arcade

All posts tagged arcade

At risk of betraying my age, the Genesis was the first system I ever owned. Sure, I have early memories of playing the NES at other people’s houses (or my accurately, watching others play), but the genny was all mine. Many of my best gaming memories were from the system’s punishing games and deep bass. Unsurprisingly, when I was older, and started to purchase older games, the Genesis was the first system that I chose to relive. At first glance, the genny was home to countless licensed games, as well as about a billion bargain bin sports games, but dig a little deeper, and you’ll find an endless treasure trove of excellent Japanese titles, most of which were brought to the West thanks to a company called Renovation. Among these niche games, the dominant genre was undoubtedly shooters. When I started collecting games for the system, many of the “top games for the system” lists included plenty of shmups. Thus, I stumbled upon classics like Gaiares, Lightening Force (Thunderforce III in Japan), Fire Shark, and others that I can’t seem to recall at the moment.

Hellfire Genesis Mega Drive 5

Boss fights in Hellfire range from relatively easy to brutally hard.

Needless to say, my endeavour to relive my Genesis-playing youth played a big part in crystallizing my then-emerging love for shmups. At this point, I now own most of the Western-released shooters for the system. They might not be as pretty as other 16-bit shooters, and there are some people who avoid 16-bit arcade ports altogether, but I can’t seem to get enough of them. This was an era of immense creativity and experimentation, especially as far as visuals were concerned. The environments, enemies, and (especially) bosses in 16-bit shooters are all over the map, and feature the sort of visual risk-taking that you don’t see as often these days. Trains with giant deformed heads attached? Spaceships in the shape of fish? Flying pharaoh head ships? Sure, why not? Many of the Genesis’ shooters came out in the first few years of its life-cycle, and today’s game is no exception. Released in 1990 in Japan, and 1991 in North America, Hellfire was one of several arcade ports for the system from legendary shooter developer Toaplan (who you might remember from my Batsugun review).

Hellfire Cover

Now this is some kickass cover art! Who wouldn’t buy this?

Hellfire
Developer: Toaplan
Publishers: Taito (Arcade), Seismic Software Inc. (Mega Drive), NEC Avenue (PC Engine CD-ROM)
Platforms: Genesis/Mega Drive (Featured), Arcade, PC Engine CD-ROM
Release Dates: 1989 (Arcade), 1991 (Japanese Mega Drive), 1991 (Genesis, European Mega Drive, PC Engine CD-ROM)

Hellfire Genesis Mega Drive 1

That transport ship looks quite a bit like Halo’s Pelican dropship.

In the year 2998, humanity has reached a period of prosperity, and has successfully colonized numerous planets. Suddenly, an entity known as Black Nebula appears and starts devouring stars until it eventually reaches one of man’s colonies. The Black Nebula is revealed to be a robotic dictator named Super Mech, who intends to eradicate all of humanity with his vast space armada. In the arcade and Genesis versions, the main character is a Space Federation member named Lance, who pilots the only space fighter craft, the CNCS1, against Super Mech’s forces. In the PC Engine version, Lance is replaced with a female protagonist named Kaoru. Generally I love the simplistic, far future settings of space shooters, but Hellfire story is about as far-fetched as they come. Only one space fighter craft left in existence? Seriously!? I get it, the society of the future is past the need for warfare, but keep at least… 3 space ships around for defense! Jeez.

Hellfire Genesis Mega Drive 3

The various directions of laser fire are color coded, which is really handy in tight situations.

