“Punishing” is the word I would use to best describe my experience with Hard Corps: Uprising. For most of my time spent with the game, I was constantly led back to a distant checkpoint to be ridiculed about my inadequacies. This game is tough, and not always in the sense of memorization or determination. You will die over and over and over again, which is fine for those that prefer a challenge but, at times, Uprising feels almost like it is trying too hard to appeal to the super hardcore Contra fans.
One of the first things you will notice about HC: Uprising is its visual splendor. Developed by Arc System Works, this is one fine looking game; not too shocking considering the company’s track record. You will recognize their character designs, as they are highly similar to their past games including Guilty Gear and, more recently, BlazBlue. The game also runs at a steady clip, with plenty of visual flare going on constantly. The stage where it is raining really sticks out in memory. There is no doubt that this is one of the best looking 2D action games currently available.
There is a story here but, in all honesty, it takes a backseat to the action. The year is 2613 and the world is ruled by an empire called Commonwealth. You are part of an elite group of soldiers out to set things right and save the world from tyranny. Basically, this is boiled down to some text sequences between levels and one kick-ass animated intro accompanied by some catchy hair metal.
As for the gameplay, this is straight up, old-school Contra. Anyone familiar with Contra: Hard Corps will be pleased to know this game is sort of a prequel to that entry. Dropping the Contra name is an interesting choice, especially for such a niche genre, but rest assured: this is a Contra game through and through. What that also means is that it will punish you for the sake of its own satisfaction. The game is broken down into eight levels, and each one is long and full of death and disappointment. The general idea remains untouched. You move left to right, destroying everything in your path while collecting weapon upgrades that will help your cause.
Much like the classic Contra titles, you can collect weapons by shooting floating power-ups. The classics are here including the laser shot, the flame and, of course, the iconic spread shot. Sadly, like everything else in this game, the weapons are limited by ammo and if you get hit while carrying one, you lose it. Like I said, the game is highly unforgiving and that is never more evident than with the checkpoints. When you die (and you will die a lot), you are whisked away to a far away checkpoint that requires you to trudge through that ridiculous section you just passed. This will happen time and time again and quickly start to wear on your patience.
There are some new additions to the formula, but you wouldn’t know it if you simply jumped into the game. You can now dash across the screen, hold down a button to strafe and aim and even perform actions such as deflecting bullets. Unfortunately, the game never teaches you any of this stuff and you are forced to dig through the text tutorials within the game or simply learn by experimenting.
This is the one area where the game will be made or broken for players. I like a good challenge, and fans of Contra should have expected the game to be difficult, but sometimes Uprising almost feels unfair and frustrating. Most players will never see all eight of the levels included in the game. It would have been nice to include an easy mode or, perhaps, infinite continues so those of us who don’t have time to master the levels or memorize the patterns could experience the entire game. As it stands, you really have to dedicate yourself to the cause if you plan to get your money’s worth here.
The one bright side is the Uprising mode that converts your score into points that you can use to purchase permanent upgrades for your character. These start off as simple weapon upgrades but eventually evolve into more useful things. Grinding to earn any of these upgrades will take some serious time, so making the game easier likely means playing the same levels and sections over and over, which can quickly become tedious. It is a nice addition, but I still think games like this should come with an easy mode for those that just want to see all of what they paid for.
Hard Corps: Uprising is a classic arcade action title that is almost too difficult at times to enjoy. I love the art style, slick controls and level design, but dying over and over and the unforgiving checkpoints are enough to frustrate me too much at times. If you have endless patience and are a hardcore fan of Contra, or any great 2D shooter, this is a must own. Just be warned going in that you will need to master everything the game has to offer and you will still die constantly.
Review copy provided by publisher.