|System: Xbox 360|
|Dev: Arc System Works|
|Release: February 16, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Robert VerBruggen
For hardcore -- or Hard Corps -- fans of the series, the resurgence of Contra is long overdue. After a great run on the NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis, the franchise laid low for a while as the world of videogames went three-dimensional. It wasn't until recently that developers started making decent Contra games again, such as the 2009 WiiWare hit Contra: ReBirth.
And now Arc System Works gives us Hard Corps: Uprising, a sequel to1994's Genesis classic Contra: Hard Corps and a true Contra game in all but name. It is everything longtime fans are looking for, though newcomers to the series will be put off by its old-school feel and insanely high difficulty.
It's interesting how Arc updated the game without changing the basics. You still run through a set of 2D side-scrolling levels, laying waste to everything in sight with your machine gun, collecting powerups that make your weapon more useful, and taking on humongous bosses in multi-phased fights. Each screen is a carefully constructed maze of bullet hell, with enemies coming from everywhere at once. You'll have to memorize the best way to get through each level, and this usually requires lots of precise ducking and jumping around bad guys and projectiles. Individually, the non-boss enemies are mechanical and stupid -- their patterns of walking and shooting are remarkably simple -- but taken as a whole, they present a daunting challenge. Two-player co-op (local or online) is available if you can't handle them all yourself.
The controls, however, have seen a few tweaks. Most importantly, you can now double jump, dash, and deflect bullets by timing a button press correctly. These features make you a bit more nimble and the game slightly faster and more modern, though the overall clunky responsiveness of the controls is more in line with the older games in the series. From time to time, you will fail to spin around fast enough to shoot the guy approaching from behind you, even though you swear you hit the button in plenty of time. And that's fine if you like that punitive, old-school feel.
Our one complaint about the controls is that we'd have liked the option to use a two-joystick setup, with the left joystick used for movement and the right one for shooting. With the default setup here, the left joystick controls both functions, so you have to use the trigger buttons to separate them, which is awkward. The right trigger makes you stand still, allowing you to shoot at an upward or downward angle without walking at the same time; the left trigger locks the direction your gun is pointed, allowing you to move in other directions while you're shooting. The Contra-like (but rather easy) indie game Weapon of Choice employed the dual-joystick setup, with jumping mapped to a trigger button, and it worked quite well.
There's also a new game mode, called Rising. Unlike Arcade mode, which plays like classic Contra -- no saving, no health bar -- Rising lets you take a few hits before losing a life and saves your progress after each stage. In addition, the points you earn in Rising mode can be used to purchase various upgrades to your health and weapons (for example, the Spread powerup can always start at Level 2, which fires more bullets). These make the game a little bit like an RPG; the more you grind, the more you improve your character. Fortunately, you don't lose points when you hit the Game Over screen, and the upgrades are reasonably cheap to purchase, so troublesome levels get easier the more you try them.