The Contra games are well known for their action. The old school 2D originals are regarded highly, with many retro players still singing their praises to this day. However, I can’t imagine very many people singing the praises of Contra: Rogue Corps 20 years from now.
The problem for me is that everything just feels flat. Despite some hectic scenes at times, there’s a lack of impact or heft to anything going on. Even pulling of each characters super move lacks any weight behind the flashy visuals, with the damage done not really reflecting the action on screen. As you move through stages, hordes of enemies will swamp you, though most are so weak as to be more of an annoyance than a threat. Those can do pose a problem are easy to lose track of in the shuffle, leading to sudden deaths from out of nowhere. At each weapons basic state, it takes far too long to take down pretty much every foe anyway, so when these bigger foes emerge, it can begin to feel too much of a grind.
At points, we enter into the shooting gallery mode. Here, the camera pans down to behind the player, with you moving a reticule in a fashion similar to on-rails shooters. These sections can be even harder to see whats going on, with attacks coming from all corners of the screen without much notice or chance to dodge. You’ll need to be mindful of your loadout too – the game actually warns you that some weapons may not reach the enemies in this mode!
Each of the 4 characters available, as well as the host of weapons, can be upgraded. Parts are collected as you defeat enemies or smash boxes in the levels, and can be assigned back at home base before each mission. You’ll definitely need to pop whatever you can in as early as possible to give yourself a little leg up, though even then the rewards feel underwhelming.
Buffs to firing speed, health, weapon damage et all are available, but often times the actual increases are miniscule; 0.7 seconds of a cool down time, or +2% to health – often with negative stats alongside, making any benefits even more irrelevant. Things aren’t helped by a confusing UI that makes it hard to tell exactly what does what. Weapons have a certain amount of points available to assign upgrades, with each item having a value based on their rarity, preventing you form loading up too much on one weapon. But it’s not overly clear why some are heavier than others outside of this, with effects of heavy items making them all but useless.
Upgrades to characters are a little more straight forward, with 4 body parts available for augmentation. Do yourself a favour – go in to the menus and turn off the surgery animation from the start. It’s not that it’s overly gross or anything – in fact, it’s actually rather boring, just a shutter with a neon sign indicating surgery is underway. But it’s pointlessly long, and once off the whole upgrade process is much smoother. Selecting some new eyeballs, lungs or implants is as simple as looking for a high level number and inserting it. Again, the buffs to stats are hardly worth it, but it’s something at least. While there’s a base surgeon who will operate for free, paying one of two other options gives a chance to increase (or decrease if it fails) the buffs. These come at a high price mind; coins are dealt out in a miserly fashion through play. Selling unused weapons and upgrades seems to be the best way to gather money, but even then I rarely had enough to pay for the fancy surgery.
All of this would be tolerable though if the core gameplay was fun. Unfortunately, I can honestly say I haven’t been this bored playing a game in along while. Each act is separated into several missions to clear , before a climatic boss battle at the end. The problem is, going through each one is routine, and dull to boot. Step through a gate, wave of enemies, slowly whittle them down, move on to the next area – rinse and repeat. Sometimes, you don’t even need to fight them, simply running through the checkpoint gate will lock them off from you – not necessarily a bad thing.
Even when the bigger foes come out, things don’t pick up. It’s simply a bigger health bar to slowly deplete. Each stage is also on a timer, so you can’t even spend too long grinding for loot, as if you let the clock run down, you’ll need to start the stage from scratch and lose anything you’ve gained up until that point. While the timers are fairly generous, the fact they are there at all is confusing to me.
You will also have to deal with guns that over heat – and quickly at that. Again, upgrades can theoretically help here, but to have the flow of combat interrupted by near constant cool downs on your PRIMARY attack hinders the experience. Swapping out to your secondary weapon, or activating your special ability will at least give you a little more breathing room, but quite frankly it’s another unnecessary hassle that gets in the way of the gameplay.
Online co-op is included, allowing you to recruit up to 3 players to join you throughout. But I’m rather underwhelmed by the local co-op options. While playing with another person is more enjoyable, it also detracts from the few engaging elements. The bombastic super moves and finishers now no longer feature the cinematic camera cuts, making them feel even weaker than they already did. Mowing down the hordes is quicker, for sure, but it’s still all too easy to lose track of your position and get knocked down. A revive system at least saves you burning through lives. But the biggest omission is that local co-op play is only available in the side exploration missions, not the main campaign. You don’t even get access to these until you’ve cleared the first set of single player levels. It’s an odd choice for sure; playing through some of the campaign levels with a partner or two by your side would have no doubt lessened the boredom. Restricting campaign co-op to online is an odd choice. Local co-op players also don’t get to keep any progression or loot for themselves either, feeding into player one’s inventory and stats only.
While the Contra name is renowned, especially amongst older gamers, this modern take on the franchise is simply not fit for that legacy. With dull, repetitive combat, bland and uninspiring visuals and some out of touch design decisions, I’d recommend any one looking for some fun arcade action to look elsewhere.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.