February 11, 2011

Review – Hard Corps: Uprising

hard corps uprising contra review
The jury may be out on whether an alias allows a rose to ditch its sickly scent, but I can confirm that Konami’s anime-styled breakaway from the Contra brand doesn’t sacrifice the bullet-points that have come to define the franchise. This uprising begins with heavy guitars and vibrant explosions to paint a scene of idealistic resistance against the forces of old and evil, with characters cut from a familiar cloth of eighties anime memories and mournful war-zones – but Contra’s principles of play are ever present, remixed once again to provide a war opera worthy of the twitching that stirs in fingers left unsatisfied by many modern releases.

The lush palette softens the traditionally gritty edges of Contra’s battlefield, but a merciless spirit wears the pop-shifted aesthetic, and veterans can rest assured that Hard Corps: Uprising is fucking metal.

hard corps uprising contra review
Uprising offers eight sequential stages detailing Krystal and Bahamut’s all-or-nothing attempt to assassinate Tiberius and defeat his oppressive Commonwealth empire. Each stage thematically differs from the next, and familiar scenarios offer desert battles, ruined temples, and hellish train rides on the road toward a climactic showdown with Tiberius.

Chronologically, Uprising takes place in the year 2613, making the release a prequel to Contra Hardcorps on the Sega Genesis, which took place after the alien wars of Contra III on the Super Nintendo in the battle hardened year 2636. More importantly, the Genesis release is the detour Konami has chosen to breakaway from the Contra title in order to provide Uprising fresh ground for exploration.

The important note is that each stage has thematic strength, whether it be a highway bike chase where patrol cars ram your ride and wreckage clutters the road, or the rains that fall in the dense jungle terrain populated with a mix of biological and mechanized opposition. Such backdrops provide space for Contra staples, motorcycle chases and jet board theatrics are constants, and Uprising doesn’t miss opportunities to exploit Contra’s long-running Darwinian deviations to produce a plethora of enemies and no shortage of twists for mid-stage and final boss confrontations. But where other attempts to extend Contra’s life on new hardware have so directly remixed aging staples, Uprising uses its franchise freedom and visual flare as license to continually position the bar higher, finding challenges and patterns certainly steeped in tradition, but also fresher for the willingness to experiment with both pacing and the demands the game places on players.

I hold strong to the idea that everything that has been said has already been said, and that as a species we hope to create some glimmer of the new through augmentation and remixing that which already exists. And yet Uprising feels fresh even with the trappings of the familiar. The game thrashes like a restless soldier, breaking up action sequences that have players jumping from exploding rail-cars and speeding across an aerial battleship with nods to Metal Gear’s iconic stealth infiltration method during a laboratory stage that features a brief escort mission. The experience hasn’t left me feeling like a born again virgin, but a sensation lingers and makes me question whether I’ve ever had it quite like this before.

hard corps uprising contra review
As per Contra expectations, weapon pickups pass-by overhead to be shot down and provide greater fire-power – the regular gun may cause more button mashing than players are accustom to. My time with the game has found the rapid-fire of the machine-gun and the screen filling joy of the spread-shot favored over other choices – rest assured that the spread-shot still makes jumping and firing like a candy ball of death a tasty treat. There’s also a rarely seen laser that finds targets automatically, a charged flamethrower, grenade tosser, and a ripple shot that offer some occasionally key advantages, though rarely enough tactical advantage to justify keeping them in one of the two available weapon slots. Doubling an upgrade by adding a twin pick-up to the same slot increases that weapon’s power, assuming one can ever hold on to any weapon long enough given that taking any damage costs the player whatever special weapon they have armed at the time.

“Replaying Contra always offered opportunities to improve through the memorization of patterns and timing, but Rising mode increases the payoff for the effort by allowing users to purchase advantages that also change the methods they can execute toward that end.”

Uprising arms players with a health bar in addition to extra lives, though it can be deceiving at times since certain characters can drain health quicker than others, and of course falling from moving vehicles or crumbling environments costs an entire life regardless of that status. A standard arcade mode offers the chance to learn patterns and earn your scars by attempting to survive the eight stages with a set level of health and power, ensuring that the infamous difficulty of Contra is always immediately available and giving good cause for inviting a friend along via co-operative play.

But Uprising also offers an RPG element with Rising mode, which allows players an opportunity to invest in the Contra experience more deeply than before. In Rising mode, killing enemies, earning high ranks, and collecting medals on the battlefield offers combat points that can be spent customizing either of the two playable characters. The customization options offer opportunities to increase the amount of health, number of lives and continues, and the power of special weapons players have on an increasingly leveled playing field. The replay value inherently expected from this genre increases, but more importantly, Rising mode offers an entirely new incentive with more immediately visible rewards.

Replaying Contra always offered opportunities to improve through the memorization of patterns and timing, but Rising mode increases the payoff for the effort by allowing users to purchase advantages that also change the methods they can execute toward that end. From the outset Uprising offers the ability to execute a quick dash on the ground or in the air, and through Rising mode players can augment that ability with dodge and tackle techniques as an example, as well as increase their jumping height along with other key advantages that continually empower the player through replay. It’s a simple idea with a big payoff, offering a chance to invest in a side-scrolling shooter in a more significant way, allowing the player new means to naturally evolve from a fresh faced cadet into a bullet-eating veteran.

hard corps uprising contra review
Uprising has no end of mid-level and final bosses featuring patterns of layered complexity that require far more than the one-two punch common in recent releases. Several confrontations require the player to pull bosses apart to reach the core, and in one instance provides a twisted game of ping-pong in a reactor core. Short on scientific data I can instead offer a personal scene from my living-room, where by the second stage I’d gotten off the couch and repositioned myself on the floor, five feet from the television screen, and surviving each subsequent stage by slim margins left me taking deep breathes and releasing a death grip on the controller that spoke to real gaming nostalgia. Enemies display a convincing enthusiasm toward ending the uprising that makes blinking an extreme liability and offers a slap in the face to other digital titles that offer more standard and lackadaisical drones to pad stages.