Originally released in arcades in 1989, Hellfire was unique in that it was one of only two horizontal shooters ever developed by Toaplan (the other being the infamous Zero Wing). Toaplan are remembered for blazing new ground with their giant output of vertically scrolling shooters, but horis? Not so much. Most shooter usually have a gimmick, and Hellfire is no exception. In this case, the gimmick is the ability to change between one of 4 shooting directions on the fly. I say the word “gimmick” lovingly, because in the case of Hellfire, it’s implemented extremely well. At any time, you can switch between shooting forward-facing, diagonal, backwards, or vertical lasers. For the most part, this adds a nice layer of depth to the game. My only criticism is that you have to cycle through the shot modes one at a time, meaning that if you need to switch to a diagonal laser in a pinch, you may have to hit the “switch shot mode” button up to to three times. As I’ll explain soon, Hellfire has a brutal level of difficulty, so you’re often forced to know when to switch to a certain shot, even before a certain wave of enemies appears onscreen. Conversely, the various shot modes open up more possiblities than in your average shooter. When watching videos of other people playing the game, their way of clearing a certain area is often different from mine, and involves the use of a different sequence of shot modes. Either way, by the time you master Hellfire, you’ll look like a pro, because you’ll be switching to appropriate directions of fire even before enemies appear onscreen. To the game’s credit, the gimmick is pushed to its limits, meaning that you will be forced to not only embrace it, but master it as well. In my opinion, the sign of a poorly implemented gimmick in a shooter is when you can clear the game without ever needing to rely on it.

Hellfire Genesis Mega Drive 6

I love the Egyptian motif.

As I alluded to earlier, Hellfire is brutal as f**k. Your character sprite is fairly large, and has an equally large hitbox. Hitting walls will kill you, and as you collect speedups, you’ll be moving so fast that walls present a serious lethality. In the later levels, bosses spew out incredibly fast bullets, which wouldn’t be nearly as difficult to dodge if you didn’t move so freaking far every time you tap the direction pad, and if your hitbox wasn’t so ridiculously huge. Needless to say, one of my important survival strategies is to avoid as many speedups as possible. Two or three is the sweet-spot; any more and you’ll be smashing into all manner of enemies and walls. By far Hellfire‘s most punishing aspect is its continue system, which might be one of the most crushing I’ve ever seen. Dying at anytime in Hellfire means being sent back to a checkpoint, often fairly far back in the level (think R-Type). This will cause you to lose all your powerups, and won’t even replenish your smart bombs, should you have run out. Even worse, dying near the beginning of a checkpoint will send you back to a previous checkpoint! This is the video game equivalent of multiple choice tests where you lose points for getting the wrong answer. Being sent to a checkpoint with zero powerups means you’re pretty much screwed, that is unless you’ve memorized the game to a tee, which is imperative should you wish to finish it. In fact, I would almost recommend practicing levels without powerups, because doing so will ensure that when you do have powerups, the game will feel considerably easier. Luckily, powerups are relatively easy to come by, so starting a level without any doesn’t mean that you’re entirely screwed. Fully powered up, you’ll shoot 3 horizontal lasers, and 2 diagonal lasers. Don’t expect any screen clearing weapons of mass destruction. In terms of other upgrades, you can collect an option that flies around randomly and sometimes damages other ships, as well as a giant laser bomb that passes through every enemy, and clears the screen of enemy bullets.

Hellfire Genesis Mega Drive 18

Some of the machinery designs, like the one seen in this picture, are really well done.

By the time you’ve mastered Hellfire‘s levels, you’ll be able to (mostly) play through the entire experience without dying, which as you can imagine, feels really rewarding. The one saving grace in Hellfire‘s difficulty is that on the default “Easy mode”, you’re given 20 continues, which is more than you’ll realistically use. Most times, you’ll find yourself putting the game down in frustration well before you’ve blown through all 20 continues. The other available difficulties in Hellfire are Hard (which I really can’t comment on because there’s no way I was going to try it), and “Yea Right”, which is the difficulty setting you unlock when you loop the game. As hard as Hellfire is, it rarely feels overly cheap; most deaths usually feel warranted, with the exception of the ones where you run into walls as a result of the ridiculous speedups. Overall, Hellfire’s challenge is what kept me returning to the game, and you will feel like a pro if you can make it to the last couple stages. One last tip if you plan to stay alive past the first level: in the options menu, turn the fire mode to “rapid”. This is absolutely essentially considering the pathetic pea shooter you start with. Your wrist (and sanity) will thank you.

Hellfire Genesis Mega Drive 20

Tight corridors are a hassle when every time you click the direction pad you move a full ship length.

