Review: Hard Corps: Uprising
As a kid, I would go over to a friend of mine’s house and play Contra: Hard Corps on his Sega Genesis. We’d rarely make it past the first level, but it was always a damn fun time. Now we’ve been blessed with Hard Corps: Uprising, the spiritual sequel to this childhood favorite of mine. Did Arc System Works do this series justice, or is has this anime departure gone too far?
Starting the game up, you’re treated to one crazy anime introduction. This art style might not be what you think of when you think Contra, but the action and pure insanity of the intro does convey that this is still Contra, just with a 2011 face lift. On the main screen you have two main modes to choose from; Arcade, and Rising. Arcade is the classic, get three lives and three continues and try and beat the game. The amount of continues get bumped up after each game over. Its been awhile since I have played a game like this, and it took me a damn good many times just to beat the first level in this mode. Beaten-down, but not defeated, I turned to Rising Mode. This mode allows you to level up your character throughout the game with the use of a shop. You score points for damage/combos in the main game which act as your currency. In the shop you have numerous options available to you including rapid fire, better weapon upgrades, more health bars, more lives, etc etc. Through careful leveling up, I was able to tackle the entire game. In the end, my character had 5 life bars and 7 lives. What surprised me, was that after I beat it this way, I felt that I needed to do it on arcade mode as well. You get graded on each level upon completion as well as on the online leader-boards to implore you to come back and do better. My rising mode run through has me ranked at 2000th so theres certainly room for improvement.
As you can see from the screenshots/trailer, Hard Corps uses a mix of 2d sprites and 3d backdrops. The desired effect is hit and miss. While the animation on the 2d sprites are exceptional, you will notice the clash of styles. This is most evident during boss fights, as the majority of bosses are 3d and less detailed. I won’t spoil the final boss but it is probably the best example when it transforms from the superbly animated 2d sprite into the 3d polygonal mess that it is. The music is great, and you’ll hear the familiar Contra theme remixed in the first level (Put in the Konami code on the level 1 load screen for extra Nostalgia). While the music is awesome, the sound effects are a bit harsh at first. I ended up kind of tuning out the hordes of soldiers dying.
Controls take some time to really get used to. They feel sluggish at first, but in actuality they are superbly precise. They allow you to perform the exact movements needed to finish this game without dying…though I’m sure I’ll never be able to pull it off. The dash is great, as well as the strafing abilities. Using the L2 you can lock your gun in place while you move, while using R2 you can lock your feet in place while you move the gun. This is imperative to master throughout the game as you’ll be facing enemies and bosses from all directions. There is also an action button that allows you to perform different movements you unlock in the shop. I wasn’t able to fully execute them to where they were useful to me during gameplay, but they allow you to do things like split second bullet dodges and tackling obstacles in your path. For the two main characters, you have two weapon slots so you can horde your favorite weapon pick up for the right time. Notice in the trailer the characters almost always have a weapon upgrade. This doesn’t resemble my first play through, as many points in the game with a weapon power-up have enemies that will appear on screen and nail you just as you pick it up. This was frustrating, but its all part of the game. Where power-ups in most games are a way for weaker players to even the playing field, in Hard Corps, they’re almost a for players who are better at the game. All the oldies are here, including Machine-Gun, Laser, and Spread Shot. You can stack weapons of the same type on top of eachother, but I found it difficult to ever horde/survive with a power up long enough to stack them. Once again, its all about getting better at the game.
Hard Corps throws 8 levels at you. They each vary dramatically, from motorbike/hoverboard portions, to straight up shmup bosses, to platforming portions. There are a few sequences towards the end-game that get particularly frustrating. These involve some difficult platforming which can really slow the game down and eat up some of your lives. Theres also some portions on stairs that can really mess you up if you try and blow past them. Say the stairs are at a 15degree incline. You can only shoot straight ahead or at 45 degrees. See where this could get tricky? This being from Konami, theres even a homage to Metal Gear Solid in one of the last level sequences, involving you, guards, and an empty crate if you know what I mean.
Krystal and Bahumat both have slightly different stories as you run through the game. They’re not engrossing, but this game is about gameplay, not the story. They’re told through a few text paragraphs on each level’s loading screen. Thes loading screens are oddly lenghty, so the story acts as a cover to the fact that you’re sitting there for 30 seconds waiting. Bring up the introduction again, you’re shown that the Hard Corps actually consists of four people, besides Krystal and Bahumat, there is also Harley and Sayuri. Theres a 5th character Leviathan, who is one of the game’s bosses. You can’t play as these characters unless you BUY them for 2.50 a piece on the PSN. You can think about this two ways. Either get upset about the evils of the DLC movement, or just think that this game was supposed to cost $20.00 in the first place, and you’re just paying for the rest of the game. In the olden days, these would be something you’d unlock for beating the game, now you must pay. I purchased the Sayuri Character for this review, and I have to say, I’m glad I did. While Harley only tweaks a few things like shop prices and Leviathan has less health and more action chips, Sayuri completely changes the game. She is a samurai character that fights with a sword. I’m a big fan of the Mega Man Zero series, and throughout the whole play-through I had with Krystal, I was wishing for a melee sword kind of attack. Sayuri gives you this, with the ability to dole out massive damage while spamming the sword. The gameplay changed from contra to a more Strider type experience. For $2.50, I can’t be too too upset. If you’re enjoying this game, I completely recommend shelling out for this character.
There is 2-player support local and online. I liked local support more as I didn’t encounter any lag/ frame-rate chugs that I did online. It can make the game both easier and harder depending on who your partner is. While you have double the firepower to take on the boss, if your partner is inexperienced it can turn into a slog as they steal your lives and don’t know patterns that you’re already accustomed to. If you’re gonna do a two player run, I suggest you and your partner have a similar experience level with the game.
I’ve slacked on getting this review out a day or two earlier. Why? Because I keep coming back and playing more of this game. In my book thats the mark of a truly great game. While the difficulty really ramps up and some cheap deaths come your way, they’re only cheap because you didn’t know how to avoid them the first time. This is gameplay from another generation; Hate it, or Respect it, Study it, and Enjoy it.
For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
What I Like:
- Gorgeous Hand-Drawn Sprite Animation
- Tight, Frantic Gameplay
- Rising Mode
- Sayuri DLC character
What I Dislike:
- Can Only Play as Bahamut / Krystal without DLC
- Arachne Boss
- Some Sound Effects Aren't Very Good
- Why Couldn't We Call it Contra?