Although not being referred to outright as a Contra game, it only takes a few seconds of Hard Corps Uprising to discover that although Contra may not be there in name, it is absolutely there in spirit.
Stop me if this sounds familiar. You select a character and then run from left to right, blasting everything in your path. You can get new weapons and upgrades by shooting floating containers that drop power-ups. You can team up with a second player and on more than one occasion, you fight a wall that shoots guns and lasers. Yes, I know, it sounds just like Rockin’ Kats on NES am I right?! Oh you said Contra? I suppose that works too yes. There are some changes such as the implementation of a Dash feature and a run button, but if you were afraid this would not stay true to the Contra games you know and love, rest assured that the core experience is very much in tact.
The most jarring change is that Uprising looks like no other Contra game. It features a bright, anime-like style that was a touch jarring at first, but quickly won me over. All of the character animation is smooth and despite all the on-screen activity, the frame rate never drops. The most impressive visuals are the levels themselves. Each environment is unique and detailed and often you just want to stop and admire them. Of course this is rarely possible since you are constantly struggling to not be killed by the constant flood of enemies each level throws at you.
True to Contra form, Hard Corps Uprising is a very challenging game, almost to a fault. There is no difficulty setting or 30 lives code here. The game isn’t going to help you be better at it. In order to conquer it, you’re going to have to replay and replay the same levels to get all of the enemy locations and patterns down. That will either not bother you in the slightest, or single-handedly ruin the entire experience for you.
There are two primary game modes in Uprising, Arcade Mode and Rising Mode. Arcade is where the true challenge lies. You are given preset abilities, 3 lives, and depending on which of the two characters you choose, a health bar containing either two or three slots. Lose your three lives, you use a continue and it’s back to the previous checkpoint, which for the most part are reasonably spaced out so at least you don’t have to repeat the full level. Of course once that last continue is gone, it’s back to the very beginning. The option to jump ahead to the level where you died does not exist. It’s start from stage one or nothing.
The idea of replaying the early stages of a game over and over in order to make it to the later ones is certainly not a new concept. Maybe I simply don’t have the patience that I once had, but the idea of doing it here was not all that appealing to me. Don’t get me wrong; the game is a lot of fun. It controls well and the shooting is immensely satisfying. However I can only play the first level of a game so many times before I never want to lay eyes on it ever again.
If you have absolutely no qualms about playing a level repeatedly until you have it mastered, then don’t let my reaction sway you. As I said the game is fun, which at least helps make it less of a slog. However if this idea puts you off, then don’t worry too much because Rising Mode has you covered.
The biggest difference with Rising Mode is that as you play, you unlock CP that can be used as currency in the main menu shop. Here you can purchase new moves, weapon upgrades and perhaps most importantly, extra lives and health bar slots. You also earn CP rather quickly. After only beating one stage I had enough to up my lives count pretty significantly. On top of all that, you can select the stage you last played so there’s no need to start from the very beginning in each session. Rising Mode is certainly a welcome feature since it allows those with perhaps less skill or patience to see more of the game.
I imagine even the truly hardcore players are going to have difficulty with the achievements/trophies in Uprising. You have a handful of reasonable ones such as beating stage 1 in arcade mode, or killing 10 or more enemies, which you will unlock in a matter of seconds. You’ll be able to earn about 20 achievement points with relative ease. The others however, make me want to weep even thinking about making an attempt for them. Beat each stage without weapon upgrades, beat the game having killed 50 or fewer Privates, or the most terrifying of all, beat each stage without dying. That’s going to be a huge time sink for 30 achievement points. That one joins the ranks of the achievements someone can be insanely proud to have. Anyone who has that achievement should be able to show someone his or her gamer card and immediately get laid.
If you are looking for an arcade experience that captures that classic Contra spirit, Hards Corps Uprising will definitely scratch that itch. It looks great and it plays great. However it is also punishingly difficult, especially if you’re looking to conquer Arcade Mode. High difficulty certainly does not make this a bad game, but it might make it one that you turn your back on as a result. You have been warned.