I could toss and turn all I want complaining about how badly I want comebacks to some of my favorite videogame franchises, and how Contra Rogue Corps in particular is certainly not what I wanted out of a new Contra game. For that, I believe my E3 preview did enough to convey that notion. And yes, after playing through some of the final retail version of the game, I can say for a fact that this isn’t a game I would’ve asked for, let alone one under the name Contra. That much has already been beaten into your head, if not just by my articles, but by other writers as well. With that in mind, does this game do well as a shooter on its own merits?
The answer is: no. I would be hard pressed to say that Contra Rogue Corps is a good game in any way simply due to the fact that it feels like the minimum of what could have been done as a shooter nowadays. There’s an unmentionable amount of quality games in a similar vein that give Rogue Corps a run for its money simply due to the fact that they’re a lot more fun and rewarding to play and enjoy, and have much more depth and replayability. The new Contra lacks any of that, even though it includes a multitude of systems that could otherwise mean that in fact it should’ve had a lot to dig in when it fact it doesn’t.
Contra Rogue Corps is set in the same world of Contra III: The Alien Wars, years after the events of that game. Humanity apparently managed to beat back the alien invasion, but the bad guys still got the better of them, deploying a huge bomb that destroyed most of the world, leaving a wasteland in its place. As part of a group of fighters comprised of a bombastic cigar-chomping soldier, a vixen with a monster in her stomach, a panda with a human’s brain and a weird chieftain shaman guy, you fight back the alien scum level by level, upgrading and mixing/matching abilities along the way.
Unfortunately, a lot of what Konami has pumped into the game do little to make it anything more than an average to mediocre shooter. For one, all of your weapons overheat after being shot for a while, and even though you can pick from and use two of them interchangeably, nothing explains away having to wait for them to cool down instead of, well, having ammo, which would’ve been a more plausible recourse. That’s not even getting into the merit of this being a Contra game, which I promise I won’t touch upon again, but man, come on, if you want to be over-the-top and follow up on some of the best and hardest console games ever, why even consider having players not fire their weapons at all times?
Add to that the terrible camera angles that shift all the time during the action, which you have to bafflingly juggle dealing with with the terrible twin stick controls that make it incredibly difficult to properly aim and deal with the waves of enemies that instantly converge in your position the moment they spawn in. That’s not to say that isometric shooters don’t work, but when Rogue Corps can’t just decide on an angle and manages to be downright unwieldy no matter its choice, it’s hard to give it a pass, for as crazy as it acts in-between levels.
Missions can be started at any point by running to the VTOL in your base, but it’s a good idea to explore other buildings before that, like the one that allows you to plunk down cash and acquire better weapons, or upgrades, or surgical options, or calling in people to play with, or… you get my drift. There’s too much in the way of just jumping in, getting pickups as you shoot the crap out of whatever the game throws your way. Sure, having customization options and a level-up progression system is a staple of modern game design, but would it have killed the devs behind this game not to take the same road, especially considering how well previous Contras have done in the past?
It wouldn’t have been as big of a deal if any of it felt significant, but we’re talking about percentage decimal increments here, like a slight bump to crit chances, or your HP. What was supposed to be a run ‘n gun shooter became a loot-driven experience that doesn’t really have much in the way of an incentive to keep coming back to it. It’s hard to imagine what was going on in the devs minds when developing this game that it forced them to include elements such as these in this game. Sure, it’s hilarious to think that you can potentially replace all of your characters body parts for upgrades in order to get slightly different gameplay effects, but wouldn’t it have been better to stick with what worked quite well for decades before?
Ending paragraphs with questions isn’t a fantastic way to build a game review, but Contra Rogue Corps is such a baffling proposition that I find it hard not to take this approach. There really isn’t a single aspect of it that I wouldn’t raise questions about. Now, anyone could argue that the Contra franchise has experimented with a variety of approaches in the past, and that some weren’t as successful as others, but man, Rogue Corps is in a whole other league of its own. And I didn’t even mention that it’s a game that’s meant to be played online, and that you can’t even pause during levels. To quote — hell, this is the second time I bring him up in two reviews! — The Angry Videogame Nerd, “what were they thinking?!”.
I don’t want to make this review into a complete shitting on what eventually became of one of my biggest disappointments out of E3 this year, but it’s hard not to call this anything more than average at best. I had so much hope for what this could’ve been, considering that the original producer of the series, Nobuya Nakazato, is also behind this one. He has been with Konami for decades and has been part of the design crew a lot of their classics. Sadly, this isn’t one of them. It’s certainly playable, but there are much better alternatives out there that are much more worthy of your time.
Contra Rogue Corps barely scrapes by as a game on its own merits, and if you go in the way of comparing it to other entries in the franchise, do yourself a favor and avoid that disappointment. There have definitely been worse shooters than this in the past, but that isn’t to say that it’s probably one of the worst Contras I have ever played, and one of the weakest games that I reviewed this year. I don’t regret trying to play this in any way, but I feel annoyed that this is what they scraped up to try and carry the franchise forward. As a fan, this is not what I wanted out of a new Contra, and as someone that enjoys playing arcade shooters, this isn’t a good game either.