Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#84 – Super C

This Contra sequel is just as good as the original.

This title screen enters from both sides together, pretty neat!

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Beat 3 loops
My Goal: Finish 3 loops with a no-death first loop
What I Did: Met my goal
Played: 5/11/18 – 5/14/18
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
My Video: Super C Longplay

Contra is a game that practically needs no introduction. A sequel would seem inevitable, but it may not be the one you expect. Just looking at the NES library, the obvious conclusion would be that Contra Force is the sequel. Contra Force as it turns out wasn’t meant to be a Contra game at all, and Super C is the actual sequel. It annoys me somewhat when connections aren’t always apparent. I can look past that here because Super C is a fun, solid follow up to the original smash hit.

The arcade game Super Contra was released in early 1988. It was developed and published by Konami. A home port of Super Contra came to the Famicom in February 1990, and the NES version was renamed Super C when it released in North America in April 1990. The PAL release in Europe and Australia was delayed until 1992. There it was called Probotector II: Return of the Evil Forces, and just like the PAL conversion of Contra to Probotector, the human characters were replaced by robots. Two home computer ports for Super C for the Commodore Amiga and IBM PC released in North America in 1990.

Super C is a side-scrolling action game. The story is a basic one. Bill and Lance, also known as Mad Dog and Scorpion, are taking a relaxing vacation a few months after defeating Red Falcon in the original Contra. Of course, Red Falcon wasn’t completely defeated, and now he has regrouped and is back at it again. You are thrust back into action as Earth’s only hope against evil. Just like last time, your journey will take you through eight stages of shooting action, and if you clear them all you win the game. The arcade version only has five stages, so hey, more bang for your buck in Super C.

Shoot the core!

The controls are identical to Contra. Use the D-pad to move around, press A to jump, and press B to shoot. You curl up during jumps so you have a smaller hitbox, and you are always moving sideways until you land. (I guess this is a Konami thing, since Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles also does this.) Hold Down to lay out on the ground and shoot. While holding Down, you can press A to jump down through some ledges. All your weapons have unlimited ammo, so you can mash the B button to fire away at everything. You can shoot in all directions, including diagonally, by holding the D-pad in the appropriate direction. You can fire diagonally upward and downward while either walking or airborne.

The powerups are almost exactly like Contra as well, and all of the same powerups are back this time. You shoot flying pods, or sometimes a large wall sensor, to uncover the bird-shaped upgrades. The letter on the item denotes what it does. The M gives you a machine gun that shoots straight ahead, and you can hold down the B button for continuous fire. The L gives you a laser that is one long, powerful shot. You can only have one on screen at a time and firing again removes the old shot if it’s still on screen. The laser beam is wider in Super C than in Contra. S is for the spread shot, which fires a fan of five bullets ahead. The F is the flamethrower. This weapon acts differently here. In Contra, it is a spiraling shot. In Super C, it is a large fireball that spreads out smaller flames when it hits something. You can even charge this one up by holding B, releasing a large fireball when you let go of the button. The R gives you rapid fire on top of whichever weapon you currently use. It makes your bullets faster so that you can fire more quickly. The B is for a barrier shield. This causes you to flash for a few seconds and enemies and their shots can’t hurt you. There is a powerup with no letter on it that destroys all enemies on screen as soon as you touch it. All powerups are lost when you die, sending you back to the fight with your standard gun.

Top-down levels give you a different perspective on the action.

Most stages in the game are played from the side scrolling view. Play usually moves to the right, but some levels are vertical, and some stages scroll in different directions at times. For example, the first stage has you walking to the right, but there are slopes upward and as you walk the view pans upward slightly to follow the path. Speaking of slopes, they are a new addition to this game. Simply walk straight ahead to go up or down them. The grade is somewhere around 30 degrees, and when you fire diagonally while walking on a slope, you will fire parallel to the slope instead of at the normal 45-degree angle. If you need to fire purely diagonally, you have to jump off the slope and shoot in mid-air.

Levels 2 and 6 are played from a top-down view instead of side-scrolling. Here you can walk in all eight directions and fire your normal weapons with the B button. The A button does nothing in this mode. Play proceeds upward for both stages. It’s more straightforward than the bases in Contra, and it is in line with the arcade version that also features these levels.

