Contra Made Kinder, Gentler, Deeper By Hard Corps: UprisingS

I played the latest Contra game—the one without Contra in the name—at Comic-Con. It was too easy, but that was by design so that cream puffs like me could enjoy Hard Corps: Uprising without dying too quickly.

Hard Corps: Uprising was essentially set to easy mode for its Comic-Con demo, with player health and life count nearly maxed out.

That meant I made it through the first stage, losing only three of my ten lives by taking too many bullets, drowning in quicksand once or twice, and being crushed by giant robotic bosses. When you play Hard Corps: Uprising later this year, however, don't expect a cakewalk. Expect bullet-filled screens, level memorization and a few new additions to the Contra arsenal.

The first slice of Stage 1 in Hard Corps: Uprising ends with a boss lifted from the first Contra game, a mechanized barrier loaded with giant laser weapons and infantry taking shots at you. Later sections featured a giant metal arthropod and death defying leaps from speeding motorcycles. It's (almost) everything you loved about Contra, just with an animated makeover.

The game's associate producer, Kenji Yamamoto, did say that Konami and developer Arc System Works are trying to make the run and gun series a bit more friendly to new players. The new art style might help. Anime-like illustrated characters may help accomplish that.

Many Contra mainstays are still intact in Hard Corps: Uprising, like floating pods that travel in waves and drop Spread Gun and Machine Gun power ups. There are levels in which players will ride on bikes, chasing and being chased by big deadly machines.

There are also things less common in Contra games, like the ability to do a speed dash on the ground and in the air. There is an ability to reflect bullets with a parry move. There's a homing laser and a powerful, explosive-launching Crash Gun. You can increase the power of your special weapons by collecting multiple drops of the same power up. You can double jump. You have a life bar. And characters Bahamut and Krystal replace the big, muscle bound action heroes of other Contra games.

If some of that sounds like a bad idea to you, note that things like upgrading your character's health over time and the option for a life bar are features of the game's Rising Mode. If you want to play Hard Corps a little more hardcore, play it in Arcade Mode.

You may also run into classic Contra characters like Bill and Lance, given the "no comment" that Kenji Yamamoto offered when I asked if the pair would make an appearance in the game.

The additions to the Contra formula along with the wildly different visual style are, at least, refreshing. The possibility of hardcore, bullet-reflecting gameplay in a Contra game is exciting. Hard Corps: Uprising plays better and looks better than I was expecting, with lovely looking backgrounds and nicely detailed, well-animated characters side-scrolling across them.

Credit to Konami and Arc System Works for doing something different while offering the hungry Contra fan something to nibble on. Hard Corps: Uprising will be out later this year on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade. We'll see if we're up to the challenge then.

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