By Josh Speer / October 23rd, 2019
Besides all that flashiness, you’re much more maneuverable in ROGUE CORPS. Not only can you run around and jump, you can also dodge foes, avoiding damage. The dodge can also be used aggressively to knock foes off balance and dizzy them, as I said earlier. My problem with this mechanic is that once you’ve dizzied a foe, you can pick them up, but there’s usually no reason to. If there’s a handy meat grinder around, toss an enemy in, but it’s not satisfying or effective to toss foes into each other or against walls. There are also sequences called Shooting Galleries, where the camera pans to quasi FPS and you aim your sight with the right stick. While these have the benefit of more clearly displaying the action, they also are cumbersome and frustrating. And they don’t just occur when you’re facing stationary turrets and foes, but in boss fights as well. In fact, the first massive boss fight against an angry metal skeleton, which is teased at the end of the demo, is fought in Shooting Gallery mode. I struggled and struggled with him, doing minimal damage, until I realized I could move forward while in that mode, and once up close and personal, I started to do massive damage. Problem is, it’s not intuitive that you’d be able to move forwards and backwards in a mode that normally forces you to a horizontal plane.
When boss fights don’t involve that mode, I tended to enjoy them more. Sure they are time consuming and more than a bit grindy, often involving waves of lesser foes distracting you as the boss rampages around, but they still were a fun challenge overall. And while it’s true they do overuse the first boss a lot, since he shows up later as a recurring mini boss and even in a upgraded form, there’s some very distinct boss designs here. I loved the giant metal skeleton’s design, as well as the fiery chariot boss. Hell, even the recurring boss is a neat design, looking like some bloated Toxic Revenger. My biggest issue isn’t that the game is ugly, but that the camera angles and magnification often made it hard to make out the visual niceties. Compounding that issue is that the most common grunt in the game, a sort of red fleshy skeleton, is completely generic looking. Which is frustrating, since some of the others are great, like the flying baby heads, the giant mouths that burst from concrete and even the roller skating buzz saw bastards. It’s also frustrating because in general, the CONTRA series is known for fantastic enemy design, be they robotic terrors or organic nightmares.
I liked the idea of weapon and character customization in theory, but in practice it proved more than a little confusing. This is in part because even the game’s internal guides don’t do a great job of explaining what’s required. An example is that whenever you work on an upgrade, it requires not just items to dictate the properties, but curiously also requires a sufficient number of them. This is compounded by referring to these items as B.A.D. (an acronym I don’t recall the game explaining). It’s very confusing, and I still can’t say I fully understand the system several hours in. However, it’s still fun to experiment, and I strongly recommend you use this system. Not only can it make your guns more powerful, it can add new effects such as an increased critical chance or inflicting status ailments. Best of all is you can make it so your weapons fire longer without overheating, and I strongly suggest you invest in that feature. Other than customizing your weapons, you can also put your character in the surgery room and upgrade their body parts. This is pretty similar to weapon customization, other than offering different doctors. Each one has different potential chances to either improve or tweak your stats, and most of them cost cold hard cash. For that reason alone, I mostly stuck with the one doctor that was free, but feel it’s probably best to bite the bullet and risk using one of the others.
Now, I’ve been trying to help showcase the positive aspects of ROGUE CORPS, but I need to spend some time with the messy bits. While I can look past muddy visual effects and grindy mechanics, I can’t ignore the following. One particularly offensive problem is the pause menu. Quite simply, pausing the game doesn’t stop the action. I noticed the enemies kept moving afterwards, and I am pretty sure I’ve taken damage as a result. I understand the missions have time limits, and maybe the developers want to encourage you to watch the clock, but in my mind, pausing means everything has stopped. Taking cheap shots when I’m taking a break is problematic in the extreme. Another problem deals with the aforementioned camera angles. Often these will not properly display everything happening, and more than once an enemy was hidden by the camera angle. I only noticed cause their health bar was visible. I also was annoyed that often the various planes of the battlefield would trap foes in odd places. Considering the game usually gates you in areas until you beat all the enemies, this wasn’t helpful. It was also difficult that sometimes the controls were less precise than I would like. Often I would aim with the right stick and the moment I let go, the gun orientation would shift. And while I did enjoy the boss fights in the game, I almost wish the mega boss fights were structured differently. I would have preferred if ROGUE CORPS took a page from Mechstermination Force, which ironically is based loosely on the earlier CONTRA games. Having large foes that I took down in distinct phases, whittling away their armor and causing new threats to surface, would have been much better than the Shooting Gallery approach. Yes, it shows the bosses better than the standard camera angle, but I just wish the combat was consistently the twin-stick format.
In the end, I still enjoyed CONTRA: ROGUE CORPS. Yes, it’s a hot mess, and many things aren’t properly explained for my tastes, but the core mechanics are fun and work pretty well. Which makes it more of a shame this title was so poorly received. I admire Konami and Toylogic for taking a chance on something different here, even if it didn’t work out perfectly. As a fan of the CONTRA series, I still don’t feel ROGUE CORPS was a traditional experience, but also think it has something to offer fans. Now that playing it has put me in the proper frame of mind, I think I’ll finally start playing my copy of CONTRA Anniversary Collection.
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