Scoring in Hellfire is relatively straightforward. Basically, you get points for shooting down enemies (duh), and collecting bonus points in the form of floating “B” tokens. Once your ship is fully maxed out, powerups will stop dropping, and will be replaced instead by B tokens. As you collect the B tokens, they will progressively give you more points, Eventually, if you collect around 10 without dying, their point value will max out at a huge bonus of 10 000 points per token. As you master the game, and are able to survive long periods of time without dying, you’ll collect enough of these tokens to continue getting extends. In the American Genesis version, the first extend is received at 70 000 points, and progressive extends are given at every 200 000 points. Should you play the game flawlessly, you can finish with around 12 or more lives. Although this sounds generous, remember that dying starts you back at zero, in more ways than one. Therefore, playing for score in Hellfire means not dying, ideally not even once, which is much harder said than done. I’ve played the hell out of Hellfire, and I still can’t beat the game, period. I can get to the last stage on a credit, but past that point it’s just too ridiculously brutal. Should you reach the final boss, his attacks are so fierce that I had a hard time surviving his final attack even with save states…

Hellfire Genesis Mega Drive 15

Hellfire’s soundtrack is mostly pretty bland and unmemorable.

Hellfire‘s visuals are competent, but far from the best you’ll see on the system. It holds its own compared to other early Genesis titles, but it looks pretty weak compared to later shooters like Thunderforce III and IV, M.U.S.H.A., and Bio Hazard Battle. The colors look too dark, the backgrounds are fairly bland, and there’s a general lack of detail. On the plus side, the graphics are really smooth, and are pretty much entirely devoid of flicker or slowdown. Although the environments are bland, I respect that they’re pretty varied. In particular, the second level’s Egyptian motif is really fun and original. Throughout the course of the game, you’ll explore a space station, an Egyptian-style temple, a pink organic planet, a swamp, another space station, and open space. The enemies are also fairly varied, other than a green mecha type that appears in waves in nearly every level. There are several larger enemy ships, which are nicely designed, and have weapons that animate independently.

Overall, I’d recommend Hellfire to any shooter fans that aren’t afraid of imperfect arcade ports, and any Genesis gamers that are looking for a challenge. The game is tough as nails, but it’s also really fun. If you step up to the challenge, you’ll find yourself spending countless hours on “one last try”. Everything runs really smoothly, and the 4-way firing mechanic is actually really well implemented. If there’s one thing I’d love to accomplish with this blog, its to convince sci-fi fans to give sci-fi themed shooters a chance. For newcomers, this might not be a great introduction to the genre, but considering that you can acquire it on the cheap, you can’t go too far wrong. So far I’ve been really impressed with Toaplan‘s Genesis output, and this is no exception.

Clicking any of the following thumbnails will open a gallery of Hellfire-related images

 

As anyone who’s aware of my taste in gaming can attest, I’m a huge shooter/STG/shmup fan. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, shmups (shoot-em-ups) or STGs (shooting games) are the “space shooters” you remember seeing in arcades. Back in the 80’s, shmups were all the rage, so nearly everyone, regardless of how hardcore they are, has at least some experience with them. For the last decade and a half, shooters have become fairly niche, but live on in a fairly strong way thanks to companies like Cave and G.Rev that continue to churn out shmups of the highest caliber. Companies like Cave have wisely embraced iOS, so shmups have gained a certain amount of popularity recently thanks to their accesibility on smart phones and tablets. Meanwhile, shmups, like fighting games, are one of those genres that all video game collectors eventually stumble on. The beauty of them is that they age really well, so they provide many of the best old school gaming experiences. Furthermore, shooter fans are willing to pay top dollar for a really quality game, so shooters often place near the top of the most valuable games on any system. Thus, the increased popularity in video game collecting as of late has led to many new shmup fans.

Batsugun Saturn Toaplan 15

Witness Batsugun’s legendary firepower.

