CONTRA FORCE / Konami / NES
|Contra Force is an oddball little "side story" to the Contra series that looks like it was sort of an experimental testing ground for Konami. They released it on the Ultra label (used to circumvent Nintendo's restrictions on games per publisher, but Konami was also known for releasing their crappier games under it), and it has no plot or setting links to any of the other Contra games except that it apparently takes place in the city that gets totally nuked in the first level of Contra 3.
Some ex-commando dood named Beans gets called to a meeting with a former military bud, when he gets there his bud is dead and this terrorist group is waiting to ambush him. Fighting his way out, he'll learn about a Srs Bsns terrorist plot to trash the country, which sets up a number of levels of Contra run-and-gunning.
There's a lot of little oddities to this one, though, and while it superficially resembles a regular Contra game, the structure is a little different and it just doesn't feel nearly as smooth or well laid out. A couple of concepts are borrowed from other Konami games - you now have an "upgrade bar" a la Gradius and you field a team of four characters whom you can switch between a la Ninja Turtles. Other characters can also be called in for temporary support a limited number of times per level, basically joining you as a computer-controlled second player. The four different characters also have differing weapon upgrade paths, and some run faster and jump higher than others.
Neither of these ideas is bad or detracts from the game, though neither is outstanding either. The problem here is that the game is sluggish and flickery, your characters weapons are largely pretty lame, and the level layout is kind of cheap and amateurish (at least as compared to the greatness of other Contra games.) It just feels significantly slower and more poorly designed than the standard Contra game. The graphics and music are additionally a solid "meh" and the playable characters range from boring to goofy. There's some nice touches here, like a lot of the backgrounds being destructible (including being able to shoot out annoying spike presses that most other games would force you to try to run under), but on the whole it really feels like a failed experiment.
* Gameplay Video