Contra steps into the modern age with slick anime visuals and a barrel of sci-fi monsters to blow up! Going Rambo in the originals was always a joyous wonder; the screams of the soldiers, the beautiful pixellated buildings burning in the background and the requirement of being perfect to see it all through. Very few made it to the end, even with a friend partnering up and while Hard Corps is of the shiny 2011 era, it still has some real balls behind it. Prepare to cry, swear and shoot.
This re-imaging of the 80’s action hero styled Contra is one slick game. The characters look like they’ve been ripped out of the Blazblue universe (same team behind this) and given some guns to wade through a number of increasingly challenging stages. Deserts, temples and skyscrapers aren’t the most original of settings, but Hard Corps has so much going on it never becomes a problem. Screens packed full of masked adversaries and explosions brings the game into an almost technicolour world of military warfare and the creativity behind scenarios and boss battles makes you want to keep going to see what next lies around the corner. Heavy metal shooting has never looked so lovely and it exemplifies best how 2D characters and 3D backgrounds can live together in harmony.
The presentation and manic chaos of the game covers over the simple, almost archaic gameplay somewhat. Playing as one of two characters (two extra downloadable characters have been available since launch… the cynical type of dlc) you move right through the two-dimensional levels shooting at different angles, jumping over obstacles and dashing to escape hurdles or collect new weapons. The two characters have very minor differences regarding health and speed and the challenge of the game comes from learning patterns of enemies or scenery changes. All old school and full of old ideas such as motorbike segments, ceilings which move up and down in attempts to crush you, elevator hopping and conveyor belt floors. Seen it all before, but Hard Corps has so many of these tried and tested ideas it becomes a box full of heated variety. Seeing what the game will pull out of its box next is part of the fun.
The game keeps its Contra roots here and also drags with it the intense hardcore challenge. Lives are lost as quick as drinks go down on a night out. Bosses have very specific movements which you need to adapt to before it’s too late. Checkpoints are put in disgusting places so the player can pull out more hairs, think tricky precision rocket jumping then two mid stage bosses having to be tackled before a new checkpoint pops up. Worst of all, after an excruciatingly enduring boss battle, there tends to be an instant death moment waiting for you just after. One event on the first level asks you to press A to jump off your bike midair after a long robot chase battle. Don’t press A within the small time frame and expect to see that boss battle again. Not forgetting the other boss battle which needs dealing with straight after. Bother this nonsense!
The deep challenge and limited continues would be a massive turn off for most players as the chances of seeing the end would be slim. Hard Corps has one life line with a Rising mode to go with the evil Arcade mode. Here you play the same game, but now you can select stages as you complete them and upgrade characters to make life easier. This mode has you slowly learning the levels lays and buying new upgrades is always a compulsive past time. Rising mode brings the game to those who need to learn things bit by bit and while it is certainly no cake walk, the game becomes a fantastic replayable run and gun for all to enjoy. Hard Corps isn’t for the faint hearted. Instead it is a game for real gamers ready to kick some ass and have their own asses kicked in the process. Lock and load!