Since this is my first shooter review on this site, I should probably let any any shmup fans know what kind of shooter player I am. I’ve spent the last 6 years lurking the shmups.com forum, so I know just how important it is for me to show off my penis size before we get down to business. Like many more recent shooter fans, I played the odd shooter as a kid, but I got sucked into the genre in a big way after playing the GameCube release of Icaruga. Since then, I’ve gone on to purchase maybe 100 or so shooters. As far as genres go, they definitely dominate my collection. That being said, I don’t typically go for 1CCs. Other than the odd easier game, I’m just not patient or skilled enough to 1CC most games. Instead, I’ve developed my personal “3-credit rule”. My feeling is that if you limit yourself to 3 credits, you still have to memorize a game, and will definitely get your money’s worth, but you won’t be constantly pulling your teeth out over an end boss that just won’t quit. Also, if I was trying to 1CC each game, I’d have a lot less time for this site! Essentially, I’m fairly knowledgeable about shooters; my Saturn and Xbox 360 are Japanese, but don’t expect me to impress you with any amazing strategies or high scores. Also, my favorite part of shooters are the incredibly detailed, usually pixellated visuals, which don’t require any particular skill to enjoy.

Batsugun Saturn Toaplan Cover Saturn

Gotta love that logo.

Batsugun
Developer: Toaplan, Gazelle (Saturn port)
Publisher: Toaplan (Arcade), Banpresto (Saturn)
Platforms: Saturn (Featured), Arcade
Release Dates: 1993 (Arcade), 1996 (Saturn)

Batsugun Saturn Toaplan 14

One of the game’s challenging boss fights.

Released in arcades in 1993, Batsugun was the final shooter developed by the now defunct Toaplan. For anyone in the know, Toaplan used to create some of the best shooters around. Of particular note to sci-fi fans were Truxton (Tatsujin in Japan), Hellfire, Grindstormer (V・V in Japan), Vimana, and the infamous Zero Wing, which was responsible for the “all your base are belong to us” meme. Along with Konami, Irem, and Technosoft, Toaplan‘s shooters rank near my favorites from the 16/32-bit era. Batsugun could be considered the final swansong to Toaplan‘s line of shooters. It exemplifies everything that was so excellent about their games: fast gameplay, a balanced difficulty progression, badass powerups, a reasonable but fair challenge, really smooth programming, and solid visuals.

Batsugun Saturn Toaplan 18

As all good shooters should be, Batsugun is plenty colorful.

Batsugun is remembered for two reasons: it was arguably the definitive game that inspired the bullet hell/danmaku sub-genre, and it has some of the most gratuitous firepower of any shmup. To address the first point: in my opinion, the regular version of Batsugun doesn’t feel like a bullet hell shooter. Your hitbox is way too big, there aren’t enough bullets onscreen, and almost all the enemy bullets shoot really quickly, and are aimed directly at you (kind of like in a Raiden game). That being said, you can definitely see the framework being established. Compared to other early 90’s shooters, there are hell of lot more bullets being fired by bosses, and your giant firepower means you spend an equal amount of time dodging as firing.

Batsugun Saturn Toaplan 6

This is the only shooter I can think of where you start underwater and then make your way above land.

Speaking of your firepower, Batsugun has a really innovative powerup system. As you collect powerups, an experience bar at the bottom of the screen slowly charges up until you gain a level. There a maximum of 3 levels, each of which increase the spread and power of your weapons. When you die or use a credit, you still maintain your level, which is refreshingly forgiving. Any experience that you’ve accrued within your current level improves your firepower to a small degree. When you die, you lose this experience, so there is a small penalty for death. Each of Batsugun’s three ships fire a completely different, but equally impressive, wall of bullets or lasers at the highest powerup level.

Batsugun Saturn Toaplan 2

The excellent Beltiana. Notice the characters on the right side of the column? Those can only be selected  by player 2.