All levels end in a boss battle. The bosses seem a lot bigger and more dynamic in Super C compared to Contra. I believe this is tied to the game’s use of the MMC3 mapper chip. One of the capabilities of the chip is better handling of performing a screen splitting technique. Take the helicopter boss at the end of the first stage, for example. It is too large to display with sprites, so it is drawn on the background. The helicopter can move around independently of the ground that stays put. The game is programmed in a way where it can scroll the screen for the helicopter, but when it reaches a certain vertical position, it will stop scrolling and leave the ground alone. This is used to great effect for several screen-spanning bosses in the game.

This walking robot isn’t even the boss of this stage.

Super C has some other features. The most notable is the two-player simultaneous play. Player 1 plays as Bill with blue pants, and Player 2 is Lance with red pants. The game has a scoring system. Points appear on the screen between levels, as well as the second player’s score, the high score, and the level number. During gameplay, there are flags in the corner for how many lives you have remaining. It will only display up to four flags even though you may have many more in reserve. You can earn extra lives through scoring points. I could not determine exactly when you get new lives, even after reviewing video, so I just have to guess. You get an extra life for around every 25,000 points scored.

Our heroes are quite fragile, so they die instantly from taking a bullet or colliding with an enemy. You respawn right where you left off without a break in the action. Should you lose all your lives, you can continue from the start of the stage with three new lives. You can only continue twice before needing to restart the entire game.

I have played a lot of Super C and have beaten the game many times before. I wasn’t aware that this was the sequel to Contra for quite some time. I picked the loose cart up sometime in the mid-90s, probably at my local used game shop. I imagine it didn’t take me too long back then to figure the game out and beat it, so it was a game I went back to often. I even played the game recently for the NintendoAge NES contest and performed relatively well. It is a common cart that sells for around $15.

One of the rare games where bubbles are a viable threat.

For games I know quite well, I like to go above and beyond just beating the game. I set two personal goals for Super C. First, I wanted to beat the game without dying, and second, I wanted to complete all three difficulty loops. I knew I wouldn’t have any trouble beating the game three straight times since I can comfortably beat the game once with a bunch of extra lives, and that part held true. Beating the game without dying was much harder. Super C is a relatively quick game to play, but death is swift and one mistake means restarting. I needed around 30 tries over a few nights to finally get the no-death run I wanted. Now this only applies to just the first loop of the game. I allowed myself to die in the other two loops, and that occurred more than I would have liked. Those deaths were mostly from mistakes I made. I didn’t find Super C to be much more challenging in the later loops. I could tell that the basic grunt type enemies appeared a little more frequently, but that’s the only increase in difficulty I noticed.

Super C is a must-have NES game. The graphics, gameplay, music, and controls are all top-notch. The game runs with very few if any graphical glitches or slowdown. There are several neat surprises as you play and more interesting level design this time around. I really like the boss battles and the well-used technical effects. The weapons are all helpful and fun to use. The two-player mode makes the game all the more sweeter. It is a challenging game, but it’s also one that many players have already beaten. A 7/10 difficulty rating seems right to me, but I could see the argument for going either direction with it. I think it’s a game that is fun to keep learning and improving on. The only downside I can see is that the game almost feels like a Contra expansion pack. Re-read this review just to see how many times I said Super C is just like Contra in this way or that way. I understand that might be a turn-off to someone looking for something a bit more advanced or expansive. My viewpoint is real simple: “What’s wrong with more of something good?”

#84 – Super C


#75 – Laser Invasion

Ward off the invasion in several different ways!

It’s not every day you see a white title screen on NES.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 2/24/18 – 2/28/18
Difficulty: 8/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
My Video: Laser Invasion Longplay

I been plugging away at Take On The NES Library for over two years now, and I only have a little over 10% of the library completed. That is still a significant number of games with a wide variety of titles since I insist of having the bulk of these games chosen randomly. Laser Invasion at its core is a multi-genre game, but it just so happens that I’ve already beaten and written about enough games to make some comparisons and approximate what you get out of this game. Laser Invasion is part Top Gun, part Operation Wolf, and part Golgo 13. It’s even one of the few titles to support the Zapper. Let’s jump in and see what this game is all about.

