Some people might say that Castlevania is Konami’s greatest creation, while others may say Metal Gear. Some may find Silent Hill to be the crown jewel of Konami, while others may say Dance Dance Revolution. I humbly suggest that they are all wrong (though Castlevania would come close). As a matter of unarguable fact, Konami’s greatest contribution to the world of gaming has been Contra. This can be evidenced by the fact that the “Konami Code” was not made popular by Castlevania, Metal Gear, Silent Hill, or Dance Dance Revolution, but earned its fame through the efforts of Contra. Today, a new entry in the Contra series makes its debut in the form of Hard Corps: Uprising.
But wait, that doesn’t say Contra in it at all! Nevertheless, it is an official Contra game, set as a prequel to the classic 1994 SEGA Genesis game Contra: Hard Corps. If you’re a connoisseur of Contra, you may remember Contra: Hard Corps as one of the harder entries in the illustrious Contra series, in much the same way that Nintendo Hard is harder than Hard. If you’re a fan of Nintendo Hard, you’ll be a fan of Hard Corps: Uprising. With an entertaining and informative anime opening video, you’re brought up to speed with the stories of the four main characters, while a metal remix of the original Contra theme blares around you. Even without Contra in the name, this game feels, and plays, like classic Contra.
The standard one-hit-death of Contra is gone, and the health bar from the Japanese version of Contra: Hard Corps is present. Unfortunately, the unlimited continues of the Japanese version didn’t make the cut, starting you off with only five. You are also given three lives to start, with opportunities to increase that appearing few and far between. While Contra is a run-and-gun style game, strategy is very important in Hard Corps: Uprising. Running through the levels blasting your weapon in every direction may be fun, but it’s a quick way to use up your lives and your continues. With the inclusion of the ability to “strafe” (move one direction while firing in a different direction) and the ability to take stationary aim (stand in a single location while using the joystick to aim in multiple directions), new opportunities to methodically work your way through levels appear. A special ability is also available to characters, such as bullet reflection, but they must be timed perfectly, and in my experience result only in throwing me off my timing. Dashing and double-jumping also make appearances, and are at times necessary to prevent an untimely demise.
The level design is downright devious, and only adds to the game’s Nintendo Hard feel. Each stage has only one or two checkpoints, and they are brutally punishing. Each stage boss has multiple forms that must be defeated in order to pass, and falling back on a continue will generally throw you quite a ways back in the level, requiring you to work your way through another onslaught of enemies. As in previous Contras, weapon upgrades exist. The crush gun lobs grenades that deal considerable damage, but has a very limited range; the machine gun fires an unending stream of bullets at high speed; the spread shot fires multiple bullets at once at different angles; the heat gun fires a limited-range stream of fire, but can be charged up to hurl a small sun across the screen; the chain laser (my favorite) homes in on enemies with considerable power, allowing you to keep a somewhat safe distance (if such a thing exists in Contra) while barraging your enemies. Power-ups can be leveled up twice over the standard level by gathering the same power-up drop and stacking them. A single hit, however, and the entire power-up is lost, so be careful.
The game features two modes of play: Arcade and Rising. In Arcade mode, you choose from either Bahamut (not necessarily the same Bahamut from Contra: Hard Corps) or Krystal, and are stuck starting off with three lives, five continues, and three health bars. This game mode is for masochists only; if you have a streak of self-preservation within you, or prize your sanity, do not attempt to get through the game on Arcade mode. The truly entertaining gem in Hard Corps: Uprising is the Rising mode. In Rising mode, every kill earns points, which can then be spent to level up your character with new abilities, strengths, power-ups, and bonuses. Extra health bars, extra lives, extra continues, triple-jump, and more can be purchased to make your trip through Hard Corps: Uprising more manageable. Do you want each power-up you grab to automatically be a level 3 power-up? Earn the points and buy the upgrade! Do you want to start off with 30 lives? Earn the points and buy the upgrade, because as many times as I tried, I couldn’t get The Code to work! Do you want extra continues, invincibility on the rising portion of a jump, and so much more? Earn the points and buy the upgrades! There may be a fair amount of grinding the lower stages in order to afford the upgrades that will help you pass the higher stages, but if you’re at that point, you’re just running on spite and will keep going just to beat the damn game.
The enemies vary in strength. The common grunts do little damage and are easily dispatched, but can appear at inconvenient times. The laser turret grunt deals more damage, but can be easily defeated by simply ducking and firing at him until he explodes. The bosses are where the true difficulty of the game comes in. With large health bars, multiple attack patterns, and inordinate size, the bosses of Hard Corps: Uprising are where you will find yourself flinging your controller across the room. Some boss forms will fill most of the screen, while some will be smaller, but much more mobile. After multiple deaths, you’ll eventually learn enough of the boss patterns to fight your way through to the next variation, only to start learning new patterns.
The art has an anime style to it, but it doesn’t detract from the game one bit. I actually quite enjoyed the art style for both the characters and the backgrounds. They worked well, and were not distracting from the gameplay, which is vital in a Contra game. The sound quality was good and was not distracting from the gameplay which, again, is absolutely vital in a Contra game. The art and sound are clean and allow you to focus on staying alive as long as you can, which IS VITAL IN A CONTRA GAME.
The game is a simple 2D run-and-gun. If you’ve played Contra, you know what you’re getting yourself into; obscenities shouted, controllers thrown, oaths sworn, and blood vessels burst, hopefully followed by an exhausted victory dance at the end of a long and challenging session.
Developed by Arc System Works and published by Konami, Hard Corps: Uprising is the first game of the XBLA House Party event, starting today. It will cost you 1200MSP, and in my opinion it is well worth the price. You will get hours of frustrated enjoyment out of this game, and you will thank Konami for the experience. And honestly, it’s a Contra game. You know you want it, so buy it. You won’t be disappointed.