I’ll be the first to admit that I felt an air of joy when Contra: Rogue Corps was revealed – not just because I’m a fan of the series but also because it showed that Konami still might be willing to delve into their strong back catalogue of IPs and bring out some all-new releases. It could be argued that they’ve played it a little safe with Contra, but hey, you’ve got to start somewhere, right?
However, rather than offering a side-scrolling run ‘n gun shooter that you’d traditionally associate with the Contra name, Contra: Rogue Corps instead offers a twin-stick shooting experience that factors in character customisation and blasting your way through large and open levels. Unfortunately, whilst this could’ve been a good direction to take the game in, some poor design choices and ugly visuals (on the Nintendo Switch) makes this return to the series a not-so triumphant one.
Contra: Rogue Corps’ story is easily summarised as ‘evil alien race threatens humanity, cool heroes kick their asses’. Sure, there’s a little bit more to the lore that’s spread across the multiple games in the series, but it’s never been the kind of game where the narrative really plays that big of a role.
Despite this, the insanity has certainly been ramped up here, with some over-the-top characters and scenarios to encounter that show that Contra: Rogue Corps doesn’t take itself too seriously. I mean, one of the playable characters is a manic panda – what would you expect? This all makes for a bit of a mixed experience. Whilst I appreciate the humorous tone at times and loved the comic book-style of the cutscenes, some of the corny one liners were a bit too on the nose. The profanity just felt a little out of place too, with swear words thrown around willy-nilly for no reason other than to make the cast seem more outlandish and cool; whilst I appreciate it’s that sort of tone that Contra: Rogue Corps is trying to embrace, it just hit the wrong notes for me.
Whilst previous Contra games have embraced different camera perspectives to spice things up a bit, Contra: Rogue Corps has taken a real shift from the norm with its twin-stick shooting gameplay. This means moving around with the left stick and aiming with the right, with the player mashing the shoot button to keep bullets streaming towards the enemy. You’ve also got a quick dash ability which can make you temporarily invulnerable to enemy attacks (as well as being used to stun enemies), a bomb power up that can be used to dish out heavy damage, a brutal close-range finishing attack that can be hit on stunned foes, and even a special ability that’ll give your attack power a decent boost. Contra: Rogue Corps certainly goes a long way in ensuring that you’ve got a decent arsenal at your disposal to take down your enemies and each of the four characters you can choose between has enough variety in their approach to make them all worth checking out.
It manages to get all of the basics right, with the shooting proving fun and the weapons often a spectacle to use (I’ll never tire of seeing enemies blast against the screen when I kill them). However, it doesn’t do anything that you wouldn’t have seen done before (and better in most cases) in the myriad of other twin-stick shooters available right now. In fact, Contra: Rogue Corps could be guilty of being a little clunky in some places, with the aiming often imprecise and the small platforming segments adding little to the fun.
What doesn’t help its cause is the fact that your weapon can overheat, meaning you’ve got to give it a few seconds to recharge before being able to shoot again. Now in some ways this could work – having to pick your shots, swap weapons before they overheat, and make sure you utilise explosives in the environment to help take down the hordes of enemies coming your way added a tactical edge to proceedings, and sure, it was satisfying balancing it all out at times. However, I associate the Contra name with non-stop action and bombarding my enemies with bullets, so having to simply stop shooting or having to deal with a gun that needs a bit of time to cool down just felt restrictive and completely broke up the action for me. Contra: Rogue Corps isn’t shy as far as sending enemies your way is concerned, so it just made me feel like I was at a disadvantage and left me spending more time worrying that my gun was going to suddenly stop working (and trust me, it can overheat quite quickly).
One neat thing I did like about the game were the over the shoulder segments, which acted as a nice throwback to the Contra games of old. These sections of the game see you controlling a target reticule and blasting away at enemies, all whilst running around with your character to avoid any incoming hazards. Now don’t get me wrong, these moments don’t do anything too special and the whole weapon overheating problem still rears its head here, but they were still a nice addition to the game and I enjoyed it when they popped up in levels.
As you play through missions in the game you can unlock a myriad of new gear and upgrades, both for your weapons and your characters. Some of the new weapons are a lot more creative in design and pack a heck of a punch, or alternatively you could just ramp up the power of those that you’re already invested in – in fairness, there are multiple ways to approach it and a decent arsenal to play with, so a lot of this will come down to player preference. Upgrading your character sees you improve things like their power, their durability, or even their speed – again, you can shape this around your playstyle, so there’s flexibility on offer here. It was a pleasant surprise to see the depth on offer with the upgrades and it certainly gave me the incentive to collect as much loot as I could whilst out on missions.
Multiplayer in Contra: Rogue Corps is a bit of a mixed bag, with local play restricted when compared to online. Whilst online multiplayer allows up to four players to blast through the campaign together, local co-op is restricted to just the exploration missions: randomly-generated affairs that don’t pack the same punch as the conventional missions you face throughout the main campaign. Now I have no doubt that the online multiplayer will be a lot of fun and make some of the game’s flaws less annoying (I haven’t had a chance to try it yet), but it’s just a shame that I can’t enjoy it with a buddy locally like I used to in the older Contra games.
I played Contra: Rogue Corps on the Nintendo Switch and it’s safe to say that I probably got the short end of the stick when compared to other consoles. Not only do the textures of the environment and character models look a little bland, but there’s a slight blurriness to just about everything in the game. Thankfully, I didn’t run into any performance issues and the character and environmental design is decent enough, but the visuals themselves certainly take a hit on the Nintendo Switch, leaving it looking like a low-res last-gen game.
It’s hard not to feel a little disappointed with Contra: Rogue Corps. Whilst I don’t have any qualms with the game adopting a twin-stick shooter approach, the gameplay itself lacks the imagination or creativity to stand out amongst superior releases in the genre. In fact, Contra: Rogue Corps actually takes a few step backwards, with the clunky aiming and the overheating guns making for more frustrating moments than fun. Add to that a restricted local multiplayer mode and some shoddy visuals (on the Nintendo Switch at least), and it quickly becomes apparent that this isn’t the grand return to the Contra series that fans may have been hoping for.
That’s not to say that Contra: Rogue Corps doesn’t have its moments though; in fact, I’ll be the first to admit that I had some fun during some of the more over-the-top sections of the game, whilst the customisation and upgrade system has a fair amount of depth. It’s just a shame that it’s rarely consistent and that it was the game’s more disappointing facets that stuck with me the most after completion.
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC