For anyone who grew up gaming in the 80s and early 90s, the original Contra is fondly remembered. Even gamers who never owned this classic shooter are no doubt aware on some level of the legendary Konami Code that gained cult status through its inclusion in the game. Although most franchises from that era are drastically different today, Konami has kept the blueprint of running and gunning through brutally difficult legions of foes largely in tact. While other long-running series have eased up over the years, Contra has continued to provide those seeking an imposing challenge exactly what they want. Sticking to the established parameters has worked just fine for this line of shooters, and I can’t imagine it retaining its appeal through drastic overhauls.
Hard Corps: Uprising is not a proper entry into the franchise, but is instead described as a sort of spiritual prequel to Contra: Hard Corps. Developer Arc System Works has covered the familiar up with a new coat of paint in the form of anime looking character designs. Uprising otherwise feels quite familiar in that it has plenty of exciting action and punishing difficulty to go around. The game even casts former Contra bad guy Colonel Bahamut in the lead role as the hero of a resistance movement with its sights set on taking down a vicious empire known as The Commonwealth. Joining him is Kristal, a one-eyed woman who instantly transforms from victim to bad ass when she picks up an over-sized gun to defend her village.
The Commonwealth is lead by a man named Tiberius whom Bahamut formerly served as a soldier in his army. The opening cut-scene makes it clear that the militant organization is an evil that must be overthrown by the rebels. That’s where you come in. As a one (or two in cooperative mode) person wrecking crew, it is your responsibility to utilize the most destructive firepower you can get your hands on and blast your way to victory. Other bits of story are relayed via text between each level. Essentially however, gamers just need to shoot as many baddies as possible while avoiding being shot themselves. A task which is certainly easier said than done.
This is especially true in the game’s Arcade mode, which will prove to be great fun for masochists. In all seriousness, Arcade’s inclusion is meant to entice hardcore fans of classic run and gun titles. This game type should be approached with extreme caution; your lives are strictly limited, enemies are fiercely aggressive and the upgrades found in Uprising’s other mode (more on that shortly) are nowhere to be found. Reaching the end credits in Arcade will require lightning quick reflexes and hours of practice to familiarize yourself with each level’s challenges.
For those of us who would undoubtedly break our controllers if forced to only play the game only in that mode, there is Rising. The most significant difference here is the ability to purchase new abilities with money earned by building up a combo meter and mowing down baddies. Make no mistake, Rising is not what I would call easy. It’s still designed to kick your ass now and again and force you to purchase health upgrades and memorize boss patterns in order to get through even the early levels.
Speaking of bosses, there are plenty of them on hand here. You’ll encounter everything from the fan favorite laser blasting fortresses to humongous flying robots with multiple forms. With nothing but the standard rifle equipped, these encounters will seem borderline impossible. Eventually though, you’ll figure out how to get by them if you keep at it. Having weapons like the machine gun, spread gun or incredibly useful homing laser in your arsenal doesn’t hurt either. The game allows you to carry two guns at once and it’s never a bad idea to conserve a power weapon in your secondary slot for use on the next boss fight, which is never too far away.
The one area in which Hard Corps: Uprising does really branch out on its own is the art design. The anime looking visuals that Arc System Works has introduced in this game are a great change of pace from the more realistic and gritty road the series had previously explored. I’m not exactly the biggest anime fan around, but even I can’t deny that Uprising looks fantastic in motion. The boss art particularly stands out as both beautiful and original.
This gorgeous and challenging XBLA (and future PSN) title is a welcome addition to the Contra extended family. Anyone looking for a simple futuristic shooter that you can mindlessly blast your way through might want to look elsewhere. For the rest of us however, Hard Corps: Uprising provides a highly addictive run and gun experience that should not be missed.