Being that Batsugun‘s console version was never released in North America, its plot is difficult to discern for non-Japanese speakers. Forgive me if this isn’t accurate; I’ve had to rely on translations from various internet sources. In the distant reaches of the universe, a man named Renoselva Gradebaran has plans for a project that will transport humans away from their motherworld, which he’s certain will soon face environmental catastrophe due to overpopulation. The government rejects his plans, so Renoselva retaliates by revolting. His revolutionary army, dubbed the “Epsilon Project”, slaughters 10 million civilians, and overthrows the government in 9 days. Unbeknowst to the Gladebarans, an  undersea hanger of state-of-the-art jet fighters has gone unnoticed. Six courageous pilots take to the skies to overthrow the oppresive Gladebaran regime. The six pilots are: Jeeno and Schneider, who pilot the Type-A ship, Beltiana and Alteeno, who pilot the Type-B ship, and Iceman and Olisis, who pilot the Type-C ship. Schneider, Alteeno, and Olisis can only be chosen by player 2, meaning that to select them on the Saturn version, you need to plug a controller into port 2. The Type-A and Type-C ships have a massive spread fire, whereas Type-B has a powerful but narrow beam. Personally, I play as Type-B (Beltiana), because I find I’m able to take down enemies much faster than with the other ships. The disadvantage is that because your bullets cover less surface area, you need to have enemy patterns better memorized so that you know where you need to be at any one time. From looking at high scores lists, it seems that the overwhelming majority of players also choose Beltiana.

Batsugun Saturn Toaplan 3

This starting area exhibits the most detail you’ll see in the game.

Scoring in Batsugun is typical of the relatively simple systems of the early 90’s. There’s no chaining, bullet grazing, or whatever other conventions are now commonplace. Instead, you need to manually collect medals that appear when you shoot down enemies and buildings. If you complete a level with a bunch of collected medals, you get a nice bonus. That being said, you lose all your medals every time you die, so getting a good score in Batsugun requires that you survive each boss without dying. If you plan to beat the game without using many credits, you’ll want to get the medal bonus on each level so that you reach the first extend. Extends are fairly rare in Batsugun; even without dying once, you’ll likely only get the first extend in the second last level. As far as I can tell, the only other scoring mechanic involves milking bosses and larger enemies for points. As in any shooter, watching a video of someone actually accomplishing these milking tactics is really impressive, because it requires you to expose yourself to danger for an inordinately long time.

Batsugun Saturn Toaplan 20

These screens are all from the arcade version, which looks essentially identical to the Saturn game.

As far as difficulty is concerned, Batsugun‘s arcade mode sits somewhere near the middle of the shooter spectrum. It’s not as easy as some of Toaplan’s earlier games, like Fire Shark, but it’s not nearly as hard as the games it inspired, like Dodonpachi or Battle Garegga. Essentially, the number of bullets on screen is fairly reasonable, but a lot of them are lighting fast, and tend to be aimed directly at you. Like in later shooters, there are waves of popcorn enemies that fire directly at you, but you’ll never feel as overwhelmed as in the previously mentioned games. The bosses are challenging, but their patterns are relatively easy to memorize. Overall, I find Batsugun‘s difficulty to be perfectly suited to my skill-level. Within a week, I was able to beat the game on two credits, which is unheard of for me when it comes to newer bullethell shooters. Another thing worth noting is that although Batsugun has several difficulty settings to choose from, I couldn’t figure out the difference between Normal and Easy, they seemed almost identical.

Batsugun Saturn Toaplan 17

One of my favorite tropes in shooters: the gigantic flying fortress.

In addition to the original arcade game, the Saturn release also includes the Special Version edition, which Toaplan developed at the end of their life cycle, but was never released in arcades. We’re able to play this version thanks to the Toaplan-offshoot company Gazelle, who coded the Saturn ports of both versions. Immediately, the Special Version looks different than the original because all the colors have been swapped. In addition, the gameplay feels fairly different because your hitbox is quite a bit smaller, your bombs are more powerful, and you get a one-time shield every time you die or level-up. If you’ve mastered the arcade version, the Special Version will feel quite a bit easier; that is, until you get to the second loop. I wasn’t expecting the game to continue after finishing the final boss, so the second loop truly threw me for a loop (*lame*). On the second loop, the enemies fire bullets more quickly, and release suicide bullets when killed. The suicide bullets make the game almost twice as difficult, and are downright ridiculous at times. Even inanimate objects fire suicide bullets when killed. After the finishing the second loop, you’re thrown into the third loop, which has even faster and more plentiful suicide bullets. Finish that, and you’ll face the final loop. Each loop contains one less stage than the previous one, so you don’t have to beat each stage four times to fully complete the Special Version. My hat goes off to anyone who accomplishes this feat. With the default 8 credits, I was able to make it to the third loop, but it was all too insane for me to try again. For anyone who calls Batsugun a bullet hell shooter, you’re totally right, but only if you’re referring to the additional loops of the Special Version.

