Contra may just be cursed with forever being this amazing action game that we played on the NES and could cheat our way to 30 lives with the (then) popular Konami code. There have been several follow-up games – some of them focused on the extreme challenge that the series presented, while others gave you a delectable bullet storm and the over the top visuals that’s associated with the series. But none matched the original Contra and Super Contra in popularity.
With Contra: Rogue Corps, there was an opportunity to go beyond the simplistic shooter legacy of the older games and offer a deeper richer experience that belongs in 2019. The good news is Rogue Corps does get some of those things right. The bad news is that it only gets some of those things right.
Contra: Rogue Corps presents you with a post-alien wars world that’s presented in a cutscene that’s as much fun to watch as a PowerPoint presentation. After a brief tutorial, you are presented with an option to play as one of the four highly varied characters from a gang of mercenaries – Kaiser, who’s your typical gun-toting cybernetic action hero from the 90s who only speaks in one liners. There’s Ms. Harakiri who has an alien symbiote in place of her stomach, who needs a good stabbing every now and then to keep him in his place. There’s also an alien in the team who’s referred to as The Gentleman, and finally an angry Panda. Each come with their own combination of primary and secondary weapons as well as perks that separate them slightly from the rest of the team. That said, picking one over the other will not majorly impact your gameplay.
There isn’t much to the core gameplay, as it’s all about shooting just about everyone who moves on your screen. And that too is overly simplified as in most cases the enemy will be coming right at you, just asking to be mowed down. Though you don’t have to worry about running out of ammo, there is a cooldown period that comes with each weapon, so you can’t just go on a nonstop shooting frenzy. As balancing as that is, it can get annoying when your weapon just chokes on you in the middle of a boss fight, which again has the boss coming right at you in most cases. Thankfully there are other options in the form of your secondary weapon, a limited period power-up, and the mass-destructing ultimate move that comes with a mini cutscene of sorts.
The movement again is a bit of a mixed bag here. Your characters have a pretty sluggish movement by default, which needs to be enhanced as you earn more credits in the game. There is Contra’s signature roll jump here, but it’s nowhere as useful or as fun as it was in any of the 2D versions of the game. There is however an interesting dash move that lets you rush through enemies and hazards without losing health. It also renders some enemies stunned so you can do a finisher move, which again comes with a pointlessly long cutscene… every time.
And that’s the issue. If this game was all visuals without the substance, I would at least get the thought process behind the compromise. But graphically, this game is shockingly bad. Running it on a PS4 Pro, the game looked jagged with blurry textures. There’s HDR option turned off by default, and when I manually flipped it on, everything was overly bright and flat on my HDR-compatible display. Even indie games look a lot more visually polished than Contra: Rogue Corps, which is shocking for a game published by a company with such a great legacy.
After each level you can upgrade your characters stats and weapons at the base. This helps with making your character incrementally stronger and improves your movement speed, but the implementation is a bit weak and doesn’t have the same impact as, say getting new loot in an action-RPG.
The fixed camera angle doesn’t necessarily work in your favour
Then there are these terrible gameplay decisions of not allowing the the game to be paused even in single player mode. Sure, you get a break from the action after each level when you return to your base, but a pause system should not be difficult to implement even in coop multiplayer modes now, let alone single player campaigns. Then there’s the fixed camera angle that doesn’t necessarily work in your favour and you’re left guessing who’s dropping bombs at you in areas with multiple height levels.
Contra games have traditionally been over the top and hammy, but have also been gorgeous – pushing hardware boundaries, at least in the initial games. Gameplay has been challenging but there was a learning curve that allowed you to get better with each play. Contra: Rogue Corps is a lot more accessible and incorporates a number of new systems that frankly no one asked for. I’m all for re-defining a franchise, but only if it improves on the things that made the franchise good in the first place. This one feels like a lot of good ideas just mashed together without a proper direction, leading to an end result that’s bound to disappoint almost everyone.