By Josh Speer / September 15th, 2019
There’s something you should know about me starting out – I’ve been a Contra fan for many, many years. For me, it all started with Contra III: The Alien Wars. I had a friend who owned it, and after school we would enjoy long co-op play sessions. Though we were pretty wretched at it, and notably kept losing to a certain mini-boss with spikes and armored tentacles, it didn’t hurt our enjoyment of this pulse pounding game. Years later, I tried picking up the earlier games, and mostly got my butt handed to me. Things didn’t really start to click until I got Contra: Shattered Soldier. I wasn’t any better at it initially, but when another gamer told me how hard it was and that nobody could beat it, I got inspired to prove him wrong. So I started playing and memorizing the attack patterns of the bosses and beat the game on Normal. Then I discovered there was another ending on Hard, so I did the unthinkable and beat it on that difficulty. And PTSD flashbacks of a certain sperm boss aside, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Suddenly I understood the Contra contract, and what the series expected of fans. Then I got Contra 4 on DS, and saw how truly challenging this series could be.
My point is, I’ve come a long way with the Contra series. While I haven’t played every game in the series yet, I fully intend to rectify that mistake with Contra Anniversary Collection. But in the meantime, I was very curious about the latest title in the series. Which is why I had to try the demo for Contra: Rogue Corps. Even after I saw the initial trailer at E3, I knew this would be a different sort of Contra game. It instantly eschewed the 2D side scrolling approach, seemingly borrowing the top down style from Contra: Legacy of War. Before you all get worried, I mostly have positive things to say about this demo, as opposed to that inspiration material.
The demo for Contra: Rogue Corps starts with our cybernetic hero Kaiser landing in a war zone and damaging his weapon. I’ll be frank, at first I was worried this game was NOT a true Contra game. Reason being, at first all you can do is fire homing missiles, and have no access to rapid fire options. Since Contra is all about running and gunning, this worried me, but thankfully it was just a gimmick to show off different firing options. Eventually your gun starts working properly, which lets you switch between your homing missiles and machine gun at will. A new mechanic to keep you from being overpowered is the overheat function. If you hold down the fire button for too long, firing an endless stream of bullets or missiles, your gun will overheat, and need to cool down before you can use it again. Thankfully you can get around this by switching to your alternate fire, and the machine gun takes far longer to overheat.
Eventually the demo teaches you how to jump over obstacles, as well as how your homing missiles can hit enemies at a higher elevation than you. Though the game is somewhat slower paced due to the 3D top-down emphasis, it’s also far from a cakewalk. When hordes of foes appear, they come fast and hot, and can quickly overwhelm you. Luckily, you have a new trick at your disposal that really evens things out – a dashing dodge move. This makes you temporarily invulnerable from harm, which is very handy when zombie grunts and robots are up in your grill. I would also occasionally do a sort of fatality attack randomly, hurling foes into the screen or prompting button inputs. Oh and if you really feel overwhelmed, you can use a missile special, which has Kaiser leap into orbit holding onto a missile and then crash land into the screen, like some sort of new age Dr. Strangelove.
Once the demo let me try all the tricks at my disposal, I really enjoyed the combat. You get gated in areas and need to kill everything to proceed. You’ll also find health containers, extra missiles and temporary weapon changes like Spreadshot as you wander about, though I wasn’t a huge fan of the forced camera perspective. Mostly because it was set in such a way as to show a broad view of the action, which often meant I wasn’t sure what I was killing. I could make out the general frame and color of enemies, but missed out on intricate details. I would have given anything to be able to at least rotate the camera, but hopefully the game will have a bestiary to show detailed images of all the nasties in the game. The foes I had less trouble discerning were the larger ones, such as massive gooey mouths that erupted from the ground and the bloated boss fight.
One way that Rogue Corps both feels different and predictable at the same time is the dialogue. Usually you don’t play Contra games expecting much, if any, conversation. After all, this whole series is a love letter to the musclebound 90’s energy of things like Rambo and Terminator. Those heroes kill things first, talk later. In this game, you have someone talking to you as you play, using lots of random foul language. In a weird way, this reminded me of another Konami series, Metal Gear Solid. Regardless, this sort of uncouth silliness somehow felt perfectly faithful to Contra, so I didn’t really mind it, even if I don’t feel it added much to the experience.
After I beat the bloated, toxin spewing boss fight in the demo, a giant metal skeleton, much like the one in Contra III, smashed his way onto the screen. I thought it was time for the real fight, but sadly the demo ended with a To Be Continued right as the behemoth geared up to smash my head in with a train. While I would have loved to fight that monster, I admit that’s smart marketing from the folks at Konami. Also smart, after the demo ends a quick trailer shows off other features in the full game, such as all the playable characters, including my personal favorite Hungry Beast. There’s also mention of weapon customization, which I found fascinating conceptually, but want to know much more about.
Overall I do feel Rogue Corps is an authentic Contra experience, despite some questionable graphical choices. Once things started clicking, I really enjoyed the demo, and my only complaints were that I didn’t get to fight the skeletal behemoth and that there’s nothing to do differently after you beat the demo. Other games have occasionally had new content unlock in their demos, and as a fan of Contra, I was hoping for something similar here. But I think fans of the series will have a lot to enjoy when Contra: Rogue Corps releases for all major consoles and PC later this month. I’ll eagerly be playing it on my Nintendo Switch, reveling in all the 90’s machismo and silliness.
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