Many retro gamers will recognise the Contra franchise namely due to its unrelenting difficulty, despite being the only game in the Contra series to feature on the Sega Megadrive, it is definitely no exception. Because of Contra’s origin on Nintendo systems, Hard Corps seems to have been overlooked by many gamers. This is a great shame for a game such as this, and ensures its place as a ‘hidden gem’ within the series.
Hard Corps is set several years after the events of Contra 3 (A.K.A. Probotector in Europe) on the Super Nintendo. While Contra 3 focused on the threat of ‘alien rebels’, Hard Corps concerns a tyrannical leader named Colonel Bahamut, who has re-programmed the worlds robots for his own personal gain. During the 16-Bit console war, the Megadrive was always considered the console for the ‘cooler kids’, and its dark storyline certainly attests to this. Players are given a reason for multiple playthroughs thanks to a ‘branching path’ feature. One of the more unexpected plot developments comes later on, with the choice to either defeat or join colonel Bahamut in world domination. It’s an early example of the ethical decisions seen in games like Fable and Mass Effect, although the latter option instantly rebukes the players unscrupulous decision by sending them to the ‘Game Over’ screen.
A first for Contra is the ability to select your character from a choice of 4. Ray and Sheena are male and female soldiers respectively. The more interesting characters however are Browny, a pint sized android; and personal favourite Fang, a half-cyborg half wolf with a gun for an arm. Distinctive as he is, it makes for a heated character select during a multiplayer session. What makes the characters even more interesting is that their design isn’t purely cosmetic. Every character has their own unique abilities, take Browny for example. He is the shortest character in the game making him harder to hit, but at the same time his attacks are the weakest. It’s a nice addition to the game and rewards players who pick the bigger characters with better firepower.
The Megadrive was hard pressed to beat the graphical splendour that was Contra 3, but there are a handful of games on the Megadrive which appear to surpass the systems constraints. Hard Corps is definitely within this camp, backgrounds provide a futuristic portrayal of a world in chaos. Boss battles are incredibly epic due to the sheer amount of the screen they take up (Pictured is the aptly named ‘Maximum Jumbo’). Occasionally the gameplay suffers from slowdown during particularly frantic levels. Although to be honest, it provides a moment of respite amidst a chaos of bullets. The graphics really shine on the vehicular levels, when atop the helicopter the plane (Plane as in dimension) shifts 90 degrees, considering this is a 2-D game that is no easy task.
I wish I could close this review with something positive to say, but there is one major gripe about the game which I’m sure many Contra fans can relate to. The difficulty is far from tolerable to even the most hardened of gamers. Players are expected to complete the game with a meagre 3 lives, no checkpoints and limited continues. In order to access the ‘true ending’ you must complete the game on the hardest difficulty. While the game is fantastic it is near inaccessible to most gamers, to get the most out of the game I would recommend purchasing the Japanese version. The major difference being infinite continues and three hits before losing a life, for those concerned that they may miss out on the storyline, learn Japanese. I can guarantee it will take less time to master.
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