Contra is a series that rivaled the great classics of yesteryear, but has sadly remained under the radar in the present. The last three “games” with the moniker were a Pachislot game, a slot machine, and a free to play mobile entry. The series had been all but forgotten, and Konami seemingly had no interest in reviving it. That is until the release of Contra: Rogue Corps, a title whose reveal left a sour taste in the mouths of many, but maybe it’s not as bad as fans have been assuming?
The game takes place years after the Super NES hit Contra III: The Alien Wars and is set in a location known as the Damned City. It’s up to you to take on the job of clearing out the alien-infested city as one of four playable bounty hunters: the cyborg Kaiser, the assassin Ms. Harakiri, the alien bug The Gentleman, and the lovable panda (once a human scientist) Hungry Beast. Each comes equipped with their own preferred weapon, though you can change main and sub-weapons with new ones if you prefer.
This game has been overseen by Nobuya Nakazato, a Contra series veteran who worked on the like of the aforementioned Super NES classic as well as Neo Contra (PS2). This new entry takes some gameplay cues from Neo Contra, so don’t go in expecting a classic 2D side-scrolling shooter. Instead, Contra: Rogue Corps features a top-down isometric view, not unlike some of the alternating stages in previous games. Although some hardcore fans were no doubt disappointed with the new camera perspective and gameplay tweaks, I found that the longer I played the more I appreciated some of the creative aspects the game brings to the table.
At its heart Contra: Rogue Corps is a twin-stick shooter where the left control stick moves your character and the right aims your gun. These have been around for decades, with games like Smash TV making them popular in the arcade. In good old Contra fashion you can also jump onto higher objects while spinning through the air. The game features a dynamic camera, which means your viewpoint will often change to accentuate the action on-screen and there are areas of the game that will have you meandering into a side-scrolling section one minute and then the next you’ll be running toward the camera to escape a giant metal ball. Some entire fights take place in full 3D sections where you’ll control a cursor and shoot at enemies on the horizon. This keeps the game fresh and exciting, as you never quite know what to expect next unless you’re replaying the level again and again.
As mentioned earlier, your character has a main weapon and a sub-weapon, both of which can be exchanged from a variety of weapons that you can purchase at a shop. These weapons have unlimited ammo, however, there is a heat meter that when filled will jam your gun, preventing you from firing for a short period of time. Besides the standard weapons, enemies can be killed in a ton of other ways. Whether you set off environmental hazards, dash through a horde of enemies, toss enemies around, use one of your bombs, or even execute a sick finishing move (this game is rated M after all), this is definitely more than your standard run and gun.
This game also relies on some light RPG mechanics, though the implementation could have been better. You can level up your character’s skill for a specific weapon, and you can level up the weapons themselves. Unfortunately it gets a bit confusing with the attachments. There are add-ons scattered across various levels that will add stat boosts and bonus effects, but they’re very opaque on what they actually do. They often don’t spell out why they’re useful and it requires trial and error to figure out which ones are worth your time.
Most Contra games are known for their challenge, with the original being famous for the 30 guy code to make it easier to beat. This one features three difficulty modes to choose from, each one giving you either amazing or incredibly weak weapons from the start. The standard single-player levels are fairly easy, but after beating the first section of stages you are introduced to brand new modes, one of which is an endless gauntlet of respawning enemies that you can fight your way through for rare prizes. These modes will give people the difficulty they crave.
While the game has a nice selection of single-player content, the game has a heavy focus on multiplayer teamwork. Sadly online multiplayer wasn’t working at the time of writing, though we’ve been informed online co-op will work once the game launches. Several modes will allow you to work with others or fight them to the death. The game also supports couch co-op, as well as a variety of other methods for local multiplayer. Co-op is not mandatory for this game, and the single-player content is extensive enough, but it’s nice to see so many options for multiplayer.
Overall Contra: Rogue Corps looks and plays great. I didn’t encounter horrible frame drops even when there were swarms of enemies and giant bosses on the screen at the same time. The visuals have been slightly improved since the reveal trailer, and there are a lot of fantastic looking moments in the game, such as with the first giant boss encounter. Thankfully there hasn’t been any game-breaking glitches or bugs to ruin the experience. The only downside is that the soundtrack is somewhat generic, which is a shame since some of the prior games in the series were memorable in this department.
If you can get over the shift in perspective and appreciate a different take on a long running series, I think this is a solid experience from top to bottom. If you’re still on the fence, download the free demo on the eShop, but if you’ve been craving a nostalgia kick in the pants you’ll be better served picking up Contra Anniversary Collection.
Contra: Rogue Corps Review
- Graphics - 7.5/107.5/10
- Sound - 5/105/10
- Gameplay - 8/108/10
- Lasting Appeal - 8/108/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
Contra: Rogue Corps is an unexpected way to revive a beloved franchise. It’s sure to be divisive among fans, but it has plenty of reasons for you to give it a chance. The dynamic camera combined with solid gameplay makes for an overall enjoyable experience. I had a great time with it and it sure beats another Contra slot machine.