Contra has been around for as long as anyone can remember, and though the series has struggled to maintain its relevance for a while now, there’s still a timeless, undeniable charm to its earliest instalments. With the upcoming Contra: Operation Galuga, Konami has partnered with WayForward to go back to the series’ very first instalment and bring it back in thoroughly reimagined form, promising improvements in visuals, new enemies, stages, and mechanics, new challenge options, and much more. To learn more about the game, how it’s approaching remaking an undeniable run ‘n gun classic, and how it’s attempting to push the Contra franchise forward, we recently shot across several of our questions to the folks making the upcoming reimaging. Below, you can read our interview with Tomm Hulett, who’s the game’s director at WayForward, and Akiyoshi Chosokabe, who’s its director at Konami.
"We decided to reboot the original Contra because we believe that now is the time to bring back the true Contra that Contra fans would want."
What was behind the decision to go back to the original Contra and bring it back in reimagined form?
Akiyoshi Chosokabe (director, Konami): The Contra series has been running for more than 35 years, and each title has produced many variations in gameplay. Though each has its own charm, the most representative image of Contra that is still burned into the minds of fans is that of two soldiers, Bill Rizer and Lance Bean, fighting in a burning jungle. We decided to reboot the original Contra because we believe that now is the time to bring back the true Contra that Contra fans would want.
How significantly does Contra: Operation Galuga reimagine the original game? What kind of a balance does it strike between being true to the original and introducing its own new elements?
Tomm Hulett (director, WayForward): This game starts with the same premise as the original. But from there, the story is expanded somewhat (similar to how the MCU films might use years of comic continuity in a single movie), and the gameplay itself is completely unique. It’s a 2D Contra so it plays as you would expect, but level designs, boss encounters, etc. are not beholden to the classic title. For a stage like the Jungle, this means the layout is all new, but you are fighting familiar enemies and it ends with a Wall boss. With later stages, such as the Snowfield, Operation Galuga’s version has nothing in common with the original besides its setting.
Essentially, we are inspired by, but not beholden to, the original Contra.
Chosokabe: This game is based on earlier Contra games, such as the original NES Contra, but the level design and characters have changed significantly. In that sense, it can be considered as a new game.
We aimed to create a “Contra game that is faithful to the original” and is faithful to the core fun of a run-’n’-gun game. The game is about dodging the enemy’s heavy attacks, and just advancing forward. With Contra OG, we believe we have brought back the simple yet tense gameplay, building on this foundation and adding new elements to it such as Overload.
Given how thoroughly Contra: Operation Galuga is reimagining the original game, was there ever a discussion to do something even more drastic- perhaps developing a top-down twin-stick shooter, or something along those lines?
Chosokabe: We discussed and studied various possibilities of what the future of Contra should be like within Konami. Of course, styles like twin-stick shooters were among the options that were considered. Ultimately, we decided to concentrate on pursuing the basic fun of the run-’n’-gun genre in Contra OG. This is because we want to return to the fun of our origins, while aiming for a new evolution.
Hulett: From the very start, Konami was clear the goal of this project was to define “classic 2D Contra action” for the modern console generation. Since they wanted 2D run-‘n’-gun gameplay, and that’s something WayForward excels at, we were happy to remain in that playground.
"We are inspired by, but not beholden to, the original Contra."
Contra: Operation Galuga is promising new stages, bosses, and enemies. What has been your core driving philosophy for developing that new content and ensuring that it feels cohesive with the original game and the series’ own identity?
Chosokabe: When adding new content, we tried to identify elements that capture the essence of Contra and those that don’t. For the game, we considered “simple horizontal-scrolling controls,” “intense concentration in avoiding attacks,” “exhilaration in defeating enemies,” and “easy cooperative play” to be important for Contra, and we used these as guiding principles in our decision-making process. We have also made changes to elements that are not essential, such as the traditional 8-way aim, to modernize the game. (You still have the option to choose 8-way aim.) Also, just as the developers of the original Contra aimed for, a main guiding principle for this game was to make it feel like a major Hollywood action movie.
Hulett: As I touched on earlier, we use the original game’s premise as our overall setting, but then we examined the entire “classic canon” of Contra for gameplay inspiration. The Flame Weapon is a good example — the short range, constant DPS flamethrower design debuted in Contra III: The Alien Wars. However, we determined this was the best design for our game so we used that in OG. I tried to imagine this was just the next mainline Contra, following from the 8- and 16-bit games to Shattered Soldier, Contra 4, and Hard Corps — now Operation Galuga. How do we encapsulate that legacy into a new title?
What can you tell us about the game’s challenge options and how they will add to the experience?
Hulett: There are a lot of subtle things at work that allow players to fine-tune the challenge. At the basic level, we have three difficulty levels. You can see the full game on any of them, so there’s no pressure to reach beyond your comfort zone at first. From here, you can choose Life Meter or 1-hit Kill. We’re balanced for the Life Meter at default, so going retro on this option increases the difficulty quite a bit. Then, if you play on Arcade Mode (as opposed to Story) each boss has an additional tweak or pattern for additional challenge.
The player can also unlock Perks that will make life easier or provide additional strategic options, and then once you master the basics and want to push yourself, we have 30 Challenge stages, which are snippets from the main game but altered to test some specific aspect of the gameplay system.
Players who want even more… may find some additional difficulty modes. But these aren’t for the faint of heart!
"When adding new content, we tried to identify elements that capture the essence of Contra and those that don’t."
What can you tell us about Operation Galuga’s improvements and updates to the weapons and their upgrades, and how they will differ from the original game?
Hulett: The original NES Contra established a core set of weapons that is hard to top – and then Contra III added Homing and Crush. It’s a canon set of weapons that really hits all the key needs of a run-‘n’-gun arsenal. So that’s our starting point.
We brought back the weapon stacking from Contra 4 (doubling up a weapon powers it up). In some cases this is just more bullets or faster rate of fire, but in many it actually adds a new function. For example, Lv2 Laser ricochets between targets, and Lv2 Crush makes a vortex that swallows enemy bullets.
Then, our new mechanic is the Overload. You can scrap one of your weapons in exchange for a huge Overload effect — sometimes a screen-clearing smart bomb attack, other times a strategic effect such as slowing time or creating a shield.
The philosophy here is that every weapon drop offers a wealth of strategic options, rather than just “Do I want to shoot a fireball or not?”
How many new weapons should players expect to see in the game?
Hulett: Well, beyond the default gun, there are the six core weapons, and then an alternate set of six more, so that’s 12. And then each one of those has a Lv2 when it’s powered up, and a unique Overload.
Roughly how long will an average playthrough of the game be?
Hulett: Our stages are considerably larger than their counterparts in the original Contra. I think at one point we estimated one of our stages is two stage-lengths from Contra 4? For players who most recently tried Spidersaurs, our mid-game stages in Operation Galuga are about the size of the endgame stages in that title. So as far as run-‘n’-gun stages go, we’re on the lengthy side. And once players have completed the main game, there are still 30 Challenges and plenty of bonuses to unlock, so it’s a substantial experience.