Genre: Run-’N-Gun Developer: Konami Publisher: Konami Players: 1-2 Released: 1994
From the back of the box: “Cyborg Butt…That’s what it’s all about, dude. Jack into this game of genetic engineering gone bad. Real bad. It’s five years after the mother of all wars ended-and things still aren’t right. Your job is to fix it.“
This game touted the famous Contra name as well as a whole 16 megabits of data and graphics. The series’ appearance on the Genesis was a welcome gift from Konami.
The television commercial depicts meat being processed through a meat grinder. That says a bit about the difficulty of the game. Contra features one hit death, just like the popular NES original, which makes the game very difficult. The original, however, had a code that raised the number of player lives from 3 to 30. A similar code was available in the Japanese and beta versions of the game, but it was removed in the final US release of the game. I felt the original was impossible without the code. What possessed Konami to make the US version harder is beyond my understanding.
The difficulty level of the gameplay is the same as the original, even though it feels more cluttered and claustrophobic because of the larger sprites, big explosions, and massive amounts of gunfire on the screen. The levels are long, with a mini-boss at the center point of each. Different endings and alternate routes significantly extend re-playability and these are implemented by forking the story at the end of certain levels, allowing the player to decide where to go next.
The weapons system has also been revamped. Instead of replacing the existing weapon every time a new one is picked up, players can keep their old weapon and switch between them by using the A button. Each of the 4 different characters has different variations to each weapon, which lets the player develop their own style. In addition to the weapons, each character type has its own benefits and weaknesses. Browny, for example, is particularly short and has to jump to shoot at what is a normal shooting height for the other Characters.
Another interesting feature are bombs. Unlike the weapons, bombs are the same for every player. The bombs fit into the last weapon slot for each player and allow them to clear most of the screen of regular enemies and cause large amounts of damage to sub-bosses and tougher enemies. You also have the ability to slide as a defensive measure by pressing down and C simultaneously. This adds another level of strategy to the classic Contra formula.
The music is good and helps to provide a chaotic atmosphere for this difficult game. The sound effects are also decent and convey the same feel the original did. Moreover, in certain parts of the menu system a synthesized voice speaks clearly and loudly. It’s one of the few Genesis games that make good use of the limited sound chip. This is another example on how great sound is possible on the system.
The enemies are varied. Many of the levels have different gimmicks such as hover-bikes or helicopters. The bosses are huge, intimidating, and fun to play against. The graphics themselves are simply stunning. The use of parallax scrolling in some of the levels help convey a realistic view of cityscapes and motion. Everything seems to be beautifully drawn and animated. It seems that with the 16-Megabits of cartridge space, they pushed the Genesis to another level. Hard Corps plays fast and furiously and is just as beautiful as any other 16-bit game ever created. The game is simply amazing. It just goes to show what talented artists and programmers can do when they put forth the effort.
Even though it’s particularly difficult, limiting you to three lives and three continues, it’s still incredibly fun to play. Part of the difficulty is the limitation, and it helps prevent boredom by Ghouls N’ Ghouls-type marathons. Combined with forking storylines, varying levels and fun bosses, this is a game that can be played over and over again for years to come.