Contra: Rogue Corps sees Konami returning to a much-lauded franchise for the first time in almost a decade. A surprise announcement a few months ago, it’s out now for PS4, Xbox One and PC – we’re reviewing it based on the PS4 version.
The Contra series, also known under the Probotector name in Europe, has been around for over thirty years now. Hard Corps: Uprising was the most recent game in the series (even though it lacks the Contra/Probotector name), and for me personally it was one of the best digital-only games in the Xbox 360/PS3 generation. It’s been since 2011 though, so I was very curious about Rogue Corps the moment it was revealed during E3.
I didn’t have to wait too long though, because Konami offered two different playable builds during E3 and Gamescom, and they revealed what was a very different kind of Contra experience despite the involvement of Nobuya Nakazato (of both Contra and Castlevania fame) as the game’s director. More of a 3D twin stick shooter than a traditional Contra experience, I was glad to have that trade show experience under my belt already, as it allowed me to switch gears prior to starting my Rogue Corps review.
The “rogue corps” is a crazy group of characters that you take into a campaign that’s set after the events of the “Alien Wars”, depicted first in Contra III (or Super Probotector) over 25 years ago. Comprised of a male and female character, a cyborg panda and a “Jeff Goldblum in the fly” type of insect-man, it doesn’t take more than a second to realize this crew is a bit out there. Your female lead’s body, for example, has fused with an alien with a bit of a potty mouth as well – and the alien has to be kept in check by keeping a katana blade inserted into Ms Harakiri’s stomach at nearly all times. Out there doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Crazy stuff also happens in the game itself, especially in the cutscenes you encounter during the main campaign. I won’t dive into details or examples so as to not spoil the fun, but they fit with Rogue Corps’ identity as an over the top action game very well. It’s a multi-faceted experience though, because on top of the standard campaign which you can also play online with others, you can also engage with a PvP mode as well as a couch co-op mode – which strangely enough isn’t available until you unlock it.
The campaign is the game’s strong suit, for sure. Most levels are well designed and the camera changes are interesting while providing throwbacks to earlier Contra games that did similar things (shifting from 2D to pseudo-3D, for instance). Despite the 3D perspective in Rogue Corps, levels are very linear and their design guides you through them with ease. There’s a fair bit of diversity in them though, with close quarters confrontations, arena battles that feature swarms of enemies and boss battles. You’re also almost constantly on the move, getting into the optimal position for a particular fight. This is especially fun when playing with others, where cooperation is part of the experience.
To further add to the diversity of the combat, your weapons will also overheat after a while, forcing you to swap. If may not feel like the classic Contra experience, but having previously realized this wasn’t going to be that I enjoyed this aspect of Rogue Corps quite a bit. It adds a bit of strategy to the pre-level bits as well, where you change your loadout and adapt it to your character’s skill set.
Even though some of the boss fights can be a bit of a grind, I have a lot of fun with the campaign mode – though I wish it could have been played locally with friends. Instead, local coop is reserved for a series of skirmish-like battles that are played with a zoomed-out perspective (rather than a split screen option). This feels like a missed opportunity, and something I hope is changed post-release through a patch of DLC (which Konami has already announced is coming for free).
As much fun as the campaign can be for a bit of over the top action, it never gave me the sense that is was enough to cement Rogue Corps as a bit of a cult classic for the current generation of consoles (like Hard Corps: Uprising definitely is for me when it comes to the PS3). The game is visually underwhelming in its 3D approach, the soundtrack doesn’t seem to fit the high octane nature of the gameplay, and the game could have used a bit more polish before release. It’s a fun shooter, especially with friends, but could have been a lot better – especially if you’re looking at it with Contra-colored glasses. If that’s a thing.