The last time I played a new Contra game was Contra: Shattered Soldier on the PS2. Since then there have been Xbox Live Arcade releases of the original and Super Contra games. What we have not seen though is a true, new entry into the Contra franchise. Arc System Works and Konami are addressing this oversight with Hard Corps: Uprising. It may not be using the Contra name, but make no mistake, this is Contra through and through.
What's it About?
Hard Corps: Uprising is set before the events of the excellent yet under-appreciated Genesis game Contra: Hard Corps. In 2613, the world is ruled by an empire known as the Commonwealth. Emperor Tiberius' oppressive reign has sparked a full scale rebellion across neighboring nations. However, Tiberius' forces are more than a match to quell that rabble. During all this, an elite force of soldiers from these neighboring nations band together to launch a last-ditch effort to forcibly remove the emperor from power.
Sounds like a storyline that has been done before, and it has. In all honesty though, it's irrelevant anyway. The last thing that you play a game like Hard Corps: Uprising for is its storyline. The story takes a back seat almost immediately, and you're only really aware of it because of the paragraphs of text that appear on the game's rather lengthy loading screens.
Why Should I Care?
With games seemingly doing all they can to make the player's life easier, Hard Corps: Uprising flies in the face of current gaming trends by being absolutely brutal in every way. By default you get three hits before you lose a life, unlike the older Contra games' one hit deaths. Despite this concession, Hard Corps: Uprising is still a ridiculously difficult game – the levels are lengthy and checkpoints between sections are spread quite far apart. Worse still, if you lose all your lives and have to continue, you will need to go back to the beginning of the last checkpoint of that level. Thanks to the game's frustrating difficulty, just getting through the first level feels like an accomplishment, and it only gets harder from there.
There are two main game modes in Hard Corps: Uprising. The first is Arcade mode, which is just as it sounds: you jump into the game and play it with a pre-defined set of abilities. None of the things you can buy in the game's Shop will have any effect here. The second mode is Rising mode. This mode starts you off with a very basic set of attributes, and it's up to you to build on them. Both of these modes can be played with either one or two players, locally or online. If you are playing Rising Mode, you will be able to upgrade your characters' abilities by spending the points you earn during the levels in the game's shop. Here you will be able to upgrade your weapons, purchase new abilities, upgrade your health and lives, and generally help level the playing field.
Why Should I Spend My Time And Money?
Hard Corps: Uprising does the side scrolling run-and-gun style of gameplay as well as any of its predecessors. The basic formula of running and shooting everything on the screen remains basically unchanged, but the game adds in several new mechanics to spice things up. You are now able to double jump, dash, strafe forward and backwards, and shoot in any direction while standing still. The game's controls are sharp and responsive, though there will be a noticeable learning curve when you first pick up the game. The controls might have been simplified a bit, but they are not bad as they are. What is a bit annoying is the speed of your character in relation to your enemies. To put it bluntly, you are quite slow, and they run around like they're on speed. You can use the dash to compensate somewhat, but the speed of your character can become a problem when you're trying to turn around quickly to shoot a soldier that's running up behind you.
The more you play the game, the easier it will get. You'll certainly get better by memorizing the level patterns, but as you play you'll earn more continues and more points which you can use to upgrade your characters. With the game throwing four or five bosses at you per level, it's nice to know that you're always building credits and that will keep you striving to do better, getting a little bit further each time until you can finally blitz the levels with barely an effort since you've learned them so well.
If you are someone who wants a game that will challenge their old-school gaming skills, as cliched as that sounds, then Hard Corps: Uprising is definitely for you. It's a game that is initially punishing, but ultimately satisfying. After all these years, it's really good to see a Contra game that has turned out this well. Shame it's not using the Contra name though.