The Famicom game Gun Sight was released in Japan in March 1991. The NES version was localized to Laser Invasion and was released in June 1991 in North America. It was developed and published by Konami in both regions. Laser Invasion was not released in PAL territories and is an exclusive game to the NES and Famicom. The name change for the NES version was likely done to tie this game to Konami’s Laserscope peripheral that launched at the same time.

I had no idea before starting this game that Laser Invasion is the only NES game to fully support the Laserscope peripheral. The Laserscope is a headset controller that functions like the NES Zapper. You start by plugging the Laserscope into the second controller port, and then you plug the attached audio cable into the audio port on the NES itself. The headset has speakers so that you can hear the game audio while wearing it, and the audio cable also powers the Laserscope so you don’t need batteries. It also comes equipped with a microphone. While playing a game, you use the attached sight to line up a target and then yell “Fire!” into the microphone to shoot. Basically, this is a set of headphones with a built-in voice-activated Zapper. It sounds neat, but in practice it doesn’t work too well. The Laserscope fires whenever the microphone picks up any sound so it can misfire often. I bet it has the speaker built in so that the game audio through the TV doesn’t accidentally trigger a misfire. This is just hearsay; I don’t own a Laserscope. Thankfully it is not required to play this game.

See the mission you are forced to accept.

Laser Invasion is a multiple-genre shooter game. The Sheik Toxic Moron (yes, that’s that bad guy’s name taken straight from the manual) is set on world domination with his all-powerful weapon the TechnoScorch Missile. It is up to you, of course, to infiltrate the Sand Storm Command Center and stop these events from happening. To do this, you must take to the skies in air combat as well as engage in gun fights on the ground and search enemy bases to advance your mission. Complete all four missions to beat Laser Invasion.

On the title screen, you can start the game right away or set some options. Press Select to choose and then press Start. Within the option menu, you can turn the music off and on. You can either enable or disable reverse controls for your aircraft. You can also choose the input method. Control Pad is for using the controller only, LaserScope is for using both the LaserScope and controller, and Zapper is for the Zapper and controller. You can also choose if you want to have three, four, or five lives. There is also an option for LaserScope practice. I never tried this, but I think it is a calibration screen for positioning your LaserScope properly. Use the D-pad to toggle all these options to your liking, then press Start to go back to the title screen.

Laser Invasion has three different genres of gameplay, and since all of them are included in the first mission alone, I’ll step you through what that first mission is like. All missions begin with a cutscene providing you with the mission briefing. Then you will go flying in your helijet aircraft, but first you need to choose which missiles you want and which secondary item you want. For missiles, you can choose from either 40 weaker missiles, 20 medium missiles, or 10 strong missiles. The stronger missiles have wider targeting ranges than the weaker ones. For secondary weapons, you can choose one tank of extra fuel, five ground bombs for destroying ground targets, or ten chaff dispenses to temporarily protect you from enemy homing missiles. After everything is set, it’s time for takeoff.

The Top Gun vibe is strong here.

Aerial combat in the helijet is just like it is in Top Gun. This mode is always controller only. Use the D-pad to steer the helijet. Up or Down may be reversed if you chose that option. The B button fires your weapons. Your default is a vulcan cannon with unlimited, although weak, firepower. Hold down B to fire. If you get an enemy in your sights, there will be an arrow pointing at it. Then you can double tap the B button to launch one of your guided missiles at the enemy. You may press Select to toggle between your missiles and your secondary item, and you use your secondary item by also double tapping B. The A button reduces your speed. The default is automatic full speed ahead and the A button acts like your brakes.

The top half of this screen contains all the action and the lower half is your control panel with lots of useful information. On the left is your fuel meter. In the middle there are two kinds of radar. The left one is wide radar that covers the entire playfield and shows points of interest as well as the position and orientation of your helijet. The right radar is local radar which shows where enemies are around you, including from behind and the sides. Below the radar is a long bar that indicates the health of your helijet. The right side shows your missiles, secondary items, ammo for each, and your current flying speed.

