CONTRA. You probably remember it. Get a gun, get a friend who dresses like you, learn to jump by putting your legs over your head and spinning like a gymnast, and start blasting away. Who doesn’t love a 2D side scrolling good time? It’s a franchise that has lots of history, but none of it makes any sense. I don’t really know if that’s true, I haven’t followed the series over the years, but I do know this ; Hard Corps: Uprising on XBLA makes no sense what so ever from a story perspective. Something to do with a world ruling empire, headed by a guy named Tiberius. Whatever, it’s not important. What IS important in a game like this is the actual gameplay. Luckily for sidescrolling action fans, the game plays much like any other contra game (in a good way) but has enough new things going for it that it’s definitely a unique experience.
The game makes quite a first impression in the opening cinematic. Because the plot is non-existent, it makes the minute and a half of total insanity sort of mesmerizing. What the hell is going on? You tell me!
This becomes only marginally more coherent after playing the game, but even out of context some things can be gleaned. The main character is Bahamut, who once worked for the evil empire, but then realized “Wait….EVIL!” and joined the Resistance. He’s the classic anime looking guy in white armor seen in that video. The other playable character is Krystal, a young lady with an eye patch for unexplained reasons, who apparently was just living in her village until it was blown up, so she grabs the nearest gun and becomes a super solider. Now, here comes my first real gripe about this game. Two other characters are shown, Harley (motorcycle guy with crazy hair) and Sayuri (samurai woman with sword). I expected to be able to choose who to play as from these four, but only Bahamut and Krystal are actually playable because the other two characters are day one DLC. While the game has excellent replay value (I’ll get to that) I still feel like a full 1200 MS point game should have included all four of these characters from the start. Also, while Harley plays the same as Bahamut and Krystal, it turns out Sayuri actually uses her sword instead of a gun and plays totally differently! I think of what the recent summer of arcade title Castlevania: Harmony of Despair (my review here) did with different characters having different abilities and feel Hard Corps missed the boat. That game cost the same, had more characters to start with, and they all had different play styles.
What makes this game worth playing is something called Rising Mode. It’s the contra style you know and love, now with experience points! Points are earned for doing levels well, meaning go as fast as you can without getting hit and killing everything in sight. It’s very challenging at first, but as your character earns points and starts to unlock abilities, the early levels become something of a joke. This became very apparent as I played through the game with Tophat. While I only played with him, he took to running some of the levels in single player (points are shared between single player, local, and online, which is nice) and was very shortly MUCH more powerful than me. The character progression really means something, as full auto for guns, speed and jumping boosts for the character, and the ability to purchase additional lives and continues all makes the enemies die faster and the player more resilient. These RPG elements are the meat of the game and even running early levels over again with Tophat was a good time. It’s weird to have level grinding in a 2D sidescrolling shooter, but here it definitely holds interest.
Another enjoyable aspect is the aforementioned nonsensical plot. It’s so ridiculous that it becomes comical. The leap, for me at least, was made when Tophat and I were ordered to rescue a scientist for reasons I’m not sure of. Most importantly, this scientists name was Dr. Geo Mandrake. That is an incredibly bitching name. Google image search yielded an amazing result. This is not how Dr. Geo Mandrake actually looks, but I admit I wish it was. I wouldn’t have even questioned it.
Hard Corps: Uprising is challenging in ways that many games aren’t anymore. And by that I mean both Tophat and I both yelled “BULLSHIT” a fair number of times while playing. One level ends with you having to jump on to a helicopter to avoid certain death. The first time I reached the end of that level, I was unprepared and died, having to restart the level because of that even after having defeated the boss. Speaking of, some bosses when defeated will fall on you or spew flying metal parts, either of which can also kill you. It’s these old school Contraesque touches that bring back memories, and it’s actually kind of fun once one is resigned to dying gruesome deaths. While hurling oneself at Rising mode will eventually yield results as the character becomes more powerful, arcade mode is the home for the purists out there. Limited lives, limited continues, no character progression, this is about as old school as one can get. I would recommend playing through Rising mode enough to beat the game first, as familiarity with the levels is an absolute must to get through arcade mode.
Hard Corps: Uprising is a solid but unspectacular game. Some pretty epic boss battles and even more epic bad heavy metal game music (and I mean that in a good way) are fun, but to me something is missing to make the game truly stand out. If you have been itching some old school style of game play, this is definitely worth a look. Rising mode is the standout here as it makes a real difference as your character earns upgrades. However, if 2D side scrollers were never your thing, this won’t make you a fan of the genre. With a story that actually involves something to care about and some more variety in gameplay, this would have been an excellent game. As it stands, I would recommend it only to the hardcore fans.
Filed under: Games Tagged: | anime inspired, Bahamut, Castlevania Harmony of Despair, Contra, Dr. Geo Mandrake, duck with tophat, Hard Corps: Uprising, Krystal, plot makes no sense, Rising Mode, side scrollers, Spread Gun, XBLA