Format: Super NES Genre: Run and Gun Released: 1992 Developer: Konami
Curiously, this game was released as Contra III in the US and Contra Spirits in Japan but was renamed Super Probotector for the European market, and the main characters – two Rambo-esque commandos – were replaced with robots. I have absolutely no idea why the change was made – did Konami think robots would have a stronger appeal for the European market? Or would we be averse to the charms of two All-American heroes?
STOP PRESS: I’ve just done a bit of research about the change to robot characters, and it seems it was done because of a German law that forbade the portrayal of humans killing other humans drafted by the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons. (Sounds like something out of Big Brother doesn’t it? The book that is, not the TV show.) I presume the law no longer stands, as since Contra: Legacy of War on the Playstation the PAL versions have remained unchanged from the US versions. And come to think of it, if the law was still in place, Germans would face a serious games shortage – no Modern Warfare, no Tomb Raider, no Far Cry, no pretty much anything except Little Big Planet and Mario. But then again, perhaps there’s something to be said for not shooting your fellow human beings in the face… I mean, why can’t we all just get along?
Anyway, I digress. Super Probotector was one of my all time favourite games for the SNES. It was rock hard, but the frenetic gameplay and fantastic graphics were more than enough reason to persevere through the endless stream of imaginatively designed enemies. The bosses deserve a special mention – the giant, fire-spewing tortoise at the end of level 1 was a particular delight, and one of the game’s stand-out moments was the reveal of a giant metal skeleton boss (see image further down the page). After seeing off two annoyingly persistent little jumping metal skeleton dudes, their big brother forces his way through the giant metal doors behind you and tries to light you up with his flame breath. Surely a potent warning against picking on the little guys.
Another stand-out moment was the Mode 7 plane on level 1 (see above), which swooped in and napalmed the ground beneath you. There was a time when all anyone who owned a SNES could talk about was Mode 7 (which was some clever graphical trickery that allowed 2D objects to be stretched and pulled to make them look (sort of) 3D). It was the classic trump card whenever the whole Megadrive v SNES debate reared its ugly head in the playground – the MD owner would sneak in an early attack by mentioning the Sega console’s higher clock speed, which the SNES owner would parry by pointing to the visual wizardry of the Super NES’s Mode 7 genie. The MD owner would then throw down the tried and tested “but the Megadrive has more games”, to which the Nintendo-phile would retort “but the SNES has got Mario”, and so on, and so on, until fisticuffs ensued or a teacher intervened.
I recently downloaded an XBLA trial game of an early version of Contra (not Contra III – I think it was Contra II, which originally came out on the NES). I’d forgotten just how difficult and unforgiving the Contra games are – being hit by even one bullet means instant death, and some absolutely pixel-perfect jumping is required to avoid the various hazards thrown at you. Back in ’92 I would happily keep retrying again and again to get through Super Probotector, but now the prospect of instant deaths, limited lives and no save game fills me with dread. After less than half an hour I gave up playing the demo, and couldn’t bring myself to purchase the full game.
I guess it goes to show that the way I play games has changed – for me it’s not so much about the challenge nowadays as just wanting to see what comes next. I think games designers have realised this too – at some point they cottoned onto the fact that a lot of gamers just gave up if a game was too hard, which meant that most people would never get to see all of the lovingly created levels that the designers came up with. It’s safe to say that modern games are easier as a result – but there’s always the option to play on hard for the real masochists out there.
But all of this thoughtful chin-stroking still doesn’t change the fact that Super Probotector is one of my all time favourite games – I might have moved away from playing unforgiving hardcore shoot ’em ups, but this game is a shining example of the genre. Any game that features a level in which you hang from the underside of a missile while shooting down an enormous alien spaceship must be doing something right.
Screenshots from www.vgmuseum.com.