As much as I love the first and third iterations of the franchise, Contra as a whole has way more misses than hits. The franchise has struggled to find new ways to freshen up the formula, especially when it haphazardly forayed into 3D. As a spiritual successor to Contra, Hard Corps: Uprising gives the series an anime twist thanks to the handy work of Arc System Works, who are best known for Guilty Gear and BlazBlue.
In Hard Corps: Uprising, you’re one of two freedom fighters facing off against an army of soldiers, robots and other crazy enemy types. There’s a story that’s communicated with text blocks between levels, but experienced Contra players really know the deal here: run right, never stop firing, and dodge everything.
Of course, you have no shortage of guns at your disposal to work with, including the classic spread shot. By collecting multiple power-ups of the same type, you can level-up your gun into a more powerful variant. However, the biggest innovations here are also anime-inspired. Your characters have a number of different evasive maneuvers at their disposal as well, such as a double jump, sprint, and air dash among others. The frantic action and dramatic setpieces force you to make good use of these tools. I think it adds a great new level of nuance to the combat and makes the game more enjoyable overall.
I love how the game looks. The signature Arc System Works anime stylings really make the game pop and actually make a meaningful impact on the gameplay. I generally expect top-notch production from them, though it’s curious why the standard enemy audio is so atrocious. Not only is the acting on grunts and screams poor, but the actual audio fidelity is bad as well. It sounds like all of these enemies voices were recorded on a cassette. I’d like to overlook it, though it’s hard when you hear them grunt all the time. At least the music is awesome, as it starts with a hard anime-rock version of the Contra stage 1 music, then going into more original tunes in the same style.
As with any Contra game, this is unrelentingly difficult. Regardless of the health bar you have, the incremental damage you can take and the health power-ups you can collect, you will die a lot. Making your way through requires a combination of experience and twitch reflexes. I oftentimes died very quickly as I traveled into unfamiliar territory. However, things became easier the second time around because I knew what was ahead. The game is always difficult, though I rarely found the deaths to be cheap. It’s also greatly rewarding successfully make your way through any of its 8 levels since they’re really long (maybe too long in fact).
For masochists, play the arcade mode, where you start out with only three lives and three health bars that don’t level up over time. Also, you can only beat it in one sitting and with only 3 continues. I personally can’t even get past the second level this way. For everyone else, just skip to Rising Mode instead. Here, you can continue your progress from the last unbeaten level at any time. You also get the added benefit of improving your character by buying power-ups from the in-game store with your in-game points. These power-ups range in improved weapons, new evasive maneuvers, more health slots, more lives and other helpful boosts. The challenge is still there and this does introduce a bit of a grinding element to it, though the progression is much more reasonable and the levels are fun to play through multiple times.
Sporting gorgeous graphics, thrilling action and a number of new additions that improve the experience, Hard Corps: Uprising cements itself as the best Contra game since Contra III. Franchise veterans that may be put off by the lack of Contra name in the title need not worry, as this delivers an evolved version of that classic experience. For everyone else who enjoys action games and are willing to fight an uphill battle, you shouldn’t pass on this, either.