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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Hard Corps Uprising Review - an explosive new addition to the Contra series

You know an Xbox 360 game that I have been playing lately is Hard Corps Uprising.
Hard Corps: Uprising
Picture of one of the levels from Hard Corps Uprising

Overview of Hard Corps uprising

I've seen Hard Corps uprising on Xbox Live and it looked awesome and so I decided to buy the game on Xbox Live (got a free Xbox live gift card for my birthday back in September used the free points to buy the game).  Anyways, despite the name, Hard Corps uprising is basically the latest installment in the Contra franchise (and this is also the first Contra related game that I have played since Contra Hard Corps on the Sega Genesis).  This game is the official sequel / prequel to Contra Hard corps (depending on how you look at it) where you play as either Bahamut or Christer (there are also several DLC characters too that you can buy, such as a sword wielding lady) as they set out on a mission to topple a dictatorship regime set up by the evil Tiberius, which is essentially an Antichrist type figure that wants to take over the world.   The game has 8 huge levels in different terrains and environments, including the desert, jungle, ancient ruins (filled with traps much like how it is in an Indiana Jones Adventure), urban environments, and even a battleship you have to infiltrate to name a few.  As with many contra games (especially Contra Hard Corps), each level is packed with enemies to shoot, power ups to get (such as the spread shot guns and other special weapons), mini bosses to defeat as well as huge major boss fights as well.   The game has 2 modes: Arcade mode (which is geared more towards hard core gamers) and a Story Mode, which is somewhat similar to Arcade Mode except that as you get points, you can let them accumulate and use them towards power ups to make your character(s) stronger, such as having more lives (up to 30 lives max), better weapon upgrades, special moves (such as being able to deflect certain bullets and shots), triple jump (similar to double jump but you can jump 3 times in a row), as well as "tough guy" which makes it harder for you to lose weapons if you get hit.  The levels are pretty much identical on both modes (though on arcade mode, you start with 3 lives and you can only get hit 3 times before your character dies whereas in story mode you can level up your character and both start with better vitality and more lives for example) and hard core gamers (as well as old time contra fans) will like Arcade mode, while casual and first time contra players will probably enjoy the story mode. 


Things you will probably like about Hard Corps uprising:

Here is a video of level 4 in the game posted by a random user on Youtube.  This level should give you an idea of what the game is like