Batsugun Saturn Toaplan 9

Apparently the arcade version has more slowdown, meaning the Saturn game is slightly harder.

I’ve saved the video game element that I typically value the most for last: the visuals. Batsugun looks… Pretty good. The backgrounds and enemies are fairly detailed, and there’s plenty of attractive color onscreen in the form of your massive firepower. Perhaps my biggest gripe is that the environments are somewhat dull. The opening underwater level is interesting, but the next two levels feature boring washed out beach backgrounds. The fourth stage is one of your typical cloud levels, and has some really impressive scrolling, but visually it’s essentially the same repeating sequence. The bosses are mainly giant airships, and look really big and impressive. Also, their weapons are all nicely detailed and animated. The overall design of Batsugun is about as traditional as sci-fi themed shooters get, which isn’t really a bad thing. Don’t expect anything really creative like the underwater theme from Darius, the bio-metallics of R-Type, or the Moai head wastelands of Gradius. Even as far as traditional themes are concerned, other Saturn shooters (which in all fairness were released later) like Battle Garegga, Dodonpachi, and Soukyugurentai have more detailed art assets. Overall, Batsugun is still a great looking game, and definitely ranks among the medium to upper tier of Saturn shooters in terms of visuals.

Batsugun Saturn Toaplan 11

Most enemies can be dispensed with quickly by using bombs, which are found abundantly. However, as with any shooter, finishing the game with a good score means conserving bombs.

I still haven’t mentioned Batsugun‘s music, mostly because it’s pretty underwhelming. It’s not bad, but compared to other shooters, it’s all fairly bland and not particularly memorable. One nice feature of the Saturn game is that you can choose to play with the arranged soundtrack, which is a nice improvement over the original.

In summary, Batsugun is a really important game in the history of shooting games, both because it was Toaplan‘s last shooter, and because it was a huge inspiration to the next evolution of the genre. Some of Toaplan‘s staff apparently still lives on at Cave (although I don’t know if this is still the case), which is really great, because the small teams that made these games had an insane amount of talent. If you have a Saturn that’s capable of playing Japanese games, you really need to own this in your collection. For everyone else, I hope you enjoy the pretty sci-fi sprites that I’ve included with this post.

 

Clicking any of the following thumbnails will open a gallery of Batsugun-related images

 

 

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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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

Clicking any of the following thumbnails will open a gallery of Super C and Super Contra-related images

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

“It’s time for revenge… Let’s attack aggressively!”

For this first installment of Necronomiclones I’ve decided to cover a series that’s especially fresh in my mind. Namely, the infamous Contra series. Does a better old-school co-op series exist? The answer is no. Everyone worth talking to has a great Contra story to tell. The first time I beat Contra III: The Alien Wars on normal difficulty, it was 3 in the morning and my co-op partner was high on shrooms. Needless to say, Contra is the stuff of basement legends. This entry will explore the gigeresque art design in Contra for arcade and Contra for NES.

Contra (NES) Box Art — I would pay so much money to see this movie.

Contra
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Featured Platforms: Arcade, NES
Release Dates: 1987 (Arcade), 1988 (NES)
Alternative Titles: Gryzor (PAL Arcade), Probotector (PAL NES)

Contra (Arcade) — Stage 1: Jungle — Is it just me, or does that look identical to the pulse rifle from Aliens?

