Contra Operation Galuga Bill and Lance
Screenshot by Siliconera

Review: Contra: Operation Galuga Is a Welcome Blast from the Past

Contra: Operation Galuga is the first pure, 2D Contra game in a long time. After the widely panned Contra: Rogue Corps in 2019, Konami seems to have realized a true retro revival is what the series needs.

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It’s off to a good start immediately with its developer. WayForward not only has a pedigree for retro styled games, it also has experience with the series thanks to Contra 4. Contra: Operation Galuga also deliberately returns to the franchise’s roots, as it’s a reimagining of the original Contra.

That said, this is not a remake. While the premise is effectively the same as the 1987 original, it takes ideas from the rest of the series and tosses it all into a blender to make an entirely new experience. For instance, multiple levels feature the Jet Motorcycle from Contra III and Lucia from Contra: Shattered Soldier is a playable character unlocked later in the game. They even included Probotector in the Arcade Mode as a nod for us Europeans, which is nice.

Screenshot by Siliconera

The story of Contra: Operation Galuga is a simple one. Two operatives from the Contra unit, Bill Rizer and Lance Bean, have been sent to the island of Galuga to take down the Red Falcon terrorist organization. In addition, scientists discovered that the island is exhibiting anomalous gravity readings, and they are concerned the terrorists may have access to a deadly weapon.

A surprising amount of work went into the story, including fully voiced cutscenes. It’s not particularly deep, of course, but it’s unashamedly gung-ho in the way a Contra story should be. The tone is set early on, when Bill and Lance jump out of a helicopter while grunting “hell yeah brother” at each other. I feel that they could have leaned harder into the goofy 80s excess a little more, in the way Doom did in 2016, but this is good enough.

Of course, no one’s coming to Contra for its story. We’re here for big guns and waves of enemies to kill them with. This is where Contra: Operation Galuga has a lot to live up to. On one hand, it needs to be faithful to the original games, allowing veteran players to hop in and get exactly what they want. However, with the huge time gap since the last “true” Contra game, it needs to make concessions to a modern audience to bring in new players.

Screenshot by Siliconera

Happily, WayForward managed to get the balance right. This is pure Contra gameplay. You have a gun that fires a stream of bullets across the screen, enemies rush at you from all directions and powerups drop from pods that float across the screen. It’s a challenging and often maddening time, as the game increasingly throws more deadly projectiles at you. It’s exactly what you’d want from the series, presenting plenty of challenge while still being fun enough to come back and try again when you inevitably get killed by a stray grenade.

What Operation Galuga adds to this is a bunch of modern quality of life adjustments. There are difficulty options at the start of the game, which mostly reduce the intensity of enemy encounters. The game features checkpoints and saves progress during a playthrough, so you don’t have to restart from the beginning on a Game Over like the NES original. There’s also a perk shop that allows you to buy upgrades with in-game credits, such as extra health or the ability to retain special weapons on death. However, these upgrades are applied at the start of a level and there are only two slots available, so it’s impossible to completely break the game with everything on at once.

These are all great additions that don’t dilute the essence of Contra while also making the experience much less frustrating. Plus, if you’re a purist, Arcade Mode strips it all out for anyone who wants that challenge. It’s a good compromise.

Screenshot by Siliconera

The gameplay is solid throughout Contra: Operation Galuga. It’s incredibly satisfying to rush through a level, taking out bad guys en masse. It’s even more satisfying to pick up powerups, with the spread and homing missiles adding so much screen-clearing power to your arsenal you’re unlikely to want to use anything else. Picking up a second powerup of the same kind will also upgrade that weapon, allowing a larger spread, faster homing missiles, lasers that bounce across enemies and wider flamethrower arcs, to name just a few. What’s more, you can have two of these weapons equipped at any time, allowing for some strategic use.

There’s also the overload feature, where special weapons can be sacrificed for a special ability. Laser weapons will give you extra speed, machine guns will provide a shield and homing missiles can be turned into drones. Most of these abilities are useful but sadly don’t last long enough to be truly essential.

Screenshot by Siliconera

However, there are some gameplay issues that arise thanks to the visual style. While the characters and locations generally look fine, there are some problems with the game’s general visual language. In a few levels, the developers were keen to experiment with the 2.5D aspect by featuring elements on different planes to the characters. The problem is, on multiple occasions this was less of a cool detail and more an obstruction. For instance, the boss fight at the end of the Village level features a tentacle that moves along the front of the screen. As the fight gets more hectic, this tentacle is a serious hindrance, often covering up a good chunk of what you’re trying to avoid.

This wasn’t the only time either. Another level features projectiles that emerge from both the foreground and background, adding unnecessary visual noise to a screen already full of bullets. Another level features crystals that block the screen, so you have to squint at the reflections to figure out where you’re going. This often led to me falling into pits that became invisible due to the warping of the glass. These elements always caused frustration, getting in the way of what was otherwise a perfectly fair challenge.

Contra: Operation Galuga is a solid retro revival. It’s got satisfying gunplay, a good balance of old school mechanics with modern tweaks and offers a good challenge. Fans of the series will have a blast, even if its visuals sometimes get in the way.

Contra: Operation Galuga is out now for the Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S.

Contra: Operation Galuga

Introducing a new entry in the legendary Contra series! Contra: Operation Galuga is a thorough reimagining of the classic run 'n' gun NES/arcade game from the 1980s, featuring timeless gameplay, iconic weapons, modern graphics and sound, new stages, new enemies and bosses, new play mechanics, and intense co-op combat for up to two players in Story Mode or four players in Arcade Mode! The true Contra legacy begins now! Switch version reviewed. Review copy provided by company for testing purposes.

Contra: Operation Galuga is a satisfying retro revival. Fans of the series will have a blast, even if its visuals sometimes get in the way.

Food for Thought
  • The game can be played in full couch co-op, with two players in Story Mode and up to four in Arcade Mode, although the lack of online co-op is disappointing.
  • While most characters play the same, Lucia and newcomer Ariana both have unexpected quirks that players need to watch out for once they’re unlocked.
  • Bill can unlock an invulnerability for his dash, but this didn’t seem to work as consistently as I hoped, sadly.

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Leigh Price
Leigh is a staff writer and content creator from the UK. He has been playing games since falling in love with Tomb Raider on the PS1, and now plays a bit of everything, from AAA blockbusters to indie weirdness. He has also written for Game Rant and Geeky Brummie. He can also be found making YouTube video essays as Bob the Pet Ferret, discussing such topics as why Final Fantasy X-2’s story is better than people like to think.