+ Very nice next generation feel.  Definitely beats the retro versions of Contra in my opinion.  By the way, the game almost has Mega Man X9 style graphics with the 2.5d look, great bgm music, controls, voice acting and all.
+ Has many of the elements of a typical Contra game.  I like the music it plays in the title screen (reminds me a bit of how it was in Contra 1), the power up weapons, the challenge it offers, etc.
+ Huge boss fights.  Also like in Mega Man X4-X8, a warning message pops up just before you fight a major boss and unlike in many previous Contra games, almost every boss has a health bar that appears and runs down as the fights progress.  Some boss fights even have several phases too (like the boss in level 4).  Also, as with Contra Hard Corps (and parts of Contra 3 as well) you can expect at least one or 2 mini boss fights (on average) in each stage.
+ Excellent enemy design and voice acting.
+ I liked the anime scenes that appear in the opening as well as at the end.
+ There is a narrative appears on the introduction of each stage (gives you a background for each level).  It also gives you an idea of what to expect in each level
+ Excellent level variety too.  Sometimes you are on foot (much like a typical contra game), though other times you can be riding a motor bike and fighting enemies via the motorcycle (including at least one mini boss fight), surf board, hoverboard, and even a train.  Each level has its own unique theme and terrain too (the first level, for example has you going through the middle of a desert) filled with enemies, mechanical sandworms (that eat you alive if you get too close to them too), and even a boss fight where you have to fight a huge worm like boss (much like the Thresher Maws from Mass Effect or the man eating worms in Dune) in the middle of a huge quicksand pit.  Other levels include a jungle, ancient ruins, city streets, a secret laboratory you have to infiltrate, and even a level where you fight on top of a huge flying battleship (kind of like the Helicarrier from the Avengers in a way).
+ The level up system is nice to have (especially if you find the game too hard at first).  Your character starts out weak, but as your points accumulate, you can use them to buy upgrades (such as improving your weapons, having a bigger health bar, having more lives, getting special moves such as deflecting enemy shots, as well as being able to move faster to name a few).  Hard core gamers probably won't like the level up system, but they can always to Arcade Mode which doesn't have the upgrade options and everything is pre-set.  By the way you can replay levels with the upgrades (which can make them easier, especially level one).  Also, since the game is only 8 levels long, you will likely finish the game long before you get all of the upgrades (especially the more expensive ones like the 30 lives upgrade).
+ Awesome new weapons layout.  Besides classic weapons like lasers, spread shots and machine guns, Hard Corps uprising also has several new weapons worth mentioning, including: grenade launchers (shoots rocket propelled grenades that explode on contact), heated plasma rifles (it is similar to the mega buster in some of the mega man series, where you can either shoot regular flame shots or charge it up and shoot huge fireballs that go across the screen instantly defeating enemies, destroying certain enemy bullets and even doing extra damage to bosses), as well as a ray gun that can reflect bullets back at enemies (which can be more efficient against bullets instead of the reflect ability).  One DLC character even has a light saber style weapon that you can use too.
+ Climatic final boss fight that has several different phases.  I won't spoil it for you, but it is definitely climatic in my opinion.
+ Innovative controls.  At least for Bahamut (I am not sure how it works with the other characters), Hard Corps Uprising definitely takes advantage of the extra controls that the Xbox 360 offers.  Your character can shoot rapidly (with an upgrade), run/walk, reflect bullets, perform certain actions (such as hurling sandbags at enemies and causing explosive barrels to explode on enemies), do a double jump (one upgrade even lets you do a triple jump where you can jump 3 times in a row), do an air dash (one upgrade even lets you dash twice in a jump), and change weapons (similar to how it is in Contra Hard Corps as well as contra 3).  One button even lets you to become stationary and aim your weapon in all directions (can be useful when it comes to taking out enemies that sneak up behind you, shooting at turrets at an angle, etc).  Also, there is also an auto-fire upgrade that you can get that makes it so that your guns can fire automatically.


Neutral aspects about this game (things you may or may not like about Hard Corps uprising)

- New villians.  In the older Contra games (especially Contra 1-3 and even parts of Contra Hard Corps depending on the storyline paths you take), the main antagonists were an alien race known as Red Falcon.  However in Hard Corps uprising, aliens are largely absent from the game.  Sure you do get some alien-like enemies (such as the level 5 boss fight where you fight a "grey" alien and level 7 boss fight where you fight an alien looking Cerberus creature), but the vast majority of the enemies are human and machine.  Also the main villain is an anti-Christ type figure known as Tiberius (I won't spoil the final boss for you though). 
 - No more one hit deaths.  In older contra games, one hit usually meant the death of the hero (though you do usually get several lives before it is game over).  In Hard Corps uprising, your character can take several hits before he/she dies.  In arcade mode, 3 hits can kill your character, while in story mode, your character can take up to 6 hits before dying.  Obviously if you are into one hit deaths (like earlier Contra games or even the Metal Slug games), you won't find it in Hard Corps uprising.  However, if you have found previous entries in the Contra series to be too hard, you will find some relief in Hard Corps uprising (especially in story mode).
- Next generation feel.  I know that Xbox live has several 8-bit style games in circulation (like Mega Man 9, 10, and even super contra).  Hard corps uprising has an 128 bit feel (much like how it is in Mega Man X9 where it is 2.5d).  Personally I like the next generation feel the game has, but if you prefer classic 8 or 16 bit Contra, you are probably better off getting Regular or Super Contra instead).


