There’s absolutely no way to talk about Blazing Chrome without making any sort of comparison to Contra. Developer Joymasher — known for Odallus: The Dark Call and Oniken — really took the playbook for Konami’s classic shooter and took it to heart when coming up with Blazing Chrome, and to all regards, it’s their best game to date.
It’s set in a world where robots have taken over, and the little that there is left of humanity is banded up in a small resistance group. There’s two characters to play as, a girl with a big gun and a robotic insurgent that’s equipped with a mohawk. I don’t know about you, but the idea of playing as a traitorous machine that has enough personality and guts to sport one of those things on top of their head is a damn good reason to make it my top choice, even though apparently there’s no gameplay difference between the two outside of their look. You can eventually unlock two other characters as well, but I’m just too bad at this type of game and I haven’t yet seen them in action.
If you’ve ever messed around in a Contra game, you’ll quickly catch up to what Blazing Chrome is all about, as it plays exactly like one of those. If I had to nail in exactly which Contra it more closely resembles, I would probably go with a mix of Contra III: The Alien Wars in terms of the theme and design, and Contra Hard Corps for its sheer absurdity. Having had recently played some of both of those games thanks to Konami’s Contra Anniversary Collection, making the transition to this retro-inspired and lovingly put together tribute was a cinch. That doesn’t mean it made things any easier, and boy, this is as hard to get through as those for sure. You can shoot in eight ways like the norm for those games, with the added catch that if enemies come close, you’re able to melee them instead.
You pick up power-ups to your default machine gun along the way, and in Contra fashion these can provide you with a host of different shot types, like grenades, lasers, and even missiles, each with their own set of benefits and downsides. I really dig the pink laser whip one, since I’m able to keep it on screen as long as I can hold the shot button down, but it can only cover a short distance ahead of my character. There’s also some items that give you limited shielding, and considering each life accounts for a hit you can take, you will want to pick these up as often as you can along the way.
Level wise, the design of the stages is pretty well done. You get to play through a bunch of the tropes you might have seen if you have followed Contra over the years, like vertical levels, auto-scrolling sections, lots of climbing over things that shouldn’t be able to be climbed but are, and huge bosses, of course. Since you’re dead in one hit, the game keeps you on your toes all the time, throwing grunts your way just to see if you’re paying attention. The action is rendered in a 16-bit look that fits in well with the very cream of the Contra crop, down to the gross enemy designs and the sheer 1990s arcade violence and gore. If you’re like me and grew up playing these games, you’ll feel right at home with Blazing Chrome.
There’s a few options to pick from at the beginning that can help you start out in case you’re as bad as me, like an easy or normal modes that each contain a certain number of lives, continues and even checkpoints and save states depending on your choice. Upon clearing the game on normal, you unlock hardcore, and from the sound of that name and examples of that mode in other modes, I can imagine it’s a doozy. I’m happy playing this in either easy or normal, but for anyone looking for a beating, hey, go right ahead and partake in a no-continue, low lives count mode. There’s also an option to run the game in speedrun mode, which pops a clock on screen as you play, so I’ll assume the devs are probably looking forward to seeing what folks like the Speed Demos Archive and Games Done Quick can do. I can say for a fact that I wouldn’t turn a way a run of a game such as this in a live stream, preferably a charity one.
Another cool option within the game is being able to start out in one of four stages in the map, each with their own difficulty rating and theme, so if you’re in a hurry and feel confident enough, you can jump straight into level four and start the game out from there, but you’ll end up missing out on power-ups in favor of skipping ahead as a trade-off. I particularly like this idea because it’s an added layer of gambling with your chances of doing well right from the start screen, which tends to lead to catastrophic failures or lend plenty of fuel to boast about with friends. Speaking of boasting, there’s also going to be a leaderboard feature that saves your scores when playing on normal difficulty and up, but it wasn’t available during my time playing pre-release, and hopefully it’ll be up after launch.
You can also bring a friend along for the ride and attempt to finish the game together, but since I didn’t have anyone else to play with locally and test this out, I was not able to make much progress playing with two controllers at once. I mean, I can hardly clear the game by myself with one, let alone two. Hm, I think I might be on to something here, I mean, I don’t recall seeing anyone attempting to play Contra 2-player by themselves, that does sound pretty awesome!
It’s hard to think of another game that has nailed the feel of Contra so well from anyone other than Konami themselves, and even them can’t seem to get it right now for some reason. That makes it especially commendable to see Joymasher is keeping the genre alive with Blazing Chrome and getting it so right. Now if I could only get better at it, but that’s another can of worms entirely…