The Contra series holds a special place in my heart. I have been hooked on the series ever since the first game launched in arcades back in 1987. My childhood is filled with fond memories of playing cooperative with my older brother at both the local 7-11 and Aladdin’s Castle (complete with an Orange Julius next door). Since it’s original launch, Konami has the ported the game and its many successors to nearly every platform imaginable. The latest title in the series, despite its lack of the 'Contra’ name, brings the action to a new generation of gamers and truly breaks the mold Konami built for the franchise.
Konami has been handing off the development of Contra titles to various developers over the past decade to groups who have added their own personal twists and takes on the games. The latest selection may have been the most surprising both in terms of the studio selected and what they managed to produce. For the development of Hard Corps: Uprising, Konami handed the reigns to Arc System Works (ASW). Arc is perhaps best known for their recent work on the BlazBlue and Guilty Gear series, though their resume includes numerous other titles dating all the way back to 1990. ASW decided to take the world of Contra and give it their own artistic spin, including fully animated, Anime-style cutscenes and incredibly detailed, hand-drawn animations and graphics. They managed to take all of the classic run and gun action of the previous 12 games and present it in an amazing fashion that is sure to please gamers young and old.
Hard Corp: Uprising is a direct prequel to the classic Sega Genesis title Contra: Hard Corps. The original title, perhaps best known for its unrelenting difficulty, truly set the standard for the series and remains one of the best games in the lineage to date. Players take controller of one of two soldiers, Bahamut and Krystal, as members of a resistance fighting against the oppression of the Commonwealth and its vicious leader, Tiberius. Bahamut, who was actually the boss of the Genesis game, is a former Commonwealth soldier who saw the light when he witnessed Commonwealth squads mercilessly executing innocents in the various villages and towns. The same story applies to Krystal who witnessed the devastation of the squads in her home town. Both characters turned to the cause of the dwindling resistance in order to try and make a difference. Sure enough, their dedication drove them to the top of the ranks where they are spear-heading a last ditch effort to to take back their world.
While the game may not look or be titled as a traditional Contra, as soon as players pick up the controller and start firing bullets the pedigree will be clear. Uprising brings everything that fans know, and perhaps even hate, from the Hard Corps game back in spades. The game is filled with non-stop run and gun action, an assortment of powered up weapons, and an unrelenting difficulty sure to send the most seasoned gamer into a fit of rage. Players are given two modes of play: Arcade and Rising. The Arcade mode is the series’ staple run “run through a set number of levels with 3 lives and a couple of continues”. This is the classic gameplay that brought fans running to the titles back in the 80‘s and will likely bring those same fans back today. New fans to the series may find this mode lacking in its offering but it pays homage to the pedigree in a manner that will undoubtedly be appreciated by old fans.
Throughout the adventure, players will battle endless waves of enemy troops across a wide variety of environments. Every stage has its own unique setting, complete with full animated backdrops and multiple, large scale boss fights. The variety of enemy changes as much as the scenery does, as each board features numerous unique enemy designs that suit their setting. Just like the Contra games of old, players will want to keep an eye out for the occasional power up container flying across the screen; shooting one down will award them with an upgrade to their gun. All of the classic gun variations are here including the machine gun, spread, flamethrower, and laser rifles... as well as a few others which fit right in with the classic arsenal. You can stock up to two separate gun types on your character and alternate between them with the press of a button. In vintage gameplay style, one shot from the enemy will reduce your weapon back to the standard rifle which, while effective, is horrible compared to the stronger firepower in the game. It is also possible to power up your weapons by collecting multiple power ups of the same type; collecting a second machine gun power will increase your weapon’s level and allow it to fire more bullets which are faster and stronger.
I really like the limitation of two weapons as it creates a great gameplay aspect of properly managing your inventory. This becomes even more important when playing cooperatively with a friend, which is available both online and off. Everyone is sure to find their favorite guns in the game and gravitate to them whenever they are offered. When you combine the classic limitations of a set amount of lives and continues with the ruthless challenge of the game, you will find one of the most frustrating gaming experiences of your life. This game is hard. You will die and you will be set back on your journey numerous times in Arcade mode. The game’s checkpoint system leaves a lot to be desired and only furthers the frustration experienced by making you replay difficult mid-boss battles thanks to cheap deaths and unforgiving action. I found it to be practically rage-inducing at times, but then again, that is sort of how Contra has always been.
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