Things I did not like about Hard Corps uprising:

- Relatively short game.  The game is only 8 levels long.  It definitely could have been a bit longer, especially with all of the upgrades available.
- Upgrades can be expensive to get and so you will have to play levels over and over again to improve your character(s). 
- Replaying each level can definitely get redundant.  BTW, don't feel like you have to get every upgrade available and so you will probably want to be selective.  If you don't like playing levels over and over again, you might not like Hard corps uprising (though you can also try Arcade mode instead or even try doing the levels without upgrades).
-  Death can come pretty cheap in some areas.  For example, in the desert level, there are quick sand sections and your character can die if he/she sinks all the way (btw, it seems like you sink faster if you crouch).  In the jungle level, alligators can eat you alive.  In some levels (especially the second to lass level of the game), it can be easy to fall to your death. You also get sniper enemies in some levels (like the ones in level 2) and if you get hit by their shots, it drains at least 2-3 units out of your health bar (which means that you have to defeat them fast and avoid their shot to stay alive).
- Special weapons are easy to lose. It is a lot like how it is in the Metal Slug series where getting hit can cost you the weapon upgrades you have (i.e., spread shot, plasma rifle, etc), forcing you to use your regular guns (though your regular gun can also be upgraded too).  There is an upgrade (at least for Bahamut) that you can get called tough guy that supposedly makes it so that it is harder for you to lose your upgraded weapons (though I haven't tried it yet).  Ideally it would have been nice if you only lose your weapons if your guy dies.  On the positive note, you can actually switch between weapon layouts you have and if you have a weapon you don't want to lose, you can switch it out with a weapons you don't care for (such as your regular guns) and save the heavier guns for when they are needed (such as boss fights or taking out bigger enemies).  For example, the reflect beam can be useful against certain enemies and boss fights that shoot bullets you can reflect (such as one of the mini-bosses you fight in level 1). 


Final thoughts about Hard Corps Uprising

Hard corps is definitely a good addition to the Contra series.  It is highly innovative and will definitely be a hit for Contra fans.  It also takes advantage of the next generation set up that the Xbox 360 offers, including better graphics, remixed music (there is even a cheat that plays a remixed bgm from Contra 1 on the first level in the game), more innovative controls, huge boss fights, as well as other changes.  Obviously this game is not going to be for everyone.  Levels can get redundant after a while (assuming you are going for upgrades). There are changes to the storyline that not everyone is going to like (such as having new villians and the lack of alien enemies which were typical of earlier contra games).  Hard core gamers will probably not like the fact that one hit deaths are gone, though arcade mode does add extra challenge to the game, though casual gamers (like myself) will probably like the story mode system that the game offers.  Even with the upgrades, levels do get more challenging as you play through the game (as you would expect in any contra game) and deaths can come pretty cheaply in various sections of the game (such as chasm deaths for example).  You start out with 2 different characters you can play as (and you can do 2 player modes too both locally and via Xbox live) each with their own unique abilities and styles, though you can also download other characters if you choose.  Despite the flaws, Hard Corps Uprising definitely does not disappoint (at least not in my opinion) and very nice and explosive addition to the Contra series.

Game grade: A

Interested in playing Hard Corps uprising?  You can find it on the Xbox Live Arcade Market place.

Similar Games you might like:
- Contra Hard Corps (Sega Genesis)
- Contra 4 (note: I haven't played this version yet)
- Contra 3 (SNES)


Spoilers section  - this section assumes either you are planning to buy the game anytime soon (maybe you just want to see how it plays) or you have played through the game at least once.

