Contra Rogue Corps title splash

Contra Rogue Corps was Doomed by Nostalgia

I was not going to get Contra: Rogue Corps. I wasn’t. The reviews have been lackluster to say the least, and downright brutal to say the worst. Besides that, I don’t know that I need another twin-stick shooter in my life right now. The genre is pretty well saturated.

Anyway, how could a new Contra game possibly stand out in the shadow of the original Contra? It couldn’t. And I’ll tell you why.

Contra Rogue Corps title splash

Contra was great. But it was almost accidental in its greatness. Sure, the gameplay and controls were tight, but that’s only one ingredient for greatness. And did we even care about that as kids? 

Looking back, Contra was incredibly simple, almost stupidly so, and hinged heavily on the player’s ability to quickly react to a screen full of enemies and projectiles. That’s it. But at the same time, the monsters and environments were really cool and the music was jammin’. 

And the single greatest thing that really made Contra such an awesome game?

Dat multiplayer.

Contra NES cover
These guys are BFFs! <3

I’m guessing most ‘80s kids have a memory of playing Contra with a buddy. Or a neighbor. Or their cousin. Or whatever! I remember my neighbor, who I hardly knew at all, had a copy and invited me over. We shared a Konami Code and I *think* we beat it in one sitting. But that might just be a fantasy manufactured by my ego.

Doesn’t matter. The point is, I think even as kids we all understood Contra was a good game. But what really bumped it up to  legendary status was the great gaming memories Contra’s co-op mode helped us create.

Multiplayer co-op was certainly a thing back then, but not nearly as common as it is today. Especially on home consoles. While I had played co-op games before, Contra was the first time I experienced that kind of frenetic multiplayer action outside of an arcade. It was freakin’ mind blowing! It was a fantastic time to be a gamer, and many great memories were made.

And that nostalgia is exactly why Contra: Rogue Corps was pretty much doomed.

Contra: Rogue Corps can’t resurrect your childhood.

Konami had their work cut out for them. Even if they could develop a game that looked and felt exactly like the classic Contra series, they could not manufacture the memories that helped make it so great. 

Maybe that’s why they chose to go a completely different direction with Contra: Rogue Corps? And maybe that’s why they sold it as a $40 indie-style quick-hit, instead of a full-on major ($60) release. They knew that nothing they created could compare to our favorite Contra memories. So they just did something else entirely.

Maybe. Hell, I don’t know. I’m just guessing. 

Neo Contra for PS2
I’ve never played it, but it’s supposed to be pretty good.

Rogue Corps is the first release in the Contra series since 2011. But the twin-stick shooting format is not really not a complete change for the series. Konami released Neo Contra for PS2 back in 2004, which was also a multidirectional shooter. And it was pretty well received. But other than that, I believe every Contra game has been a side-scrolling platform run & gun. And for a damn good reason. There was a formula there that worked for Konami for decades

However, no matter how much better the technology got, and how good subsequent Contra games were, none of those titles can live up to the memory of double-teaming hordes of aliens with a buddy. 

So why did they ditch the traditional 2D format? Didn’t they realize that after an eight-year hiatus, fans would have absolutely flipped to see Contra’s triumphant return to that original formula? That familiar comfort-food recipe of side-scrolling reflex shooting with a friend?

Instead, we got Contra: Rogue Corps. And it left us all scratching our heads.

Contra Rogue Corps special attack
Finishing moves are cool.

Pair with that the fact that the next 2D Castlevania, Grimoire of Souls, is coming to mobile, and longtime fans are starting to question Konami’s sanity. Maybe going to mobile is a smart business move to get more exposure to younger audiences? 

Whatever Konami’s reasoning, they are missing the mark with their oldest fans.

I should probably tell you…

As I mentioned, the reviews haven’t been great. Take that for what it’s worth. 

Based on that, I was really not going to get this game, but Konami reached out and offered me a review key. (#Humblebrag.) Just so you know. But I think it’s important to offer up an opinion here that’s as unbiased as possible. Just so you know that, too.

