Contra is back with this sequel to the Genesis classic, Contra: Hard Corps. Arc Systems, makers of Guilty Gear XX, gets down and dirty retro with this insanely hard ode to old school shooters. A fantastic presentation and plenty of nostalgic touches mixes with crazy action to create a game that teeters on greatness, but is hampered by a few too many frustrations.
- Gorgeous 2D graphics
- Classic Contra guns and gameplay
- Diverse, large levels
- Progressive character building in Rising mode
- Too damn hard
- Frustrating lack of restart points
- Archaic button layout makes the game harder than it should be
Retro revamps are nothing new lately, especially on Xbox Live, but fans of old-school, side-scrolling shooters should be especially keen on checking out Konami’s Hard Corps: Uprising. A Contra game in all but actual name, this sequel to the Sega Genesis Contra: Hard Corps is a frustrating mix of joy and pain. The flaws of the game will likely doom it to the realm of hard-core gamers only, but even despite the problems, it’s an impressive revamp of a classic.
Take Me Back. . .Way Back
After watching a stirringly nostalgic, musical, and badass anime opening, players step into the combat boots of Colonel Bahamut (from the original Genesis game) or Krystal, a young anime blond with a big gun. As you progress, three more characters can be unlocked as well. The premise is the same as it’s always been -- mow down the hordes of bad guys across a 2D scrolling landscape of destruction. Jump, shoot, avoid attacks, catch power-ups...it’s pure, classic coin-op action.
It’s this dogged insistence on keeping the game so true to its classic roots that is the biggest problem with Hard Corps. Arc System developed the game, so fans of the company’s brilliant fighters, Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, will instantly recognize the visual style of the game. Indeed, this is a thoroughly gorgeous game with a wonderfully distinctive look. The enemy forces tend to look like crazy clowns, and the crisp hi-res 2D character and landscape art just scream with wild color and attention to detail.
The audio, with its hard rock soundtrack and over-the-top sound effects, is sure to please fans of the genre as well. So, the basic foundation of Hard Corps is definitely exceptional. The game itself is divided between a straight-up arcade mode, and the Rising mode. In the latter, your character builds up experience and abilities the more you play. Starting out with minimal health and lives, you can use accumulated points to purchase new abilities, more health and lives, and other life-extending necessities.
The Rising mode is definitely the way to play the game, as it adds a great sense of progression and, once you’ve built your fighter up enough, makes the game at least somewhat more manageable. Even with an amped up character, however, Hard Corps is still insanely hard. Contra games have always had a high level of difficulty, but Arc Systems seems to have gone out of their way to make Uprising an affair in frustration.
A big part of the reason for the difficulty is the insistence on using the same old control scheme as the original game. Jumping while shooting backwards—a common occurrence—is irksome, and the game uses the shoulder buttons for shooting locks and strafing. It’s far from a convenient system and could have been easily fixed by making the game a dual-stick shooter.
To make matters worse, the eight levels are impressively long, but so stingy about restart points that you’ll frequently have to cover the same ground over and over. Given that levels are filled with hard-to-avoid hazards and several sub-bosses, not being able to restart where you left off becomes a matter of extreme aggravation. While some gamers will dig the challenge level, most gamers will simply give up before beating even the first level.
Adding another player either locally or online helps immensely with the shooting portions of the game, but the platformer sections (especially later in the game) get a lot more tricky with a second player since the timing becomes even more exacting. Still, Hard Corps is definitely meant for co-op play.
Do You Like Pain?
There’s a lot to love in Hard Corps: Uprising. The presentation is fantastic, and Arc System’s unique and impressive sense of style shines through everywhere in the game. Unfortunately, the archaic controls and the scarcity of restart points make the game far more difficult than it needs to be. For fans of the Contra series, this might not be a big deal, and the rewards for sticking with the action pay off with an otherwise intense and inspired trip down memory lane.