1. New villians - Hard Corps uprising has an interesting array of new villians, including clownlike thugs (not sure how else to describe them) that function as henchmen for emperor Tiberius.  Plenty of other new enemies too, including snipers, man eating alligators, security bots, turrets, etc.
2. Lack of alien enemies - unlike many earlier contra games, Aliens are largely absent in most of Hard Corps uprising (which may bring into question if Hard Corps uprising is really a sequel to the contra series or just a spin off, I don't know for sure, though it does have the classic contra feel to it).  3 of the bosses do have alien like appearances though: the end of level boss in level 4 (particularly the final form where it looks like an alien robot machine), the end of level boss in level 5 (doesn't the "person" driving the saucer thingy look more like a "grey" alien?), as well as the Cerberus boss at the end of level 7 (has an alien look to it).  In most Contra games you do have an alien race you are up against (such a Red Falcon in Super Contra and Contra 3).  Even the first Contra Hard Corps game had alien plenty of enemies and bosses you can fight.

 3. Emperor Tiberius and the final boss battle - Emperor Tiberius is the official antagonist of Hard Corps uprising and is pretty much an anti-Christ figure.  He is a charismatic dictator that forms an empire aimed at world domination.  At the end of level 8, he is the final boss of the game.  What is interesting about Tiberius is that he seems to be a monster in human form, because after you defeat his human form, he takes on a more beasty form during the second phase of the final boss, and later a demon like form (during the final phase of the final battle) that you have to fight each stronger and more fierce than the last form.  It is hard to really describe him without showing you so here is a video from youtube below that shows off the final boss fight in all of its phases.

4. Prequel to Contra Hard Corps?
While Hard Corps uprising is the latest installment in the Contra Series. I am not sure if it s actually a sequel to Contra Hard Corps or a prequel to it.  Interestingly, the main protagonist of the game is Bahamut, and coincidentally, it is also the same name of the main villain in Contra Hard Corps for the Sega Genesis.  Also, in one of the levels you have to rescue a doctor and if you remember in Contra Hard Corps, there was an evil doctor (initially he was good, but he sides with the evil Bahamut in the original game) you are up against, which may or may not be the same person.  I don't know for sure, but there do seem to be some coincidences there.  Plus there are shows and movies where a hero becomes a villain (such as the Star Wars prequel series that follow Anakin Skywalker's storyline from when he was a hero until he turns to the dark side and becomes the evil Darth Vader) and this may be the case with the hero in Hard Corps uprising, though the game doesn't actually show Bahamut turning evil (even at the end of the game).  Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, Hard Corps uprising is the official prequel to Contra Hard Corps and so the game does make an interesting backstory to the original game. 


Secret Codes and Easter eggs.  Hard Corps uprising does have a few easter eggs and cheats.  (Original source: http://www.gamefaqs.com/xbox360/997471-hard-corps-uprising/cheats for details)

1. Change the stage music in level 1.  While level 1 is loading, you can quickly enter the komnai code (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, and a).  If you enter the code correctly, you should hear the words, "let's rock", and when the level loads, the background is significantly different (the same one from level 1 in Contra 1 just fyi). Note: it is not the default music in level one (a different tune will play if you don't enter the code).  Also the music does change when you fight the mini bosses and main bosses of the level.  Note: this code does not work on the other levels of the game, so it is only good for level 1.
2.  Get 30 lives: in the title screen, enter the code: Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, Click Left Stick, Click Right Stick.  If you enter the code correctly, if you go to the skill customization shop menu, a new item should appear that lets you start with 30 lives.  Note: unfortunately, you will still need to buy the 30 lives upgraded from the shop before it takes effect and it is definitely not cheap to buy either.  You will need to save up a lot of experience points before you can buy it.
3. Wall mini-bosses in levels 1 and 2.  They remind me of the stage 1 "boss fight" in Contra 1 if you remember correctly.  See the 2 images below.  The wall mini boss is essentially an upgraded version of the one from Contra 1.  2 notes: there are 2 "wall" boss fights in Hard Corps uprising (the other one takes place in level 2).  Also, unlike Contra 1, the "wall boss" is just a mini boss and not is the official end of level boss.  The real one is a giant worm like creature called the Lotus Wyrm (which is essentially Contra's version of the thresher maw from the Mass Effect series barring some obvious differences).

   That is all for now.  Do you have any comments or anything you want to add?  Feel free to leave a comment below.


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