The definition of a “shooter” game has changed greatly since the days of the NES. In those days, a “shooter” was a game like Contra: a side-scrolling, brutally hard, assault on wave-after-wave of enemy soldiers, followed by a screen-sized baddie that flashed red when you shot its weak point. Today, a “shooter” more likely means a first person shooter as visions of Halo, CODBLOPS and Gears of War dance through your head.
But Konami has shown that the old ways don’t have to fade away as the publisher has taken great care to bring the Contra series into the 21st century. Recognizing the franchise’s trademark stlye, the most recent Contra games have been 2D side-scrollers that specialize in controller-throwing difficulty. There was the grittiness of the PS2 entries, the portability of Contra 4, and the 16-bit stylings of Contra ReBirth. Now, there’s the anime-inspired Hard Corps: Uprising, the first game in the series not to carry the Contra name.
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360 (Version Played)
Developer: Arc System Works
Genre: Side-Scrolling Shooter
Release Date: Februry 16, 2011 (XBLA), March 15, 2011 (PSN)
ESRB Rating: Teen
Right away, you’ll notice the lack of the word “Contra” in the game’s title. But there’s actually a reasonable explanation for its exclusion. Hard Corps: Uprising actually takes place in 2613, 20 years before the Contra saga begins and Bill Rizer’s first battle against Red Falcon. Instead, Uprising tells the story of the early years of the villainous Colonel Bahamut from Contra: Hard Corps. It seems that before he turned evil he was actually a great war hero.
Since the aliens haven’t invaded Earth yet, the never-ending streams of enemies in Uprising are of the robot persuasion. Giant, walking mecha aren’t strangers to a Contra game, but don’t expect to take on many gruesome monstrosities like the vomiting alien frog from Contra: Shattered Soldier. However, do expect to blast hundreds of clown-faced weirdos that are the foot soldiers for the dictator Tiberius.
The mecha and other robots are actually right at home in the anime-inspired playgrounds created by Arc System Works. Best known for the gorgeous 2D artwork found in games like Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, the developer brings the same attention to detail to the Contra series while retaining the franchise’s rampaging run-and-gun style. It may not look like the Contra of old, but it does play like it. And the art style is beautiful in its own way.
While Bahamut may look like a teen idol and Krystal (player two) has the cutest eyepatch ever, Arc System Works still managed to shoehorn in a lot of Contra callbacks. Uprising borrows a lot of concepts from earlier entries in the series, but that shouldn’t really be surprising at this point. Series staples such as a familar arsenal of guns (Machine Gun, Spread, Crush Gun) are back for the ride along with the famous “Wall” boss and two levels on hoverbikes. Some classic Contra riffs are also peppered throughout the game’s soundtrack.
In addition, Uprising mines some of the more obscure corners of the Contra canon (just look at the main character). There’s the addition of a life bar (which was last seen in the Japanese release of Contra: Hard Corps), the ability to stack three weapons of the same type into a super weapon (first seen in Contra 4) and a dash move (also seen in the original Hard Corps).
However, Uprising’s one claim to originality is a doozy. The new “Rising Mode” rewards players who rack up a consistent kill streak with Corps Points. This currency can be used to buy better weapons, special moves, an expanded life bar and more lives. It’s not quite the Konami Code, but it’s an amusing counterpoint to the game’s more traditional “Arcade Mode” (which could be considered the hardest Contra game yet).
As de rigeur as a monstrously hard difficulty curve is for a Contra game, Uprising pushes it a bit to the extreme. A few levels require some insane platforming prowess while the bosses do their death dance. If you fall, you’ve got to battle the entire multi-stage boss again. This is piled on top of some very cheap one-hit kills late in the game and a very out of place stealth section. Basically, a difficult Contra game is great, but Uprising can feel unfair at times. Oh, and the voice acting can best be described as hyperactive five-year-olds yelling “DIE!” over and over again.
That said, Hard Corps: Uprising is an excellent new entry in the Contra series and, even though I was worried it wouldn’t, the anime-inspired look works. I miss the series’ signature alien nemeses (mutated humans just aren’t the same), but the further adventures of Bahamut would still be be something I would like to see.
Review Disclosure: A review copy of Hard Corps: Uprising was provided by Konami for the purposes of this review.