen triceratops shape, and his arms are ribbed. After pummeling his exposed brain (that can’t be healthy), he does what all good video game enemies do after being shot up with bullets: explodes. And so concludes Super Contra. The world is saved, again.

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.

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Super C -- Box Art

Super C — Box Art — Fantastic cover; nearly every boss is represented.

Super C
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Featured Platform: NES
Release Date: 1990 (Japan and USA), 1992 (Europe and Australia)
Alternative Titles: Super Contra (Japanese Famicom), Probotector II: Return of the Evil Forces (European and Australian NES)

Super C -- Area 6

Super C — Area 5 — Into the hive

Following the success of Contra for NES, an NES port of Super Contra was a sure bet. And thus, Super C was born in 1990. Unlike Super Contra, Super C has two additional levels spliced between the jungle and hive: a green techno base, and an uphill mountain climb. Following the mountainous level, we’re presented with a short cinematic of our hero entering the hive.

Super C -- Area 6

Super C — Area 6 — More gas mask skulls

To its credit, the NES version’s hive is considerably more attractive than its arcade counterpart, thanks in no small part to a much better defined, and more lush color palette. The floor of the hive is composed of a blue spiral texture, and grey gas mask skulls adorn the walls. Lethal red balls are released from chasms and proceed to home in on the protagonist. Balls and chasms: we’re in Giger territory.

At the far end of the chamber is the final boss from the arcade version. His first form has the familiar triceratops head that we know and love. This time around, his eyes are especially creepy; they follow you as you manoeuvre the screen. Adding to the spooky atmosphere, the walls of the chamber are ribbed, Giger-style. You know what, from now on I’ll just call this style of wall a Giger Wall. After you destroy the boss’ first form, he morphs into a conjoined three-headed monstrosity.

Super C -- Area 6

Super C — Area 6 — Creepiest eyes ever x3

Super C -- Area 7

Super C — Area 7 — Kangaroomorphs

After felling triceratops head (I know, he probably has a real name), you continue onwards to the final hive level. This is an attractive stage; the floor is ribbed, vagina doors and gas mask skulls litter the walls, and xenomorphs run at you in packs. Aliens galore. In an interesting video game gimmick, the final segment before the end boss forces you to maneuver an area where the ceiling continuously drops down on you. Should you survive, you’re greeted with an final boss that looks as if it was spawned from a lovecraftian nightmare. To be honest, this looks nothing like anything from Giger. The creature scuttles around on crab legs, has a giant muscled appendage protruding from its abdomen, and has two connected heads, one is a female face, and the other looks kind of like… Alf. After defeating this hideously awesome creature, you ride off into the sunset in your trusty helicopter.

As I promised, Super C and Super Contra delivered even more gigeresque goodness. The next post may or may not cover Contra III: The Alien Wars and Contra 4. Kind of like eating too much candy, I feel like I’ve consumed an unhealthy amount of Contra. We’ll see if the sugar rush fades before I sit down to write the next installment. Until then, please Like the Xenomorphosis facebook page! Later folks.

Super C -- Stage 7 & Final Boss

Super C — Area 7 & Final Boss

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Consider the facebook page your portal to news... and stuff.

Consider the facebook page your portal to news, updates, the community, and… All kinds of other great things.