One of my earliest gaming memories is of me playing Contra on an old Nintendo, with my brother, or my cousin, or my friends. We used to love Contra. It was extremely difficult, but extremely fun, and the shlocky science fiction setup made it feel like a playable cartoon. I’ve continued to love Contra through the years. I love Contra so much that to this day, it’s my favorite Konami franchise, yes, over Metal Gear or Silent Hill. I love Contra so much that when Konami announced their classic collections earlier this year, Contra‘s was the one I was excited for the most.
I love Contra a lot, and I am reiterating this point to establish that I didn’t set out to hate Rogue Corps. In fact, the announcement of a new entry in the series made me excited, and even after widespread skepticism following its E3 debut, I was on board with it. I didn’t need it to be the best looking or most ambitious game. I just wanted Contra. More Contra, and I would be satisfied. And hey, they had the original creator of the franchise on board, so surely Konami would deliver, right?
Unfortunately, they did not. There are several levels Rogue Corps fails on – one of them is that of being a good game, but I would have even taken a poor game if it meant I got some of that spirit of classic Contra. Unfortunately, not only is Rogue Corps not like classic Contra, in some regards, it seems to be aggressively antithetical to what you would think Contra is about. Coupled with the general lack of even token care put into the package, I have to wonder exactly what Konami was thinking when they greenlit this project – or who it was even meant for.
"Not only is Rogue Corps not like classic Contra, in some regards, it seems to be aggressively antithetical to what you would think Contra is about."
For the uninitiated, and this part is important to understand the level of indignation I have here, Contra is a series of run and gun shooters. You’re thrown against waves upon waves of enemies, and you mow your way through them, spraying them, and anything that moves really, with bullets and lead. As I mentioned before, the series has a shlocky science fiction setup of an alien invasion, and a general inability to really take itself seriously.
Let’s talk about what part of this Rogue Corps gets right. It continues with the general alien invasion theme of the series (in fact, Rogue Corps appears to be set shortly after the original trilogy, although it ignores the excellent Contra 4 along the way), and it’s extremely over the top and wacky. It’s got loud and crass humor, not unlike what you’d expect from Duke Nukem. While not necessarily entirely in line with what Contra was, it works. I can’t fault it there.
The issue is everything else. On a most basic level, Contra: Rogue Corps fails at being Contra. The primary culprit here is a mechanic that has no business being in Contra, or really, any run and gun game- weapon overheating. Essentially, using your weapon too much causes it to overheat, at which point you can no longer use it, and need to wait for it to cool down. Cooldown periods are seldom more than a few seconds, but a few seconds is all it takes to break the flow of your shooting spree. Now you’re shooting, then waiting for your weapon to recharge, then shooting, then waiting for your weapon to charge, and possibly trying to avoid getting hit along the way. It’s abysmal.
This is further exacerbated by the fact that the shooting itself actually feels good- once you get used to the extremely fiddly controls, at any rate. There is a nice, tangible sense of impact, and the game actually has some great ideas to keep you more involved in the flow of the action, from Overwatch style character-specific finishers to melee attacks, to lite-RPG mechanics involving upgrading your weapons and characters and making them more powerful and lethal on the field.
"Any gains Contra makes are completely undone by the all-undermining mechanic that is overheating. This is not exaggeration, and there are no words to describe how not Contra anything that makes you stop shooting is. It’s like creating a Mario game that doesn’t let you jump."
This is actually new to Contra– but these are sensible additions. You can see how having weapon and loot drops along with RPG mechanics would enrich Contra, and give you a reason beyond just aiming for a great run to keep running the levels. The issue is that any gains Contra makes are completely undone by the all-undermining mechanic that is overheating. This is not exaggeration, and there are no words to describe how not Contra anything that makes you stop shooting is. It’s like creating a Mario game that doesn’t let you jump.
Even if I ignore the baggage that comes with being a new Contra, and try to assess this game on its own terms, it comes up short. As a plain old run and gun game, it’s… well, again, it’s a run and gun game that doesn’t want you to gun much. When you get into the flow of the action, it actually can be fun. Enemies are great to take down, the game uses a lot of over the top visuals to represent the carnage and havoc you’re wreaking, and the shooting has impact. Enemy design can be smart, and arenas are surprisingly well constructed. All of this would be great if the game would let you shoot, or was even balanced around the cooldown mechanic, which it absolutely does not appear to be. How exactly are you supposed to take on a relentless swarm of enemies when your primary tool for doing so keeps arbitrarily being taken away from you every few seconds?
"On a technical level this might be one of the most primitive games this generation, with awful textures and character models, and slowdown when there are explosions on screen."
If the game played well, I’d find its other failings easier to forgive. It looks absolutely horrid, for one thing. On a technical level this might be one of the most primitive games this generation, with awful textures and character models, and slowdown when there are explosions on screen (which, in a run and gun game, there are a lot of), but even on an artistic level, the gloomy and murky proceedings are a far cry from the bright and colorful Contra you might remember. The sound fares worse: though the voice acting does the job, and I have little to no complaints with it, the music lacks any punch or sense of weight, and it feels like someone turned the volume down to the lowest possible, so that you can only occasionally hear it in the background. Sometimes.
There is merit to Contra: Rogue Corps, as I said. It has some sensible ideas on how to evolve its franchise, it strikes the right tone, and it can actually be fun with others, thanks to the game continuing the series’ tradition of supporting co-op (local and online), while also adding a versus mode. But the issues undermine a lot of what it’s going for. It looks ugly, sounds worse, and loves to get in its own way, to the extent that your enjoyment feels constantly impeded. Worst of all, at least for a Contra fan, this game is the antithesis of what Contra is supposed to be. Playing Rogue Corps, I at last understood what Metal Gear fans must have felt when they played Metal Gear Survive last year.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 4.
The game seems to have some good ideas on how to evolve Contra; the shooting can feel fun and satisfying; enemy and arena design is varied
The controls are fiddly; the graphics are horrible on a technical and artistic level; slowdown whenever there are explosions on screen; awful sound mixing; the overheating mechanic completely and utterly undermines any gains or merits to Contra: Rogue Corps