Konami’s Contra is the plateau when it comes to the side-scrolling shooting genre. Upon hearing the name alone, people become interested, but it also brings about flashbacks of challenging times and brutal difficulty. Many titles of the genre have tried to capture the intensity and difficulty of Contra, but none have delivered on that concept. There hasn’t been a new 2D Contra title in quite some time, but Konami and Arc System Works — who brought us the Guilty Gear series — is looking to resurrect the genre and franchise but without the Contra moniker.
HardCorps Uprising is a sequel to the Sega Genesis title, Contra: Hard Corps — which was released back in August 1994. Losing the Contra name, HardCorps is looking to act as a standalone franchise for Konami and Uprising is a great way to start things off. As is the standard fare for a Contra title, a tyrannical government is taking control of the world and two soldiers take it upon themselves to overthrow the satanic dictator and be the world’s saviors. The two soldiers fated with this mission is a young man known as Bahamut and a young woman named Krystal.
Those familiar with Arc System Works’ titles will know they are skilled with crafting highly detailed animated character sprites. Their work in Guilty Gear and BlazBlue speaks for itself, but they have taken that very same art style and worked it into this Contra revision. Both main characters are beautifully drawn and highly detailed, meanwhile each enemy and location is masterfully crafted with a living, breathing atmospheric feel surrounding them. The tradeoff for such wonderful craftsmanship is that each level can take around a minute to load but, thankfully, no additional loads take place from start to completion of the said level.
There are two game modes to select from: Arcade and Rising. As the name suggests, Arcade mode is your standard arcade style journey. Those looking for a classic Contra challenge, this is the mode for you. With a strict limit in place on lives and continues, frustration will set in for those not skilled enough to tackle this level of challenge, but for those looking for a classic hardcore challenge, Arcade mode will satisfy your inner masochist.
Those with less skill and simply want to enjoy the game without too much challenge, Rising mode is the perfect substitute. Offering a more forgiving and welcoming challenge, Rising mode is fundamentally the same as Arcade but with more options. As you complete levels, you’ll be rewarded points based on your performance and this can be spent on character upgrades like extra lives, continues, weapon upgrades, new abilities, and plenty more. Not only does this allow for easier progression and make the game more welcoming for a bigger audience, but it also allows for more replayability. Revisiting levels for extra points to upgrade a gun or to get extra health will act as motivators when a later level poses too much of a challenge — which they will.
As with all Contra titles, the action found in HardCorps is intense and constant. It is a seldom occurrence that you find time to take a breather and relax. Mechanical enemies will explode and their smoldering remains will fall upon you in a last ditch effort to inflict damage. Though normal enemies will prove to be quite challenging, it’s the boss battles that are the true highlight and challenge in the game. Bosses are massive mechanical monstrosities that will require strategic planning and several tries before you understand the way they work and how to go about taking them out.
Co-op play has always been a key element to the Contra series and other titles of this genre. Allowing for both local and online co-op, HardCorps allows you to play with friends or strangers to get the most out of the experience. Even with the intense action constantly flowing on the screen, the game holds up remarkably well and doesn’t suffer from any slowdown whether you play online or offline.
Since it is still a Contra title at heart, cheap deaths and unforgiving checkpoints are still a prominent element of the experience. This will lead to many retries and possibly frustrating moments for those not talented enough to tackle the game’s challenging nature, but Rising mode and its upgrades make it easier, though completing the game on Arcade will be the true testament of your abilities.
HardCorps Uprising is a great title that offers classic Contra gameplay, but at the same time is able to discover its own identity. Rising Mode is a great feature that allows everyone to enjoy the title and lets the more hardcore gamer replay levels to achieve new techniques and abilities. Arcade mode is perfect for old-school gamers looking for a challenge and delivers on that promise. Upon completing the game, you’ll feel a great sense of fulfillment and joy.
(Editor’s Note: A code was provided by Konami for review. The game was completed on Rising mode and 3/4ths of Arcade mode for this review. 4/12 Achievements were earned for a GamerScore of 30/200)