I wanted to approach this game as a blank slate. Forget it’s a Contra game. Forget the negative reviews. Let me just approach this game like I would any other.

Contra Rogue Corps press image

Forget it’s a Contra game.

First off, it’s $40 instead of the $60 that major titles cost today. So we shouldn’t expect AAA quality. Some have said this looks more like a competent indie game, and I agree with that. 

Rogue Corps has taken tons of flak for its graphics. I played it on Steam and I really don’t think they’re that bad. They aren’t the best, certainly. It’s possible they’re worse on other platforms though.

The much-maligned overheating weapons are honestly not that bad either. You can switch between your main weapon and a sub-weapon, and you will learn quickly how to juggle your weapons. As you progress through the game, you can purchase and unlock upgrades, so overheating becomes even less of a problem.

Contra  Rogue Corps Panda
I like the panda. Not sure why he exists, though.

The gameplay is more or less standard twin-stickery. You pick one of the four characters, each with subtle differences in play, and blast your way through massive hordes of enemies. Each character has a different set of starting weapons, but you can upgrade and switch gear around your team. 

Really, the upgrading and character and inventory development are a common theme.

You pick up a lot of loot in the stages that can be equipped, sold, or traded toward the stuff you really want. That includes weapons, but it also includes upgrade modules for your existing weapons. And you can visit the surgeon team to get some new eyeballs, guts, a new brain, or a new skeleton. It doesn’t take long to get your character pretty tricked out. And a lot of that stuff other reviewers complain about stops being an issue.

Contra Rogue Corps boss battle
A pretty epic boss fight here.

In addition to the regular top-down style shooting, Rogue Corps will sometimes switch to “shooting gallery mode.” This is an analog to the original Contra’s interior levels, where players shoot down hallways and have to dodge bullets and obstacles that fly toward the camera.

A hallway area from Contra (NES)

In shooting gallery mode, the camera stops following the player and becomes sort of semi-fixed in place. Use the right thumb stick to move a crosshairs around and hit sensitive targets.

Contra Rogue Corps shooting gallery mode
Shooting gallery mode

One of the more memorable early-game moments is the boss fight with the gigantic Big Fuzz skeleton robot. The guy is so massive that he picks up a train and uses it as a whip, along with shoulder-mounted missiles and his classic mouth-laser.

My biggest gripe with this game is that you can’t pause. Even in single player. And some of these levels are like 20 minutes long. Or more! A lot can happen in 20 minutes. Plus, the levels are timed. So you really have to put your life on hold while you’re playing Rogue Corps. Seems like a bad design decision. Maybe they’ll patch it away?

The other big problem is that, while Rogue Corps does have online multiplayer, including a team-based PVP mode, I was never able to find a game. It looks like nobody’s online. Such a shame, especially considering that multiplayer is what made Contra so great to begin with.

The Verdict

Look: if you like twin-stick shooters, you’ll probably like this. It’s a pretty decent one.

If you only like Contra games, you’ll probably be disappointed. It does not feel like Contra.

That’s it.

Contra: Rogue Corps is fine. I had a lot of fun with it. And there are a few little throwbacks here and there for the observant fans. The characters all jump in a crazy spin, like in the original games. And you’ll hear little bits of music from the original games, too.

Konami definitely broke from the original recipe with this game. And I’m not sure why. Maybe because they just released the Contra Collection and thought it would be redundant? Maybe because they knew they could never live up to Contra’s legacy? Or maybe they just wanted to try something new. 

The cutscenes aren’t too bad, either.

Konami can’t manufacture our childhood gaming memories, but I still think they missed an opportunity to create something that fans would agree to love. Something that at least scratches the same itch as the original games, and at least acknowledges the greatness of those classics.

There are plenty of publishers that are showing how much money can be made from nostalgia. Link’s Awakening is a prime example. Nintendo revived the original Zelda formula and fans are thanking them with their wallets. Capcom did it with their Resident Evil 2 remake and Mega Man 11. All of those are great games that revisited their original, classic style with modern makeovers and had great success.

I hope Konami learns from this and delivers us a great new side-scrolling Contra game soon. And not on mobile.

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