Contra: Hard Corps
  • Genre:
    • Run and Gun
  • Platform:
    • Genesis
  • Developer:
    • Konami
  • Publisher:
    • Konami
  • Released:
    • US 08/08/1994
    • JP 09/15/1994
    • UK 10/14/1994
Score: 90%

This review was published on 07/26/2015.

Contra: Hard Corps is a side-scrolling run and gun shooter video game published and developed by Konami for the Sega Genesis and Mega Drive. It was released in North America on August 8, 1994, Japan on September 15, 1994, and Europe on October 14, 1994. Like many other early entries in the Contra series, this game is called Probotector in Europe. This is the first and last Contra game released for the Genesis and also the first one to be released on a Sega platform in general. The Genesis just wasn't hardcore enough to handle more than one Contra game. And yes, the North American and Japanese title of the game is a pun on the term hardcore. It's because the game is hardcore, get it? Too bad Europe missed out on the pun by changing the game's name. Curiously, some of the enemies and bosses in this game bear a striking resemblance to ones in Gunstar Heroes, a game developed by Treasure in 1993. Treasure was made up of many former Konami staff members, so maybe that has something to do with it. Anyway, I'm not going to beat around the bush here; Contra: Hard Corps is awesome. The rest of this review is merely a formality.

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In Contra III: The Alien Wars for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, aliens invaded the Earth and two testosterone filled heroes obliterated them. Peace didn't last long, however, because five years later, in 2641, a robot uprising plunged the world back into the fiery depths of chaos. Behind the attack is a mysterious hacker who broke into a big city's security system and reprogrammed all of the unmanned robots to wreak havoc. A team of elite soldiers, known as the "Unified Military Special Mobile Task Force K-X," were assembled to combat the recent rise of crime and violence. The best way to fight violence is with more violence, right? These hardcore commandos are better known by their other name, the Contra Hard Corps, and they are the heroes of this story. Unlike previous Contra games, there are now cutscenes with dialogue, but they're short and infrequent enough to not be bothersome, usually only appearing at the beginning and end of a stage. The European version modified the story slightly by changing most of the main cast and some enemies from living beings to robots, presumably due to draconian censorship laws. I guess this game was too hardcore for Europe.

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The controls and mechanics of Hard Corps are fashioned after Contra III, so they should fit like a glove if you've played that. If you haven't, that's okay, because it's super simple: you run, you jump, and you shoot in one of eight directions. Normally, you're able to aim and shoot while moving, but you can switch to a different aiming mode on the fly that makes your character stay put when aiming for more precise shots. You can also climb walls and ceilings during certain parts of the game, because why not. One new move added to this game that wasn't in Contra III is the slide kick, which is a radical ability that lets you slide a short distance across the ground. The slide is both a defensive and offensive move, because you're invulnerable while you do it, but it can also destroy certain foes. That brief period of invulnerability makes a big difference, because like most Contra adventures, you die in one hit in this game... at least, in the North American and European versions. Strangely, the Japanese version of the game is substantially easier, as it has a life bar that allows you to take multiple hits and unlimited continues. This sort of thing used to happen a lot back then, but it's normally the other way around. It seems the game was too hardcore even for Japan.

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There are four playable characters to choose from in Hard Corps. Technically, this isn't the first Contra to feature multiple playable characters; Contra Force for the Nintendo Entertainment System beat it to the punch in that regard. The playable cast of Hard Corps is comprised of Ray Poward, a male human commando, Sheena Etranzi, a female human soldier, Brad Fang, a cybernetic wolf man armed with a gun arm, and Browny, a tiny robot. Two players can play the game cooperatively, but each one must use a different character. With the exception of Browny, who has a small stature and is able to hover in the air briefly after a jump, all the characters control mostly the same and start off with a generic rapid fire rifle. However, the differences between characters become apparent once power-ups enter the picture, as each character has a unique set of power-ups. All the main power-ups modify the gun's shots in some fashion, like a spread shot, homing missiles, lasers, and more. Unlike Contra III, you're no longer limited to carrying only two types of guns; you're now able to carry one of each power-up and switch between them at any time, though you still lose what you were last using when you die. The multiple characters and their unique power-ups add more depth to the game and is, therefore, freaking great.

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Right off the bat, the game begins with your character driving a futuristic truck into a bunch of robots, demolishing them all in fantastical explosions. The over-the-top, high octane action doesn't stop there, either. Shortly after that, you fight a four legged robot, and after you beat it, the thing will crash into a nearby building and knock it over, allowing you to walk up the collapsed structure. And that's only the first stage. Another stage has you hanging from the underside of a friendly aircraft while an enemy vehicle shoots missiles that break open to reveal soldiers with jetpacks that will then open fire on you, and the soldiers you kill fall to the ground below and smash into the hostile vehicle, eventually destroying it. That sentence alone should be indicative of the overflowing creativity in this game's stages. Further adding to the greatness is the amazing graphics and superb music. The overhead stages from Contra III are absent here, with every stage sticking to traditional side-scrolling game play. That's a good thing, because those overhead stages were easily the worst part of Contra III. Every stage in this game will blow your socks off, provided you're able to withstand the sky high difficulty.

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Bosses are bountiful in Contra: Hard Corps. The first stage has a robotic boss that separates its upper body from its lower half that then flies around like a saucer, slicing a building clean in half. Many fights have unique visual touches that would make even the SNES blush, like a giant bipedal machine that chases after you in a perspective similar to a racing game, or an alien creature that stretches the bridge you're standing on like an elastic band. The bosses are as creative as the stages themselves, not just in graphics, but also in concept. For example, one boss with multiple forms eventually becomes something akin to a helicopter, and it tries to impale you with its propellers as you're climbing up a vertical shaft. Then there's a giant ray gun boss aboard a moving train that you need to coerce into shooting itself. There's even a hidden boss that references Castlevania, another series created by Konami. Oh, and did I mention that one boss is fought on the side of a giant missile? Every boss has an unpredictable pattern that must be memorized perfectly in order to survive. That's a tall order, considering the sheer quantity of bosses. Hard Corps blurs the lines between what constitutes a boss and what doesn't, because they appear with such a high level of frequency. This game goes for both quantity and quality for its bosses.

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This is one of the first Contra games to incorporate different paths and multiple endings, adding a touch of nonlinearity to the overall linear experience. Each individual stage is completely linear, but at the end of certain stages, you'll have a choice on where to go next. One of these choices occur relatively early in the game, right after the first stage; upon wrecking a manned robot, you soon discover that it was piloted by a dude named Deadeye Joe. Right as he escapes, you get a distress call from a nearby research center, and now you have to choose whether to pursue Joe or defend the lab. No special prerequisites are needed for these choices to become available, so you won't typically have to scour the environment for secrets, though there is one exception for a certain secret stage. Depending on what path you pursue and your decisions during key moments in the story, you'll get different endings. It's even possible to get a bad ending by joining forces with the main baddie, if you're the nefarious sort. The branching paths and multiple endings add replay value to the game, which is pretty cool.

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Contra: Hard Corps is hardcore. This game has gracious graphics, marvelous music, credible controls, standout stages, and bodacious bosses. The branching paths, multiple endings, and multiple playable characters all add a good amount of replay value to the mix, as well. As if all that weren't good enough, the game even has co-op multiplayer, much like its predecessors. Hard Corps stands tall with Contra III as one of the best games in the entire series. It's relentlessly difficult, but also relentlessly good.

Word Count: 1,591

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