As you fly, you are approached by enemy aircraft that you can take out with your weapons. Many enemies fire guided missiles that you need to either dodge or blow up with your own shots. There are also stationary objects that you just dodge. You can also steer left or right and fly in any direction. Each flying area is its own contained open world and you can fly anywhere within the radar screen. On the wide radar, you will see a white circle in the upper left of the first mission. These mark enemy bases and you want to visit them to complete your mission. There is a plus mark around the middle of the map and this is your allied heliport, where you can refill your fuel and weapons if you want.

Hope you like missiles in your boss fights!

In the first mission, when you approach the enemy base you are greeted with an enemy helicopter. This is one of several challenging boss battles. The parts you can shoot are highlighted by the targeting arrow, so you can either use missiles or your cannon on those spots while also avoiding or shooting the enemy’s missiles. Destroy the enemy helicopter to move on to the next part. In this case, you go right back to flying. You want to center yourself over the enemy base and land there. If you fly over a place where you can land, and all enemies are out of the way, you will approach the heliport. Here you want to slam on the brakes and stop above the heliport to switch to the landing sequence. The view switches to looking down over the helipad. Use the D-pad to center yourself and press and hold A to ascend if you need it. You want to land close to the large plus in the center of the helipad, but cross winds don’t always make that easy. Just take your time. It doesn’t matter how fast you are falling because you can’t crash. If you make a poor landing, you get sent back to the skies and you have to try docking with the heliport again. When you land properly, you exit the helijet and move on to the next phase.

Now that you’ve landed, you hop out of the cockpit and get your gun ready. This next playstyle puts you in first person view and you shoot your way on foot to the enemy base. This part of the game is very similar to Operation Wolf. The playfield scrolls slowly to the right and as enemies pop up you shoot them with the controller you chose on the options screen. If you are playing with a controller only, you control a crosshair and can fire with the B button. With either the LaserScope or the Zapper, just aim and shoot. You will see your health meter, ammo count, and any items from the bases on the lower part of the screen. Aside from the different kinds of enemies, there are a few items to help. Crates appear periodically and you can shoot them to reveal either a heart or more ammo. Then shoot the icon to collect it. Hearts refill your entire health meter, and the ammo puts you back at the max of 99 shots. I found out that ammo drops always appear when you have 15 bullets or fewer. You are never in danger of running out of bullets unless you somehow skip the refill. There are also red barrels that destroy all enemies when shot. At the end of this section, you reach the enemy base. The door opens and you automatically enter.

Just blast away!

The enemy base is where the third gameplay style takes place. This is what the manual refers to as the 3-D Confusion Maze. If you remember the mazes from Golgo 13, this is what I’d consider an improved version of them. Press Up on the D-pad to take a step forward, or press Left or Right to turn in that direction. Press A to open doors right in front of you. The top half of the screen shows the corridors in the base from a first-person perspective. The lower left of the screen contains a mini map of the entire base. Each base segment is uncovered on the map as you step from screen to screen. That’s an incredibly helpful feature. The lower right of the screen displays your health, ammo count, items collected, and any messages you might come across.

Occasionally the music changes when you reach certain rooms, which is the trigger for an enemy encounter. Battles are gunfights also using the LaserScope, Zapper, or standard controller, just like in the Operation Wolf style segments. The Zapper is quite cumbersome to use since you have to drop the controller and pick up the gun quickly to transition from exploration to gunfight. Like in the other sections, there are items found in the maze to help you. Some rooms have a crate in them and all you have to do it move next to it to grab the item. You can find more ammo for your gun or rations to restore your health. There are also special quest items such as keys. One difference with maze combat is that you can get in situations where you run out of ammo. If that happens, mash the A button to retreat to the room you came from. Enemy encounters always appear in the same places and the enemies are gone when you clear them out. There is enough ammo within the base to get you through. I never got stuck in a spot where I couldn’t locate extra ammo to proceed.

