Review: Hard Corps: Uprising (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Hard Corps: Uprising
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Arc System Works
Genre: Run “Ëœn’ Gun
Release Date: 02/16/2011

Showing up more than 15 years after the SEGA Genesis’ Contra: Hard Corps, fans of the game now have a spiritual successor to enjoy even though “Contra“ appears nowhere in the title. It has mostly the same weapons, an identical premise and nods to the original games including the sentry walls, opening and game over jingles and inside nods to 30 lives and Konami’s 573 meme. So what happened to the Contra name?

My short answer is it doesn’t matter. Any player that picks up the controller will immediately recognize the spirit of Contra and if you’re a fan of run “Ëœn’ gun games and punishing, yet rewarding difficulty, there’s no excuse to not scoop this one up for your library.

Hard Corps focuses heavily on Bahamut and Krystal, two characters which lead Resistance Fighters against the harsh rule of Tiberius. The story is very slim during the game itself, only providing subtle hints at the characters’ backgrounds through a great anime-style introduction before the title screen. Most of the story carried out through the use of text in between each level before players get to see another anime cutscene while the credits roll.

Bahamut turned on Tiberius’ army after seeing innocent people executed while Krystal hardened into a soldier after an attack on her hometown left her with nothing, so, at least the player gets to understand why the characters are fighting. However, Hard Corps heavily relies on the “NES storytelling” where players get a small understanding of the situation and are just thrown into level after level of action. Based on the game and what its producers have said, I’m still not sure whether or not Bahamut is supposed to be the same character as the protagonist from Contra: Hard Corps, so the story is certainly loose. It’s serviceable for the genre, but if you’re looking for deep narrative and shocking plot twists, you just won’t find those in this title.

While Hard Corps provides players with everything they would expect to see mode-wise – single player, local co-op and online co-op – the only addition beyond this is the Rising Mode, which doesn’t sound like much, but will be the saving grace for Hard Corps in the mind of the common player. While arcade mode forces the player to hit the ground running with limited lives and continues, the Rising Mode starts players off with limited characters, but implements a “cash shop progression.”

In Rising Mode, any points earned are dumped into a virtual piggy bank for players to use in “customizing” the characters. By cashing in the points, players can expand their stock of lives per continue and beef up a character’s hit points or grant them special abilities such as beginning with specific special weapons and not losing a weapon when attacked. Rising Mode also lets players save stage progress so they can go into a game at the last level they attempted or revisit defeated stages for more points. Because of the mode’s accessibility, the punishing difficulty becomes much less of a blow as playing in Rising Mode cushions the player if he or she is willing to put a little bit of time into gameplay.

Although the story is very light, it is evident Arc System Works put a lot of effort into the game’s presentation. Anyone who has played Guilty Gear or BlazBlue will be quite familiar with the game’s appearance and the developer has crafted one of the most visually appealing titles so far for 2011. The game’s anime styling does little to detract from the action even though there is a ton of style and substance to the fluid animation.

Much like Metal Slug, the enemy grunts (most of which look like Face from Arc System Works’ Battle Fantasia title) have a lot of quirks to them – in the first level, they will flail helplessly when caught in the quicksand and, later, enemies hiding behind shields will taunt the player but flip out when their defenses are breached. Keeping in line with the genre, the game’s boss characters usually fill the screen with their presence and the results are impressive. The backgrounds also maintain the visual flair with a lot of variety between the stages. Players will move from the desert straight into a lush jungle where enemies can hide among the foliage. Later stages see players running through mines and ruins and catching a ride on a jetbike through the city on the way to the final assault on Tiberius’ headquarters. Regardless of the area, there is always something going on in the background and in certain instances, enemies can even spring from the background to attack the player.

Rounding out the presentation is a very suitable score to accompany the action. As I mentioned previously, Hard Corps does maintain a few nods to the Contra lineage in the form of a few recognizable jingles and players will hear the expected gunfire (which changes suitably based on the weapon being discharged) and cries of the battlefield. Otherwise, given Arc System Works’ involvement, fans of the company shouldn’t be surprised Daisuke Ishiwatari lent his talent to the project. While some people immediately flag J-rock guitar work as cheesy, I feel it fits well and compliments the frantic action with heavy, fast-paced guitar work.

The presentation would come together as amazing if I ended there, but the one major factor that set me back is the god-awful voice acting of the main characters. While this is kept to a minimum amount of one-liners, the delivery is just painful to listen to. When you actually fight Tiberius at the end of the game, my fiancée actually felt the need to come into the room and make fun of the voice acting. I found it a bit laughable and overall I could get over it, but if there was any skidmark to point out on Hard Corps‘ presentation, this would most definitely be it.

