For more than 20 years, Contra has been a staple of classic gaming worldwide. From its original, painfully difficult roots, the series has grown and evolved into different entities over time, with slight gameplay changes introduced to keep things fresh. Hard Corps: Uprising, while not a member of the Contra family in title, is a spiritual relative of the esteemed franchise. That said, The style and play nuances of Hard Corps: Uprising is as drastic a departure from the series as the name change is. Does it get past the heavily armed and fortified one-eyed wall, or does it mistime its leap and plunge into a bottomless pit of mediocrity?
Hard Corps: Uprising has you choose between two soldiers, Bahamut and Krystal, who fight for Resistance forces against the antagonistic Commonwealth, oppressive rulers of the world circa the year 2613. The war hero Bahamut (whose name may ring a bell to players of Contra: Hard Corps) was formerly a member of the Commonwealth who's grown tired of their relentless ways. He has banded with an elite squad of Resistance fighters to strike the Commonwealth at its heart and end their tyranny once and for all.
Note: The intro cinematic shows four main characters, the other two of which are available as DLC for 200 MSP ($2.50) a piece. A cash grab no doubt, especially considering that these characters were meant to be in the story from the get go, but fans of deep difficulty will love Saiyuri and her melee-only combat.
Call Hard Corps: Uprising whatever you'd like, the fact remains that this is Contra, and it is extremely hardcore. What is a Contra game without its difficulty? I'm sure it's still fun, but the frustration of fighting through scores of enemies and bosses, and the satisfaction of completing the task after 15 attempts is second to none. Suffering through life after life and continue after continue feels well worth it after you've completed a stage.
There are two primary game types; Arcade, which is your typical limited life and limited continues affair , as well as Rising Mode, where you're able to upgrade and customize your soldier to your heart's content. Rising Mode is the more rewarding of the two in my eyes, as fighting through the painful challenge is rewarded by CP, which can be spent in the store to buy new abilities. Want more lives? Want to shoot faster? Want weapon pods to drop stronger weapons? Want to reflect bullets back at the enemy? You can buy those abilities, and much more, to make traversing the world of Hard Corps a little less frustrating. Of course if you're a masochist, go right ahead and try to get through arcade mode. You won't be rewarded with anything, but you'll get major geek cred. Props, son.
To plow through Commonwealth fodder, you're equipped with a cache of weapons (if you're lucky enough to catch a fallen weapons pod), some of which may be familiar to Contra pros, such as the Spread shot and Crash shot. A few guns may have appeared in earlier series entries, but looked totally new to me such as the Ripple shot and Heated Plasma shot. The weapons are fun to blast away with and each have their pros and cons. You can hold up to two at a time, and they can be powered up to three levels of strength by stacking pick-ups. Of course, once you get hit you lose your active weapon, so be careful!
Multiplayer can be played with anyone around the globe, regardless of region. You can play both Arcade and Rising modes with your globe trekking buddy, no problem. Hard Corps is better played in a pair it seems, as the old adage goes, two spread guns are better than one. Unfortunately if Rising mode is your thing, and you randomly found a wicked partner to slay with, you have to quit out of the game and back to the title to upgrade your character -- a bit of an annoyance.
The art of Hard Corps: Uprising may be one of the biggest departures for the Contra series. It is decidedly anime inspired instead of Contra's typical 80's action hero look, and completely oozes the Arc System Works style. No complaints from me! The character designs and animations are lovingly tended to, as we now should except from Arc.
The enemies don't feel very much like the ilk thrown against Bill and Lance, but it's no big deal. While I deposit carefully placed heated plasma shots into their chest cavities, I can't help but think how much the enemy design reminds me of that in the Guardian Heroes series, and that's a win. Bosses are massive, and fully 3D rendered for the most part, allowing them to transform beautifully in real time under dynamic camera angles, most often into a stronger opponent. Damn!
Another mark of Arc System Works is the borderline cheesy but fucking metal soundtrack, complete with cuts hearkening back to original Contra soundtrack. Enter the Konami code during the first stage's load and you'll be treated to a metal remix of the original jungle stage theme that has become a chiptune classic.
Unfortunately, the same attention wasn't paid to the sound effects, which have no bass, no life, and feel completely detached. Bummer. Also, for a title with such strong roots in Japanese style, where the hell is the Japanese voice option? The English voice acting is pretty atrocious, having a secondary option would have been clutch.
I was a little disappointed at first with Hard Corps: Uprising, but the more I played it, the more I realized this game fucking rocks. The steep challenge -- and resulting satisfaction -- is not only a homage to classic run-and-gun Contra, but also a hidden gem in today's casual and social game market. The entry fee of 1200 MS Points ($15) is a small price to pay for the hours of blissful stress fans of the genre, and original series, will no doubt find within.