Contra follows the tale of two army commandos, Bill Rizer and Lance Bean, as they take on the Red Falcon Organization. The original japanese version is said to be set in the year 2663 on an island off the coast of New Zealand, whereas the American NES port’s manual establishes the events as taking place in the present day. Because we all know that American NES manuals are about as official as that Star Wars fanfic you wrote in high school, we’ll assume the Japanese version is the more accurate of the two. To put it candidly, Contra is big love letter to American 80s cinema. If Rambo, Predator, and Aliens had a japanese baby, its name would be Contra. In fact, the American NES cover features Schwarzenegger and Stallone posing with a xenomorph.

Contra (Arcade) — Stage 3: Waterfall — Alien boss at top of waterfall

I’ve chosen to cover both the arcade and NES version in tandem because despite having fairly different visual styles, they share nearly identical level layouts. Both games start with our hero flipping shirtless into the jungle. Real men don’t jump, they flip. He then proceeds to fight his way into a base, traverses to the far side of the base, and ends up at the foot of a waterfall. Funny story: after years of playing Contra, I only recently found out from a friend that you can duck the bullets in the base… The first Giger moment presents itself at the top of the waterfall, where a giant alien boss lies in wait. In the arcade version, the alien has two heads, four arms, and is protruding from a metallic structure. Although far from a blatant xenomorph clone, the basic ingredients are all there. In typical Giger fashion, the arms are ribbed, and the jaw is evocative of a xenomorph.

Contra (NES) — Stage 3: Waterfall — Alternative alien boss on top of waterfall

The NES version of the same boss is fairly different looking, but no less gigeresque. Instead of having two heads, its cranium has the same triceratops-like shape as the queen alien in Aliens. One thing’s for certain: its arms are also about as useless looking as the queen alien’s; they flop around in circles while shooting fireballs at the hero. The alien shares another similarity with a xenomorph: it has rod-shaped dorsal fins extending from its back.

Contra (NES) — Stage 8: Alien’s Lair

After killing the alien, our hero explores a second base, a snow field, an energy zone (?), a hangar. and finally, the alien’s lair. As the name would imply, the alien’s lair is essentially a large alien hive. In the NES version, the ceiling is composed of what look like skeletal shapes, and the floor is crisscrossed with red organic matter. Giger would be proud, very proud. Interspersed among the ceiling are pink protrusions that spew out white, fluffy balls that home in on our hero. The pink protrusions look like vaginas with teeth. As you’ll remember from the intro to this series, Giger loved to incorporate sexual imagery into his art. The arcade version of the lair is even more overtly gigeresque. The floor of the chamber consists of bone-like shapes, skulls, and gaping holes that look identical to the vagina doors in Alien’s derelict.

Contra (Arcade) — Stage 8: Alien’s Lair — Mid-boss

Mid-way through the alien chamber, our hero finds himself face-to-face with what can only be described as a massive xenomorph head. In breaking with tradition, the xenomorph has horns distending from its carapace. Spewing from its mouth are small xenos that look as if they’re curled into a fetal position. How cool is that? A massive alien that barfs out smaller aliens.

Contra (NES) — Stage 8: Alien’s Lair — Final Boss

Continuing onward, the hero encounters the final boss in the core of the alien hive. If video games have taught me anything, it’s that every good alien hive is controlled by a massive internal organ. In this case, the organ looks like a giant heart, and is attached to the ceiling and floor by a network of veins and arteries. Defending the heart are a collection of eggs that look identical to those in Alien. And what do these eggs release? Face-huggers. Dozens of face-huggers that pop out and lunge at the hero. Some people are bothered by such obvious plagiarism, but personally I love it. Being the big Aliens fan that I am, I love to see its influence whenever possible.

After killing the heart, our hero is whisked away in a helicopter and the world is saved. One thing I’m still not clear on: why are the terrorists aliens? Doesn’t it seem redundant that a malevolent alien be classified as a terrorist? Evil aliens kill people, that’s what they do. Anyways, the next installment of this series will explore Super Contra and Super C, which contain considerably more gigeresque content than the original Contra. Look forward to it, and enjoy the following gallery that I put together!

Clicking any of the following thumbnails will open a gallery of Contra-related images