If you were to look at Hard Corps: Uprising at a glance, it might not be immediately noticeable that this is, in fact, a successor to Contra. You might be fooled by the gorgeously crafted anime sprites and 3D backgrounds and find yourself thinking this is just some pretty knock-off of one of many sidescrolling shooters of old. You’d be wrong — Hard Corps: Uprising is Contra through and through, but with a fresh visual style and quite a few interesting, well-executed new ideas that enhance that classic Contra experience. In fact, just about the only thing you’ll be missing from Contra is the name. And yes, that means this game is tough.
Fortunately, Hard Corps: Uprising features a mode called “Rising” that makes it a bit easier on weaklings such as myself. Rising allows you to level up your character of choice with health boosts, additional lives and even additional character abilities such as dodge, reflect and ambush. Rising does a whole lot of good towards adding to the classic Contra formula. Even if the legions of baddies walk right over you and drain you of your last continue, you’ll still get a reward for your efforts by way of of points to redeem towards upgrades. Contra purists may be put off by the relatively easier difficulty of Rising, but for them, there’s Arcade mode.
Arcade mode gives you a set of abilities, two lives, two health bars, a couple of continues, any weapon power ups you manage to find and leaves you to fend for yourself. Any perceived hand-holding that Rising provides is gone, and it’s all of the fun (and pain) of classic Contra with the addition of a few abilities at your disposal. These abilities require fairly strict precision to pull off successfully, but when you’re able to dash behind an enemy, shoot him in the back for the kill and then reflect a bullet fired at you from a higher platform, you can’t help but feel like a badass. There’s plenty of adrenaline rushes such as that to be had once you get a feel for the game, but there’s also quite a few moments where Hard Corps: Uprising insists on being a buzzkill.
The game’s highly varied stages are, for the most part, wildly different from one another in terms of aesthetics, gimmicks and general feel, but they all share one thing in common: painfully cheap deaths. This isn’t exactly new to the Contra series, but it being familiar doesn’t make it any less frustrating. Fortunately, these cheap deaths generally only stem from frustrating enemy placements; the bosses and minibosses provide a mostly fair challenge with each one feeling unique. The “cheap” challenge is something that Contra purists — and masochists — will likely welcome with open arms, but for the rest of us, it can be fairly off-putting at times. Provided you’re playing the Rising mode, you’ll at least get some return out of your countless deaths.
Cheap deaths aside, you can’t help but have a blast the whole way through Hard Corps: Uprising. The varied stages keep things fresh the whole way through, the action is mostly true to the Contra formula, and if you choose to play co-op with a friend — locally or online — you’ll find the experience to be even better. I wasn’t able to get into a game of online co-op, but I found local co-op to be an absolute blast to play through, especially considering how much more manageable having a second player makes each stage. If you’re not the co-op type, you’ll still find there’s a lot of fun to be had playing it solo.
Overall, Arc System Works did a stunning job of taking Contra, dropping in a few gameplay mechanics, drastically altering the visual style and tone and yet still managing to maintain that classic Contra feel. If you’re a fan of Contra or sidescrolling shooters in general, you’ll find Hard Corps: Uprising to be a solid, faithful title that will last you a good 5-6 hours. It may feel a bit cheap at times, but the action is so fun and the RPG-like elements of the Rising mode are so addictive that it’s easy to forgive the game as it relentlessly abuses you over and over. Hard Corps: Uprising is very much worth the $15 price tag.
Score: 9/10 – Wonderful
Review based on the Xbox Live Arcade release.
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