Contra: Rogue Corps
Developed By: Toylogic
Published By: Konami
Category: Run-And-Gun / SHMUP
Release Date: 09.24.2019
Contra: Rogue Corps is a run-and-gun style shoot ‘em up that takes many of the original conventions from the 1987 arcade classic and adds on some modern mechanics to make for an interesting combination of systems and genre. Contra is a name synonymous with retro gaming and has been long dormant — is this the revival that the series needed? I would say Konami should have let this one brew a bit longer.
Arcade titles are generally pretty lax on story, and this one is no different. Basically, there is an alien invasion taking place and this ragtag group of heroes is tasked with taking them on. Beyond the little intricacies in each character’s personal story arc that about sums up the game from start to finish. To be fair, you shouldn’t be looking for story in games like this as that isn’t the draw. They just need a simple reason to get the setting started. This game is about high-flying action and killing aliens; rinse and repeat.
Although this game isn’t a pure arcade title it does offer a lot of the same ideas. Being a series that was born out of that era you have to imagine they would hold some of the basic elements through to this reboot. You have pretty simple gameplay that consists of mowing through hordes of enemies racking up a score while completing each level. From there they add on some additional systems that make things a little more interesting than your basic Contra.
To start, you can play one of four wacky characters with varying abilities. You have your traditional buffed out human character, a turncoat alien, a walking-talking panda, and a woman with a demon inside her stomach. The story behind each is a pretty mixed bag, but let’s just go forward without thinking too hard about how these guys got here. Each character has a unique ability that sets them apart, like the panda’s turret party or the alien’s black hole. These can be combined with weapons or teammates abilities to make for some good tag team fighting. Beyond that there isn’t much of a distinction between them. Weapons can be used by any of the characters; no classes to hold you back. This was a bit of a bummer to be honest as the characters are so vastly different in how they look and act that it would have been nice to have a deep system for weapons where certain characters used certain things in order to encourage playing other characters. With the current system you can pretty much just choose which initial ability you like and stick with that character regardless of the random drops you get, which feels very non-Contra. A lack of gun depth in a game purely about “shooting them up” seems like an odd omission as well. Don’t get me wrong, there is a decent bit of gun variation, but overall I felt disappointed.
The level structure for each mission pretty much mimics itself with very little left to the imagination. You run through some destroyed city streets, killing the random alien enemies, until you reach the end where you have a boss battle of some kind. This is how practically every mission starts and ends with a serious lack of depth. The way the game is set up just oozes monotony. You just have to pump through the cannon fodder and then take down the tedious bullet sponge at the end. The only variation was an occasional Indiana Jones-esque rock rolling avoidance level and a horde mode that took the place of the boss battle, with several waves of enemies came at you. This matches up with the basics of arcade gameplay but doesn’t feel right in this modern setting. With how deep of systems they created you would think they would have come up with a better formula to put the stats, weapon upgrades, and transplant systems to use.
Once you get through these missions you end up back at the base camp where you can make changes and upgrades to your characters. There is a transplant system that allows you to get upgraded eyes, rib cages, and the like in order to increase your base stats for damage, dodge, etc. You also have a deep weapon creation and upgrade system that allows you to take the random parts and pieces you gather during missions and put them to use. Basically, you just need to spend a certain value in parts to get the gun you are looking to make, but the parts you use also boost the stats of the gun you are making so there is some thought that you have to put into it besides just dragging and dropping parts. If you wish to just have the game decide for you though you can with a simple click, which was nice considering how dense this portion of the game is. It really boggles my mind that they took such a cookie cutter experience in the actual gameplay and paired it with a complex set of stats for you to manage. Each character has their own stats and upgrades for you to take care of, as well as their individual gun loadouts and the stats the guns have. Guns and characters each have a long set of stats that would make Skyrim blush. Most of the time I was left dazed and confused in those portions, just trying to get whatever looks like it has the best stats onto my character before popping into the next wood chipper.
After stumbling through the single-player campaign you have some options for longevity. The game offers a few types of multiplayer modes that include a 4-player co-op where you can play through the campaign as a team and some other multiplayer functionality as well. I would say the best case scenario for you playing this game would be if you could get a friend or two to play through the main game with you, as this made things more doable, and allowed for some fun banter with friends to take out some of the tedium. Beyond that what you see is what you get. There isn’t much divergence from the formula, so if this sounds up your alley than you will have plenty of it.
Graphically the game definitely suffers from the Switch downgrades. Performance is fine, but the game is pretty grainy and blurry. They definitely had to do a chop job to the original version in order to get it running on the Switch. Although is isn’t a pretty game, it isn’t offensive, it just doesn’t offer much. You have underutilized levels and characters that make the monotony a little more blah, as a whole. The word of the day is disappointing, and this title uses that word a lot.
Contra: Rogue Corps does a decent job at taking a shot at bringing back a series that has been missed for years. I have to say though I am surprised they tried to make a gritty modern version of this tacky formula when you have titles like Sonic Mania coming out that create a new version of the old and do it swimmingly. A Contra reboot in those terms probably would have sold well to the nostalgic audience that is looking for it, but I am not sure who this game is for. It goes away from the original enough to look like its own thing, while not offering very much polish to enhance the experience. This game will likely be a disappointment to fans of the series, while not offering much to look forward to for people outside of that wheelhouse.
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*The Switch Effect was provided a code for this game*