Retro Review: Contra – Hard Corps

If you were lucky enough to not live in Europe or Australia in the mid 90’s, this was the first and only Contra game on the Genesis. If you did live there however it was called Probotector, every human being in the game was replaced with a robot and the Colonel and Dead Eye Joe, two of the main antagonists of the game, were turned into aliens.

Hence why reviewing the game this time around in all its human glory is all the more interesting for myself, as I’d not previously played Contra: Hard Corp until very recently. Hard Corps is perhaps the most unusual game in the entire series. You have four different characters to choose from, each with a different weapon loadout. You can also hold on to all the weapons you’ve collected, and switch between them as needed. Already strange for Contra, but when you consider one character is a tiny robot with a bonus double jump and the other is a genetically engineered werewolf by the name of Brad Fang, we haven’t even started cracking the crazy crust. The action is fast and explosive as you’d expect from a Contra title, although I can’t say the visuals and audio hold up quite as well now compared to Contra III on the SNES (Super Probotector here) but they’re still pretty decent and they do some incredible things with them long before the credit roll.

I especially love the amount of variety in the enemies you have to fight, as a huge amount of this game is taken up by boss battles. After fighting through what you believe to be the mid-boss of the first stage, and I mean literally a few seconds after, you notice a massive robot in the far background who begins to blast the city to shreds with an enormous eye beam. The robot then spots you, leaps over the entire city to get to you and the two of you have to face off from atop a massive building.

It’s incredibly exciting, and the game continues to throw new varieties of enemies and bosses at you for every stage, not that you can see all of them in a single play-through. The other major difference between this and previous games is that you’re actually given a choice at various junctures about where you should go next, which changes the entire proceeding stage. This also affects eventually what ending you can get in the game, of which there are four main ones and one joke ending where you battle three cyberized Castlevania bosses including a haddock wielding Belmont.

At least I think it’s a haddock. I’m not sure what fish work well as boomerangs.

There’s a playfulness that’s mostly absent from other games in the series, and makes it feel a lot more like a Treasure run and gun in the same vein as Gunstar Heroes. You even have a slide move which becomes invaluable to dodge enemy attacks as you progress, which also like Gunstar Heroes can be used to deal damage. You’ll need to use it a lot too, because there is one very major similarity to the other Contra games I’m sure you’re all aware of already. It’s phenomenally difficult. Apparently the Japanese version gives you a three-hit life bar for every one of your lives, but for everyone else it’s the old ‘one-hit’ per life, so you’re going to have to do your absolute best to any and all attacks you can. You also lose whatever weapon you had selected when you died, which isn’t so bad if you’ve managed to collect any of your other weapons as you can switch between any weapon you’ve collected freely, but if you lost your favourite for that specific boss it can be a pretty major hassle.

All in all, I might actually like this game a lot more than I did when I was younger. There’s something about it that I just really enjoy a lot more than I do going back to some of the other games, especially Contra III. There are no overhead levels to contend with (I was never a fan of these), so while in the end it’s probably a shorter game, you spend much longer enjoying the regular contra action. The vehicle stages are also fantastic, especially when you find yourself running down a motorway on foot while battling a spiked-ball fisted robot chasing you. It’s also a lot more replayable with the different routes, endings and story lines that can occur in the game.

Above all else it’s a really great two-player action game, with a butt load of weapons, characters, bosses and almost endless streams of explosions. It’s pretty much everything you should want from a Contra game. Whatever form it arrived in, and whatever it was called, it’s unmistakably one of the best run and gun shooters of its kind. The prequel, Hard Corps Uprising (Where Colonel Bahamut is a freaking playable character),  will also be releasing this Winter on XBLA/PSN, so if you haven’t played it before, now is definitely time to do so.

Contra-ry to popular opinion, this is a side-scrolling action game you shouldn’t miss out on. A.

  • Hard Corps Uprising is looking amazing and has made me want to go back and check this game out. The only Contra game I’ve ever played was the first game on the NES and that was a long time ago.

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