Given the length of stages, I suspect many players will find complaints in a checkpoint system that often seems unbalanced when forced to use the continue option. The ability to continue at any point in the middle of a stage is a far cry from a franchise the often made players begin at the starting point, but there is a merciless expectation at times that will leave players further back than desired. At the same time, expecting mercy from this type of game would seem to undue the point of playing it at all – though the demands of the final battle might cost you a controller if your given to fits of rage.

More valid complaints owe to character voices that deliver flat one-liners and enemy sounds that fail to take into account just how many times the player will hear them – a light complaint overall, but one that certainly detracts from a soundtrack of heavy rifts complementing the continually rising pace of action on-screen.

hard corps uprising contra review
Uprising’s stunning visuals owe to developer Arc System Works, a company that largely dabbles in the medium of forgotten dreams to create worlds that succeed in realizing new harmony between 2D animated aesthetics and controls that convince the neurons of earnest fluidity – the idea that every subtle element on screen works with the fingers to empower the player forward into a unreal world overflowing with life.

Jungle brush sways in the wind created by machine-gun fire, the dust kicks up from the player’s every footstep, and dozens of similar observations dazzle the eyes against a static backdrop that none the less appears to live and breathe. When the player mashes the fire button, moving forward while dodging waves of enemy soldiers, missiles, lasers, and any number of mechanical monstrosities the mind can fathom, all these details extend an invitation down a rabbit hole to an experience that players become one with to orchestrate the true operatic heights. The significance of every action’s immediate reaction is as much the point of the game as the act of successfully moving forward through the stages.

Achieving this result is no easy task, but Arc’s determination to deliver a title of visual and tactile pleasures is a standout offering that ranks among the best digital distribution has to offer for the jet-set bullet crowd, and one of the precious few titles to merit the increasingly popular fifteen dollar price point.

Arc System Works


Xbox 360 (Xbox LIVE Arcade), PlayStation 3 (PlayStation Network) TBD, (Xbox LIVE Arcade Reviewed)

Singleplayer, Cooperative

Release Date
February 16, 2011 Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network TBD

1200 Microsoft Pts, PSN TBD

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review


  1. Groovy! Sounds good. Can’t wait till it goes on sale! :)

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — February 11, 2011 @ 8:00 pm

  2. I’m with you. $7.50 for this will be great!

    Comment by EdEN — February 11, 2011 @ 8:53 pm

  3. Dude, dig this

    Comment by Jamie Love — February 11, 2011 @ 8:58 pm

  4. October 16?
    I thought it was coming out next week.

    Is it only local coop? or is there online coop?

    Comment by Edgar Doiron — February 13, 2011 @ 6:35 pm

  5. My bad, had the wrong month listed, it is out next week (feb 16th) – also it has both local and online co-op.

    Comment by Jamie Love — February 13, 2011 @ 7:28 pm

  6. It’s still weird how this is Contra… yet without the Contra license. Konami is publishing so what is going on behind the scenes?

    Comment by EdEN — February 14, 2011 @ 5:03 pm

  7. I’d guess that it’s due to the difference in “style” and being that Konami probably doesn’t want to offend the “Contra” fan-base by taking their beloved series (which takes it’s cues from alien/predator) and making it look like an anime. It’s a spinoff so to speak. I’m all for not calling it Contra myself.

    Edit: Which if you search around the web… even if they don’t call it Contra… has Contra fans up in arms…

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — February 14, 2011 @ 7:14 pm

  8. When are fans of anything not up in arms? Bottom line, it’s an awesome game, and one of the first new throwbacks to the oldschool releases that manages to offer new angles while still feeling legit to the nostalgia. If that isn’t enough for some people than I don’t know what they want, and I was there playing it on the NES all the way through to the DS so I’m not coming at it as a tourist. Nothing will likely ever compare to my connection to Contra 3, but that’s just as much because of when and how I played it to death as a kid.

    Comment by Jamie Love — February 14, 2011 @ 7:50 pm

  9. Note: I’m not a huge Contra fan nor am I bothered by the change of style. I was just guessing as to why the name “Contra” wasn’t front and center… and it seems like a reasonable explanation. I’m also not saying it’s not an awesome game, and I’m sure that once I grab it down the line I will probably enjoy it quite well.

    If I had to pick from the series… the original NES Contra would be my pick… followed by Contra 4 (DS) as I never really played the second NES game or the SNES game… I own the PS2 games but have never played them.

    Hope you didn’t take my comment to mean “I” was complaining… as this is one thing I have no complaints about.

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — February 14, 2011 @ 7:59 pm

  10. There were actually three NES games: Contra, Super C and Contra Force. First two you know, third one is a “squad” shooter that allows you to change who you control and each member of the squad has a special ability/weapon.

    Comment by EdEN — February 14, 2011 @ 8:35 pm

  11. Oh heck no, I knew what you meant, I’ve been hearing some of the rumblings too, though not as many as you might get with Sonic the Hedgehog fans.

    You should give shattered soldier on ps2 a spin, I actually thought that was a greatly underrated gem.

    Comment by Jamie Love — February 14, 2011 @ 8:41 pm

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