All right, I want to get this out of the way right now. Even if it’s not expressly said in the title, Hard Corps: Uprising is a Contra game. It’s a fast paced and more than a little difficult side scrolling run-and-gun shooter. It has a high difficulty curve and it isn’t a very forgiving game. All that said it’s still extremely entertaining and it makes you feel more than a little badass for doing well.
The game’s premise is very simple; you want to move to the right and shoot everything that moves. Now that’s a lot easier said than done, but the fact remains that it’s not a very complicated game. As far as style of gameplay goes, if you’ve played one Contra game you’ve played them all. There’s only so much innovation you can pull out of running to the right and shooting everything that moves. There are some of the usual problems where moving platform just kill you by moving off screen with you still on them. In fact, there’s one particularly irritating part where you have to jump around the mouths of these robotic crocodiles, only the catch is you can’t land on them while they’re eating something or else you’ll fall into the water below. It may seem like getting eaten is more threatening, but it’s not, I can’t count the number of times that I’m jumping from crocodile to crocodile and then an enemy jumps straight into the mouth of the one in front of me, killing me because I can land on that croc until it’s done feeding. That aside, Arc System Works did manage to beat some creative into Konami for this latest installment. Finally slipping a little in the old gamer adage “harder is better”, in addition to giving you lives, they also give you a health bar for each life, meaning you can survive multiple hits before you actually go down and lose a life. Of course, they also more than compensate for the extra ability to take hits by really upping the on-screen action. In addition to making it easier by adding life bars, they also added a character progression mode called “Rising mode” where as you play you level up the character you’re playing until the game becomes almost laughably easy. Upgrades you buy can include things like starting gun upgrades at level 2 or 3, getting extra air dashes, doing more damage, fairly generic stuff for the most part. Of course, the classic gamer can also ignore Rising Mode and jump straight into Arcade mode which is just classic Contra for the most part. However, I wouldn’t advise that if you question your skill in the game at all. Lightly put, Arcade mode is not for the weak of heart.
It’s really amazing what they did with the controls for this game. It would look like, like gameplay, there’s only so much room for innovation in the controls for what is essentially a classic Contra game. Looks, however, can be deceiving. You obviously still have a fire button and a way to move as well as look around and jump, but they added so much it’s astounding. Probably the biggest feature they added the dash. By holding L1 or R1 and moving left or right you run at a much faster speed in that direction. You can also mid-air dash by pressing one of the buttons in the middle of the air, sort of giving you a 3rd but horizontal jump. Second off, you have your action skills, which is basically a bunch of different things you can do by pressing O at different times. Standing still it makes you reflect bullets for a second, or, while dashing you can dodge bullets or vault over/smash through obstacles and enemies in your way. Lastly, in addition to the function from Contra 4 where you can hold a button to stand still and face the direction you want without moving, they also implemented the converse to that in this game. You can strafe by holding L2, this moves you anyway you want, but keeps your gun fixed in the same position. It doesn’t sound like much by strafing really saved me in more than one boss fight. The only reason this section doesn’t get a 10 for all the innovation is the mere fact that they don’t really tell you about it. Sure, they tell you that O is “action” and L1 and R1 are “Dash” but at no point do they tell you what exactly these do or how to do different actions with the same button. You may call me a stickler for this, but it would have at least helped me to know what exactly strafing did or how the O button is situational.
Funnily enough, the graphics to this game are truly amazing. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that a Contra game would have awesome graphics, but this completely proved me wrong. Arc System Works (Creators of fighting games like Guilty Gear and Blaz Blue) did all of the sprite work for Hard Corps: Uprising and I have to say it’s beautiful. The sprites themselves are works of art, because not only are they visually complex and good looking, but the movement from frame to frame is some of the best I’ve seen in sprites. I was a little unimpressed with some of the 3d backgrounds considering the level of graphics that the ps3 is capable of, but the utterly amazing sprite work more than makes up for it especially on a psn game.
This game’s soundtrack couldn’t be more perfect. It’s the classic Arc Systems Work heavy metal music to go with a heavy metal game. It’s action packed and epic, so the extreme hardcore metal is well placed to say the least. Character voices, however, leave a little to be desired. Krystal in particular almost made me want to rip out my ear drums when she endlessly taunted the robot ninjas in her nasally high pitched and generally unpleasant voice.
I’d say the game is fairly replayable. If you get the DLC which is just 3 more characters, it lengthens Rising Mode by quite a few hours and adds a lot of content in general. Besides that I’d say you can play it about as much as any Contra game, although maybe a little more with Rising mode tacked on. I would have also maybe liked a more achievable set of trophies as well. I feel like I’m good at the game, but I won’t ever be quite good enough to beat Arcade Mode in one life to say the least.
I enjoyed the game immensely and it’s definitely worth the 15 bucks to pick it up on PSN (or XBL if you have a 360). It gives you the sense of classic Contra mixed in with the new feel of the sprites as well as slightly more modern controls. The core concept of the game remains the same though, and if you weren’t particularly fond of the other Contra games I can’t imagine you being too crazy about this one. On the other hand if you do like Contra games or want to give them a shot, this is a nice break in the sheer difficulty of previous games or a nice starting point for players new to the series.