Contra: Rogue Corps is a fun twin-stick shooter that lies buried under the expectations of its franchise name. Having recently played through the Contra Anniversary Collection, I was able to finally understand firsthand why longtime Contra fans were likely disappointed in the upcoming game. That said, hands-on impressions speak to me more than relayed information, so I was eager to play the demo that was available at ACGHK 2019 today.
In the singleplayer-only demo, I was put in charge of controlling Kaiser, a former Contra soldier who was injured then rebuilt cybernetically enhanced. Around me were dozens of monsters that formed out of goo on the ground, charging towards me. So I did what you do in any Contra game, and began firing using the right stick to aim and R2 to fire… until ten seconds later, I stopped firing for some reason.
I checked the controls to make sure I hadn’t done something wrong, then realized that there was a slowly decreasing red bar around my weapon icon. Yes, the latest Contra game, in a series about non-stop shooting, has weapon overheating. I quickly switched from the machinegun to the rocket launcher, and was finally able to fire again. I was surprised at the inclusion of overheating and cooldown, but decided to plow on anyways. As I grew used to weapon switching, I found that weapon switching quite strategic, as while weapon switching in other games was used to deal with different situations, here you needed to make sure to only use as much as needed. It was a different take that I could appreciate on its own, and also placed a bigger emphasis on the game’s movement options.
In Contra: Rogue Corps, you have several ways to deal with the hordes of enemies waiting to swarm you. You can try shoot a path out, or flip jump out, but there is also an evasive dash move that does minor damage and sometimes stuns the enemy as well. As a final resort, you can expend a bomb to wipe out enemies, which for Kaiser meant going into a big cinematic sequence where he grabbed a bomb, rocketed up into the air, and essentially air-suplexed it into the ground. It’s hilariously over-the-top, but not something new for a series that has games like Contra Hard Corps in it. Using all these maneuvers, Kaiser was zooming around all over the map, while taking time in between to take out the enemies. It… was fun. Funnily enough, the classic flip jump was the least useful ability, as you might imagine for a vertical axis movement in a top-down viewed game. However, the producer said in an interview before that this game will have a greater emphasis on elevation, and we shall see if that holds true in the full game.
Speaking of Hard Corps, I believe that this game tonally belongs in the wackier side of the franchise just like that game. There are also differing character abilities, something that also appeared in Hard Corps in the form of unique weapons. For Kaiser, triggering his ability with R1 led to him being able to fire spread shot bullets interspersed with the regular machinegun, meaning that it helped serve the purpose of increasing the width of his attacks. The abilities have a longer cooldown than the regular guns, so it must be used sparingly.
Near the end, I faced off against a boss monster that would spit goo and summon enemies to swarm me. Surprisingly, this was the easiest part of the level for me, as the swarms weren’t as dense as earlier, while the goo was a minor roadblock at best. As Kaiser beat the boss and shot his way through a fortress wall reminiscent to the iconic Level 1 boss in NES Contra, I was greeted with the giant Terminator-esque monster seen in the header image, and the demo ended.
So what did the demo tell me about Contra: Rogue Corps? It’s a perfectly fine twin-stick shooter with a bigger focus on weapon switching and movement options, that breaks many conventions of the series but keeping a tone that has been in previous games. Don’t get me wrong – I’d prefer sprited 2D gameplay any day of the week, but this game does deserve a fair shake.
Contra: Rogue Corps releases for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on September 24, 2019.