At one juncture of the maze in the first mission, a time bomb is set and you have to hurry out of the maze. You can’t go back the way you came in, so you have to find a new way. Once you do, you go back into the helijet and take off as the base explodes beneath you. This marks the end of the first mission. But in other missions, sometimes this puts you back in the sky because there are other mission objectives to finish. This means the pacing of the game is a bit inconsistent. The first mission seems lengthy enough, but it is short compared to some of the later missions.

The minimap makes these sections much more enjoyable.

Depending on your option setting, you have either three, four, or five lives to work with in Laser Invasion. If you run out of lives, you can continue up to five times. Where you restart largely depends on where you last died. Continuing within a base is the worst from what I recall since it sends you all the way back to the helijet before even approaching the base. Then it takes several minutes to get back to where you were. You can gain extra lives to help a bit, but these are tough to earn. Laser Invasion has a scoring system and points appear on screen before each mission or after you take a death. Every 100,000 points earns you an extra life, but it takes so long to score that high that you may never get one. I think the highest I scored was 150,000 points.

This was my first time playing Laser Invasion. This is a game I originally took off my main list and pulled back in here. I don’t like flight games and my first impression was that was all Laser Invasion had to offer. I did decide to leave Top Gun in my main list for some reason, and I figured if I could beat that then I could figure out Laser Invasion. I didn’t realize it was also a Zapper game plus had all these other play modes, so consider me pleasantly surprised. It’s not a common game, but it’s not super expensive, selling for around $10 to $15 for a loose cart.

I beat Laser Invasion in only five days. That surprised me. I decided early on that I would play this with the Zapper since I don’t own a LaserScope. There are only 16 licensed NES games that are compatible with the Zapper and it feels wrong to not use it. I did a few attempts with the controller just for practice. I think the controller by itself is the easiest way to play Laser Invasion. Zapper play was a bit more challenging, and I bet the LaserScope works well since you don’t have to keep switching between controller and Zapper on the fly. However, the parts with the Zapper were much easier for me than the flying. The same homing missiles that bogged me down in Top Gun are here again, but they are not as bad this time because they are larger in size and thus easier to shoot down. The boss battles and areas leading up to them ate up the most lives during the learning phase of the game.

I’m happy that landing isn’t that stressful.

Once I got some practice near the end of the game, I fully switched over to Zapper control and the three default lives. I was very close to beating the game on my penultimate attempt, reaching the final boss for the first time on my last life and then immediately dying. In my longplay video, I used two continues to beat the game. I was used to using up all five, so this was a good run. This was my first time recording footage of a Zapper game off my CRT and I think it turned out well.

I have a few tips to share for Laser Invasion. There are three options for the secondary item and the one you want is the extra fuel. The ground bombs were completely useless to me. The chaff can be helpful since it takes homing missiles out of play when you use it, but for the rest of the game you learn to deal with them anyway. The extra fuel is the most important because a couple sections in the game are so long they require the extra fuel to make it all the way through without dying. This is an awful design decision that you normally have to learn the hard way. Outside of those sections, the extra fuel is a good safeguard if you are having trouble lining up on the map to land at a base and need some extra time. I liked using the twenty medium missiles. They are powerful enough to be useful against bosses and there are enough of them that you can get away with wasting a few. To stop above the heliport, all you have to do is hold down A as soon as you begin making the approach. This should stop you early enough so that you can do a release and hold pattern with the A button to inch your way into position. Those tips should get you started with the flying, and the rest of the game falls into place from there.

Laser Invasion is a game that surprised me and I’m glad I played it. It’s a Konami game and they almost always make quality games, including this one. The graphics are excellent and so is the music. The game controls well with the controller, and performs well enough with the Zapper. I found the shooting hitboxes pretty generous to help keep up with the action. It’s a tough task to cover multiple play styles. I think the quality is there, but the pacing and difficulty are unbalanced. The Zapper stages are easy compared to the rest, and yet they drag on much longer than I would like. You can traverse mazes quickly until you get blocked by a lengthy shooting match. The flying is so much more difficult than the rest of the game with things like one-hit kills and boss fights. Trying to trigger a heliport can also be frustrating when enemies just don’t get out of the way. These are valid complaints that hamper the overall experience, but Laser Invasion is still a pretty neat game.

#75 – Laser Invasion