80s action classic Contra returns with a brand-new game, but can Konami compete with the series’ unofficial homages?
We would’ve loved for Contra: Rogue Corps to be a good game. Not only are we big fans of the series (initially known as Probotector in Europe) but it represents the first time Konami has tried to resurrect one of its classic franchises since ousting Hideo Kojima in 2015 and all but giving up on the traditional games industry. They even got veteran director Nobuya Nakazato – who has worked on almost every Contra game since the classic Contra III – involved but, alas, this is not the comeback either Konami or Contra needed.
If you’re not familiar with Contra it is the quintessential run ‘n’ gun 2D shooter of the late 80s and 90s, starting off in the arcades (where it was known as Gryzor in the UK) and peaking in prominence with classic entries on the NES and SNES (although there’s also a good one included on the Sega Mega Drive Mini). When we interviewed Nakazato back in June we suggested that Gears Of War is the closest modern day equivalent and the sort of thing Contra should have evolved into. He disagreed, and maybe he’s right, but Rogue Corps is certainly not the way to go either.
Rogue Corps is not only the worst entry in the series it’s one of the worst games we’ve played all year and that seems all the more unforgiveable given how good indie homage Blazing Chrome is. The only silver lining is that between that and the recently released Contra Collection at least you have plenty alternatives if you want to play an old school shooter that’s actually fun.
The thing that first strikes you about Rogue Corps is what a spectacularly ugly game it is. Not just in terms of the terrible graphics and bland art design but the painful attempts to appear cool and edgy by having everyone swear like a 14-year-old. You could perhaps argue that it’s all in keeping with the 80s action movie aesthetic but it just comes across as embarrassingly desperate and one more reason not to pay attention to the cut scenes. For what it’s worth though the game is framed as a loose sequel to Contra III (aka Super Probotector), as you join a mercenary group running missions in the ‘Damned City’.
The one thing we do admire about Rogue Corps is that it’s not the pseudo-remake of Contra III we were expecting. That would have been the safe choice – and in retrospect the sensible one – but while Rogue Corps does feature plenty of nods and homages to previous entries it’s not a rehash of any of them in particular. If anything, it’s closest to PlayStation 2 game Neo Contra, since it’s a dual-stick shooter with a variable, but occasionally top-down, camera angle. Some might immediately balk at that, because Contra is traditionally a side-scroller with the occasional overhead section, but the series has always experimented as much as technology (and its budget) allows when it comes to how its action is presented – and this is perfectly in keeping with that.
What isn’t in keeping with anything Contra has ever been about though, is the idea of having to stop firing your gun, which is arguably Rogue Corps’ greatest sin. You start off each mission with two weapons and infinite ammo but each will quickly overheat if you keep using them, forcing you to constantly switch between them. Whatever tactical depth this was supposed to add to the game doesn’t come across at all and instead it makes the entire game a frustrating and awkwardly paced slog.
Perhaps it wouldn’t seem so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that the action is so clunky and imprecise, in terms of both you characters’ movement and aiming. Rogue Corps has clearly been made on a shoestring but the graphics and sound design are so bad there’s little feedback or sense of damage when you’re fighting enemies, and things like special moves and a Doom-like glory kill are impossible to get excited about – even though in theory they’re sensible ways to try and expand the gameplay.
The level design is also awful, constantly stopping and starting and switching views, to the point where there never seems to be any flow to the action. Set pieces start and finish for no obvious reason, as enemies teleport in at random, while boss battles are a horrible mix of murky-looking graphics and cheating tactics.
The indistinct visuals and small play areas mean that even the co-op options can’t save the game and the chances of getting anyone to take part in the separate competitive mode are virtually zero. The only part of the game that really works is the customisation, since the various playable characters are quite distinct in terms of visuals and abilities and the upgrades do make a difference, but that’s meaningless if the game itself is no good.
There are innumerable ways that Contra could’ve been brought back successfully for the modern age, from another retro homage like WayForward’s Contra 4 on the DS to a big budget 3D game, but Rogue Corps is so bad it’s pitiable. Or at least it would be if Konami weren’t asking almost full price for the game.
Rogue Corps is a disaster and when it inevitably becomes a flop we worry whether we’ll ever see the franchise again. But while Contra’s name may have been dragged through the dirt at least its spirit lives on in other games. And who knows, perhaps one day we’ll get another Contra that lives up to its own legacy.
Contra: Rogue Corps
Contra: Rogue Corps review
In Short: The worst Contra game ever made and an object lesson in how not to revive a classic franchise, especially as there are multiple unofficial homages that are far superior.
Pros: The game certainly doesn’t take the easy approach to reviving the franchise and the upgrade system would’ve been interesting in a different context.
Cons: Dull, clunky action with poor level and enemy design and no sense of pacing or excitement. Terrible graphics and art design. Outrageously high price.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Release Date: 26th September 2019
Age Rating: 16
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