Platform: XBLA | Get Demo/Buy | PSN Version TBA
Developer: Arc System Works
Contra has stood the test of time as a beautiful and brutal arcade Shoot 'Em Up, and Konami have finally addressed the demand for a new addition to the series. As a spiritual sequel to Contra: Hard Corps, Uprising takes the familiar formula that we know and love and thoroughly updates it for a new generation of gamers and veteran fans alike. (Un)Fortunately, its gruelling difficulty has also made it through the transition.
The campaign is rampantly, raucously inventive and delights in taking players out of their run and gun comfort zone at every opportunity. Over the course of its eight stages, you'll duel a spider mech on a futuristic motorbike, leap on exploding missiles in the depths of space and face off against a ridiculous submarine on a river cruise to name but a few standout moments. In terms of pure creativity and unpredictability, it puts even the Metal Slug series to shame.
Naturally though, Hard Corps: Uprising's recipe still comprises one part running to three parts gunning, and the majority of the action stays true to its old-school roots. Slick 8-way controls, double jumps, dashes and a staggeringly useful crouch make navigating platforms and weaving through fire as responsive as possible; though I'd personally recommend using the D-Pad for added precision. A familiar outfit of weaponry (including a powerful machine gun, grenade launcher and the fan-favourite Spread Shot) lets you cut a swathe through the grunts, turrets and badass troopers that descend upon your character from all sides. The gameplay is brutally hectic, fantastically fun and an absolute riot when played with a friend.
Right then. This is where we separate the men from the boys. The original Contra: Hard Corps is revered for being rock hard as well as just being good, and Uprising is quite literally the most difficult game to have released in recent years. As well as an overwhelming amount of incoming fire, players also have to deal with split-second platforming and some astoundingly cheap obstacles. To put this in perspective, I have to admit that I was unable to complete even the opening level on my first attempt. The campaign isn't merely tricky; it's absolutely implacable and requires a level of skill, pattern recognition and reflexes that will simply demand too much from even experienced veterans.
Go play the demo if you don't believe me. You have been warned.
In fairness, the core level of difficulty is entirely appropriate for a spiritual Contra sequel, and I'm loathe to mark the game down for providing the stiff challenge that established fans expect from the series. Finally overcoming your own limitations and beating tough levels is the main objective of these games, after all. However, an unnecessarily harsh checkpoint system provides the primary hurdle to progression and eventually the fun.
Rather than choosing between lives or checkpoints, Uprising decides to implement both; meaning that dying boots you halfway back across the level rather than picking up where you left off. Each stage only contains a couple of checkpoint locations- and will cause most players to embed their controllers within cavity walls out of sheer frustration. Since most arcade shooters continue instantly when you run out of lives (so long as you have some continues under your belt), it's a crying shame that Uprising doesn't follow the same convention. It's a genuine gamebreaker.
Don't despair, though. Hard Corps: Uprising may be all kinds of difficult, but it also packs a nifty ace up its sleeve that makes the experience more addictive and rewarding than many of its ilk. I recently criticised Deathsmiles Deluxe for failing to adequately reward players for their hard work, and in contrast, the new Rising Mode turns every cheap death and humiliating failure into a minor victory. Each and every point you earn becomes persistent virtual currency that can be used to purchase character upgrades, extra continues, beefier life bars and a selection of perks. Every subsequent abortive foray allows you to progress further and further into the game, replacing aggravation with addiction. The Arcade Mode allows hardened SHMUP veterans to play the campaign as intended, with both modes providing options for skilled players of all tastes.
But there's still no getting past those checkpoints.
Visually, Hard Corps: Uprising stands out from the pack thanks to a mix of traditional sprites and cell shaded anime-style graphics. It's a joy to behold, though the same can't be said of the sound design that relies on horrendous stock clips and generic repetitive music.
- Joyously inventive campaign
- Rising Mode is incredible
- Attractive visuals
- Outrageously punitive checkpoints break the game
- Horrible sound design
- Arguably too difficult for the majority of gamers
The Short Version: Hard Corps: Uprising is a hectic and innovative shooter that delivers massive thrills and a stern challenge. Unfortunately the inconsiderate checkpoint system and implacable difficulty curve relegates it to being a capable niche curiosity rather than an essential purchase.