Whilst Contra’s last outing tried to re-invent the formula too much (and ended up as a bit of a mess in the process), Contra: Operation Galuga feels like a glorious return to form for the series. Developer WayForward has kept it simple by re-imagining the classic formula for a modern audience, but it has resulted in a really enjoyable old-school experience that captures the essence of the original game perfectly.

Check out some screenshots down below:

Contra: Operation Galuga doesn’t try to re-invent the old-school formula that fans would most associate with the series, with it offering the same run ‘n gun action that made it so beloved by players to begin with. In fact, it feels like a re-imagined take on the first game more than anything, with it simply sharpening the same gameplay mechanics that made it so enjoyable to begin with (and also adding a stylish spin on a few recognisable levels). The same applies to the storytelling, with the villainous Red Falcon Organization once again setting up a base on the Galuga archipelago, with Bill Rizer and Lance Bean of the Contra Unit sent in to deal with them and destroy the alien race that act as the big baddies behind the scenes. So far, so Contra.

The core gameplay loop is a ton of familiar fun, with players running and gunning through levels, taking part in set pieces involving vehicles, collecting different power-ups to enhance their weaponry, and taking down a myriad of enemies in frantic action, with everything taking place from a 2.5D perspective that doesn’t only look pretty but also plays into the level design in creative ways. It manages to capture the feel of the original Contra perfectly with its levels that blend together satisfying platforming with frantic gunplay, whilst the controls are slick and ensure that you’re always able to shoot your way out of danger or pull off a swift double-jump to evade incoming attacks. It’s easier to line up shots thanks to the free-aiming setup, whilst each playable character comes with additional traversal skills that changes up how they feel to use. Whilst Bill and Lance have their traditional dash and double-jump, Ariana can slide, Lucia has a grappling hook to get around, whilst Stanley Ironside can hover.

What, you didn’t think Bill and Lance would be alone in their fight, right? Throughout the Story Mode, you’ll unlock additional characters that fight alongside you, with players able to change up their playable character in-between levels. It’s not a very long campaign with just eight levels to get through (I think I did it in around 90 minutes), but the added narrative details and cutscenes make it feel more involving than the original game. And, much like the original game, it can be played through in its entirety in two player co-op, which is undoubtedly the best way to experience it.

“It manages to capture the feel of the original Contra perfectly with its levels that blend together satisfying platforming with frantic gunplay, whilst the controls are slick and ensure that you’re always able to shoot your way out of danger or pull off a swift double-jump to evade incoming attacks.”

Of course, it can also be tough as nails, though Contra: Operation Galuga introduces a few additional mechanics to give players an easier time. For one, it’s possible to play with a health bar, with players able to take three hits before they’re killed – this is a lot more forgiving than players would be used to if they played the original game and certainly eases the difficulty curve as you go through the Story Mode for the first time. One-hit kills are still available if you’re a Contra veteran and want a more traditional challenge, but it’s nice to have a more accessible option for those who are new to the series.

There’s also a weapon upgrade system in place that sees weapons taking on an enhanced form when collecting two of the same power-ups, which can make a big difference when facing stronger enemies. I know I felt unstoppable when I had my enhanced homing missiles, though having a souped-up spread shot felt equally satisfying when facing off against tons of enemies at the same time. Being able to equip two weapons and switch between them freely gives players a lot more versatility when dealing with the enemy threat, but remember: you still lose your equipped weapon when you’re killed. Believe me, there’s nothing more devastating than losing your favourite weapon when in the midst of a tricky boss encounter…

Then there’s the Perk Shop where you’re able to unlock special perks to use in-game, with things such as extra lives, expanded health points, keeping weapons when killed, or improved weaponry on offer, just to name a few examples. You have to earn credits in-game to purchase them so you won’t have access to them all immediately, but they can be game changers when tackling the higher difficulties. These are optional to use, but they can make the game’s challenge a lot easier to handle (and in some instances make it more fun to play).

Check out some screenshots down below:

Whilst the Story Mode of Contra: Operation Galuga can be beaten quickly, there are additional modes to jump into if you want more of a challenge. Arcade Mode focuses on chasing high scores, whilst also introducing additional characters to play as in the Probotectors (which itself is an appreciated nod to some of the older Contra releases). What’s particularly exciting about Arcade Mode is that it can be played with four players, which makes for some utterly manic moments. It’s a blast though, with the non-stop action certainly making it a co-op treat.

Then you have the Challenge Mode, which gives players specific challenges to complete across set levels in the game. I loved these, with it forcing players to embrace a particular playstyle in order to succeed, whether that’s by speeding through areas as quickly as possible, evading enemy obstacles that are constantly blocking your path, only using a specific weapon, or not killing any enemies as you reach the end of the level. They add a completely different spin onto the traditional run ‘n gun formula, with each proving a lot of fun to complete. Whilst the 30 challenges on offer give players a worthwhile test, I was enjoying them so much that I wished there were more… maybe that’s an idea for DLC somewhere down the line?

Contra: Operation Galuga Review

Contra: Operation Galuga is a return to form for the series, with the satisfying run ‘n gun action undoubtedly standing the test of time over the years (and complemented by some neat modern features this time around). I had a lot of fun playing through the Story Mode and seeing the re-imagined take on some classic levels from the original game, but the manic four-player action of Arcade Mode and the unique trials of the Challenge Mode probably stood out as a highlight for me. It’s more accessible than ever too, with the added features helping it make for an easier experience that newcomers to the series are sure to appreciate.  

It’s just a really, really fun game and one that shows there’s still plenty of life left in Contra. Here’s hoping Konami ensure the same amount of love and care is put into their other classic franchises in the future.

Developer: WayForward
Publisher: Konami
Platform(s): PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One
Website: https://store.steampowered.com/app/2235020/Contra_Operation_Galuga/