Let's see here.
I've played and beaten the first Contra.
I've played and beaten Super C.
I've played and beaten all the endings in Contra Hardcorps. (that took a while, lemme tell ya)
I've played the hell out of and BARELY beaten Contra 4.
And then I've played and beaten Contra III about fifty damn times.
I'm not sure what it is with this game. Ostensibly, I like the difficulty and music of Harcorps more. In many ways, the gameplay and weapons of Contra 4 strikes me as the best and most to my liking. And sometimes, plowing through the first Contra is just a great retro thrill.
I wouldn't even list Contra III as my favourite. However, looking at how often I've played it, it's hard for me to honestly say that I like the others more.
That said; My usual method for these articles is to play through the game, write down good lines I think of along the way, and then write up the full shebang afterwards.
In the case of this one, though, I don't need to. I've played this game a fuckload back in the day, and I've played it a fuckton in recent years. Even though I haven't touched the game in almost six months, I still remember every bit of it excellently. How to dodge, what weapons work well where, the tunes... (If I had bothered to put this much effort into remembering, say, my English textbooks back in school, I daresay I'd be a smarter person and better writer. Ah well, c'est la vie.)
As anyone with gamer cred knows, there's no real purpose to the story in a Contra game. The bread, butter and potatoes to any good Contra game is the design. The enemies, how they attack, how they move, where they're placed, the level design at that point, and the potential weapons the player has when they get that far. Every inch you go across in Contra is made to be interesting and challenging. Then again, looking at it objectively, every Contra game is constructed like this. Every bit of space you come across is very deliberately made to be challenging but fair. Oh, the headaches those good folks at Konami must have had trying to sculpt some of these setpieces. Every bit of their stress paid off, though. Every Contra game is made up of so many amazing moments, one after the other, that the ante is raised every second of the game, every bit of the level, right up to the end of the stage, or for a strategically placed break in the action just to let the sense of foreboding build up.
Now while every Contra (well, the good ones. Let's forget the 3D ones sans Shattered Soldier) has some of the best design choices available to the technology they're on, they're still masterfully crafted in every sense. And, well, Contra III does all this exceptionally well. Good as Hardcorps enemy and level design is, they never let you jump into a tank to charge forward, running over any enemies on the ground while you blast down a wall that's blocking your way. Little things like that go great lengths to a more engaging game.
Also, there's a few levels in Contra III that take place at a different angle, in this case an overhead rotating system that makes excellent use of the SNES' Mode 7 capabilities. (Remember, this was back in the day where being able to rotate pixelated things the way Mode 7 allowed was kind of mind blowing) And while a lot of other Contra games had levels like that, sometimes they felt... Not as substantial as the side-scrolling levels. Contra 4 in particular, which has certain levels done in a pseudo-3D corridor, harkening to the first Contra, where the levels with the perspective change feels rather... Tacked on? Thrown in? They don't feel as substantial. The real meat of the game was the platformer sections, and the different levels kind of suffered for it.
In Contra III, I never got that sense. Sure, there's only two top-down levels compared to four normal side-scroller ones, but they're a different sort of beast. Along with the perspective change came an objective change. Rather than charge in a single direction with guns blazing, you instead have a search-and-destroy objective, which you accomplish with your guns blazing. (It's a Contra game, how else does anything get done?) With a fairly large map to wander around in, the pace is changed slightly. Along with the change in gameplay, this goes great ends towards making the experience seem grander than traveling in straight lines. Sure, I know of plenty people who really don't like Contra III's top-down levels, but y'know what, I love'em.
And y'know what else? Screw it. I'm naming Contra III my official favourite of the Contra series. Contra 4 or Hardcorps had the title before, but once I really starting thinking about it, I just really like III.
Here's hoping that this opinion doesn't switch back once I get around to Hardcorps.