The Contra series will always live in infamy in the gaming world. The arcade release was and still is incredibly fun and challenging to this day. The NES port brought us the unforgettable Konami Code, and also taught us that some games are really, really hard to beat. From the initial release, through the generations and years, all the way to 2020, Contra has been a name synonymous with action.
Sadly that pedigree for quality seems to have all but sailed away with 2019’s totally average Contra: Rogue Corps.
Like many series’ before it, Contra struggled for a bit to get out of the 2D era and make the leap to 3D games. While some games in the franchise managed to keep the excellence of the original game going, others missed the mark completely. I remember popping in Contra: Legacy of War after picking it up used way back when, and instantly being disappointed. But then I also remember playing the spiritual successor Hard Corps: Uprising on Xbox 360 and absolutely loving it. So it was pretty clear, much like Konami’s other series, Castlevania, Contra is much better staying in the 2D world.
And that is my first gripe with Rogue Corps. The game just doesn’t present itself well for action. The camera acts on it’s own, and sometimes swings in awkward ways. Being a dual-stick shooter, Rogue Corps requires somewhat precise inputs to dole out the hurt to your enemies, and with an unresponsive camera it doesn’t work as well as intended. Making matters worse is the top down/isometric view of the action. Combined with the camera, this makes seeing all the enemies ganging up on you from the sides and behind rather troublesome.
Contra always felt best when you were blasting away at the bad guys, dodging bullets and picking up powerups to do what you were just doing, but way better. Rogue Corps losing some of that spirit by reducing enemies to just cannon fodder for the early stages of the game. It is clear the developers were going for a more RPG-like gameplay system, allowing you to level up your character, their weapons, and their abilities. But when you took away the instantly gratifying feeling up picking up the spreader, only to lock that famous ability away behind some in-game progress restriction, the game just doesn’t feel all that fun.
Perhaps it was because I played the game solo. I didn’t have anyone else with me to enjoy the action, and I believe Rogue Corps supports up to 4 players simultaneously. I tried hopping online multiple times, but sadly no one else seemed to be playing? While I felt the action was lacking, I can give it somewhat of a pass for missing out on what I am sure (I hope) is a big part of what makes the game fun.
What I cannot excuse, however, is the game’s sound. Or rather, it’s lack thereof. Have you ever watched a high action movie, let’s say something like Terminator 2: Judgment Day, with the sound turned off? It make huge moments like the chase scene with the motorcycle and the semi-truck seem less thrilling because you can’t hear the engines roar and the metal clang. This exact feeling happened in multiple sections in Rogue Corps, most egregiously during the game’s first epic boss encounter. A towering skeleton with rocket launchers on it’s arms stood five stories above me, and his massive roars were at best miserable to hear. The same goes for the hordes of enemies you plow through: the bland music is the only action you get, and the slight moans and groans of demons being shot just falls flat. Compare it to something like 2018’s Doom. That game not only had an absolutely in-your-face soundtrack, it also had loads of sound effects and gun blasts assaulting your ears. That is what I was expecting from Rogue Corps, but it never came sadly.
There are some things that worked out well. While I criticized it above for being odd, the RPG elements are kind of cool. You can augment your playable character (of which there are 4, each with a slightly different play style and weapon loadout) to improve their stats. Trading out their eyes, skeletons, and brains with cooresponding items found in the game is a fun way to attempt to get you to replay stages. Also, if you like leveling up your stuff as you use it, then this game is for you, too. The system worked well enough, the gameplay around it, however, just wasn’t engaging or fun to make me want to keep going.
Overall Contra: Rogue Corps really missed the mark. I said earlier the game, at least to me, seemed to be better while it stuck to the 2D side of gaming, and I believe that is evident here. There are certainly worse games out there, but on the same token there are better ones too. If you are a Contra fan, I would suggest picking up the Contra Anniversary Collection compilation instead of this new game. At least with that one you know what you’re getting and can pick your favorites. Rogue Corps will just let you down and with you were playing something better.