Most run “Ëœn’ gun games live or die based on the control offered to the players and Hard Corps actually serves up a number of options as opposed to the bare bones shoot and jump. Players have access to a sprint in order to run faster and being able to dash in mid-air and double jump gives players a lot of maneuverability to avoid attacks or prevent falling down holes. The triggers also allow players to maintain a firing direction while still moving or stand still while still being able to change their firing direction.

Once players jump into the mix, the controls aren’t as complicated as they look on paper and after some time it becomes second nature. Using the analog stick, though, I did at times have issues with getting the proper position to fire diagonally while running forward. Still, overall, I found the controls to be quite tight and the game responded to my inputs very well.

Again, dedicated players will get accustomed to the controls and react instinctively and such muscle memory and pattern recognition is a must if players want to see the later stages of the game. It’s certainly no secret Hard Corps is not an easy game. I mean, it has the word “hard” right in the title and no entry of the Contra series has been a cakewalk. While this will put off a number of gamers, again, the Rising Mode allows players some forgiveness if they are willing to give the title a chance. On the other hand, masochists can apply for the game’s standard arcade mode.

While Hard Corps places in new variables to the Contra formula, the results are still the same: You and a buddy can walk right and blow the crap out of anything that moves. I’ll tell you now there are a lot of things that move in Hard Corps and they do not go down without a fight. Players also have to contend with the variety of ways they can fall to their death, which during a few select boss fights, is more of a struggle than avoiding bullets. The game is actually balanced as the difficulty does progress through the course of the game, but this like saying the first stage is like playing a game on difficulty 6 of 10 with the game culminating at difficulty 15 of 10.

As much as people play up the difficulty of the title, though, it’s just like any other classic game. If you can recognize patterns and adjust, you’ll do fine. After fighting through all of the stages, I can fly through the first stage without taking a hit and most of the earlier stages are a breeze. I got frustrated at the true final boss in Rising Mode and had to put the game down for a couple of days, but when I revisited it and actually observed what was going on, I found where I needed to be and took him down while only losing a couple of lives. Again, if you stick with it and don’t get intimidated, you’ll do just fine.

Any dedication placed toward the game makes the trial a satisfying one and it’s been a while since I’ve felt this accomplished in beating a game. Hard Corps is filled from top to bottom with action and while it can be cheap at times (such as when I beat a boss only to die right afterward and be treated to a game over screen), it adheres to the spirit of Contra and is flashy in doing so.

Still, the Rising Mode and the points system should entertain fans of the game to play through it multiple times and players will no doubt revisit their favorite levels in building up their characters. While some players might not be willing to go all the way through the game, the ones who can make it all the way through will most likely be the title’s target audience and, as such, they won’t have much of a problem giving Hard Corps another go. The achievement structure also encourages playing through the game in different ways, but these challenges will most likely only go answered by the cream of the crop.

While Arc System Works has revamped the presentation and added a few new elements, at the end of the day, Hard Corps is another Contra game, so it’s hard to call everything “original.” Still, it features a number of high points and maintains the thrills of a blockbuster high-octane action movie.

The game’s most likely audience will be fans of brutally difficult shooting games, which make the appeal a little shallow, but the great visuals and promise of action may be able to pull in a number of other gamers as well. Fans of Contra will also jump on board and there are nods to the series even though the namesake isn’t tagged on to this entry.

The Scores
Graphics: AMAZING
Sound: GREAT
Control and Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: VERY GOOD
Originality: ENJOYABLE
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal Factor: VERY GOOD
Miscellaneous: GREAT

Short Attention Span Summary

You probably have heard by now that Hard Corps: Uprising is hard. If you’re using that as the sole deterrent to picking up this title, though, you’re missing out on 2011 best pure-action title so far. Even though Contra isn’t in the name, that’s what players get with the purchase and there are several nods to the classic memes and themes of the series. The presentation is one of the finest to be seen so far in 2011 thanks to Arc System Works’ production. The difficulty will likely turn away a number of people, but the inclusion of the game’s Rising Mode will provide a cushion for anyone outside of the most casual of gamers. It’s quite hard, the story is paper thin, the voice acting is atrocious and it isn’t the most original title, but if you just want to blow crap up and be challenged in doing so, Hard Corps: Uprising is your game.



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One response to “Review: Hard Corps: Uprising (Microsoft Xbox 360)”

  1. disgore Avatar

    fail. New contra must look more like Vanquish!

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