Contra is back. But Rogue Corps doesn’t fall back on the series’ tried and tested 2D run ‘n’ gun gameplay. It’s a twin stick shooter with RPG elements, instead.
Many devout Contra fans will no doubt be disappointed with that, and it’s fair. They should go and play Blazing Chrome if they haven’t already to wash those blues away. Those who give Contra: Rogue Corps a go, though, may find it to be very likeable in its own way.
Opening up with a story about a city gone to hell, yadda yadda yadda, Contra: Rogue Corps lets you cause mayhem with four very individual characters. You’ve got your typical gruff male hero, Kaiser; a woman with a demon for a belly, Ms. Harakiri; a robot in the form of a panda, Hungry Beast; and a posh alien, The Gentleman. But who you choose is mainly an aesthetic choice; they all share a core group of abilities, and while they each start with a unique loadout they’re free to equip pretty much anything. The only thing that truly separates them from each other gameplay-wise is a special ability.
Contra: Rogue Corps‘ story mode has you making your way through a considerable number of missions grouped into ranks. Initially only rank one missions are available, but by completing those, rank two missions are opened up and so on. There’s also a small amount of exploration missions to unlock. Compared to story missions, exploration missions are lengthy and challenging. You can make them even harder if you wish, gambling your money for greater rewards. Though that’s not to say that story missions don’t also get tricky as you move up the ranks.
The action is your typical third-person twin-stick shooter fare. You have a primary and a sub-weapon which you can switch between with the push of a button. And your ammo is unlimited, but a heat system means you can’t just hold the fire button down forever – you need to ease off every once in a while unless you’re fine with your weapon overheating, rendering it inoperable for a short while. When situations get out of hand you can use a devastating bomb if you have one, which clears the screen of most enemies, and you also have a handy dash manoeuvre that both lets you get out of the way fast while also damaging the enemies you travel through.
And your combat options don’t end there. Special golden enemies put into a stun stage can be finished off with flashy executions, releasing useful loot and health pickups. Other enemies can be picked up and thrown into environmental hazards such as rotating blades and presses. Explosive barrels also come in handy; you can either shoot them, or pick them up and fling them at your enemies. You even happen upon temporary weapon pickups from time to time, allowing you to decimate enemies with a huge laser, spread fire or a gauss cannon.
And then of course you have your special unique abilities that can be used quite often. Kaiser, for example, finds his overheat gauge filling up more slowly for a short while, and also releases a spread of more powerful shots mixed in with his standard bullets. Ms. Harakiri, on the other hand, gains a temporary burst of speed and deals more damage. Each character has their own special ability, and combined with all the other combat options available, each and every firefight doesn’t have to play out the same way.
Aside from the fact that shooting aliens and other weird creatures with a wide assortment of weapons is fun, you’re likely to return to Contra: Rogue Corps time and time again because of its loot. You’re regaled with all sorts of goodies after completing a mission: replacement body parts and weapon mods of various rarities, as well as cash and experience. They’re all useful when it comes to customising, developing and upgrading weapons. And with the body parts you can improve the characters, too. It’s Contra meets Diablo, and I’m down with that.
As fun as Contra: Rogue Corps is though, it does have some issues. The camera can be a pain during story missions, for example, unnecessarily moving around and not giving you a good view of the action. It handily zooms out when playing exploration missions though. Mixed in with the standard twin-stick shooter action are occasional shooting gallery sequences. You’re going to want to tweak the aiming settings as soon as you start playing, as by default the auto aim is too strong and your aiming speed is too unresponsive. Even when tweaked, however, aiming during shooting gallery sections never feels quite right.
And then there’s the fact that Contra: Rogue Corps is far from being a good-looking game. The playable characters are fairly detailed, the environments are varied, and some enemies look alright, but Contra: Rogue Corps’ visuals generally have the appeal of an upscaled last-gen game, even on Xbox One X. Many textures are bland, and the image looks soft overall. But hey, performance is good, so at least there’s that. There’s not much bad to say about audio, though you might want to change the balance so you can actually hear the game’s music over your constant stream of bullets.
While you can play Contra: Rogue Corps just fine on your own, it’s clear that it was made with co-op in mind. You can play all missions in co-op with up to three other players online and it certainly ups the fun, while local-only exploration missions can be enjoyed with others. It makes sense as those are the only missions with a zoomed out camera. There’s also a suite of competitive PvP options, too, which are better than I expected them to be. You don’t simply battle each other; you try to score by shooting or throwing bugs into goals.
There’s room for improvement, but Contra: Rogue Corps is very enjoyable for the most part. It doesn’t have the look or feel of a triple-A title which might put some off, but it’s a game that isn’t afraid of trying new things. What’s most important is that its twin-stick shooter action is engaging, and a huge amount of longevity is provided by a large number of missions and deep character development. It’s those who love the loot-based shenanigans found in titles such as Diablo and Borderlands that will get the most out of Contra: Rogue Corps. That’s not something I expected to write about a Contra game, but there it is.