ReviewWhen the designers of Contra: Hard Corps sat down, they brainstormed to make the ultimate Contra game (interesting fact: this was the first Contra game not made by the team that later left Konami to form Treasure, but by someone else in Konami. Personally, I wouldn't know it.) They probably wanted to do what Castlevania 3 and Dracula X did to the Castlevania series...multiple characters, many routes, plenty of endings, and the thing that Contra fun: explosions, and lots of them. But while the game isn't quite the ultra Contra experience that the designers had wanted, it doesn't fall flat on its face either.
Contra: Hard Corps takes place five years after the Alien Wars. The alien threat is gone and civilization is building. In order to enforce law and order in the rebuilding world, the Hard Corps is assembled. Everything starts when a robot breaks loose and starts wreaking havoc on the city. You can pick one of four members of the Hard Corps (Ray, Sheena, Fang or Browny) to go stop it.
But that's just where the plot starts. The whole rampaging robot bit is a diversion to catch the Hard Corps' attention. Someone is actually breaking into a lab to steal an alien cell retained from the Alien Wars. There's no way you can stop it, but with some investigating the trail leads to a maniac named Colonel Bahamut that wants to create his own horrid biological manifestations in order to rule the world. All of this weight falls on your shoulders.
From the get-go, everything is extremely fast paced. An armored personnel carrier rams through the city and crashes, sending your hero(es) through the window and into the fray. Each of the four characters can hold four weapons that can be cycled through during gameplay, as well as the big bomb that destroy everything on the screen. The weapons are each of the cast's distinguishing characteristics, although Browny (a robot) also has a double jump ability. During gameplay, you can set your shooting mode (stand still and aim or run n' shoot) by either pressing A and B at the same time or one of the top button on a six-button controller.
An example of the branching routes occurs right at the end of the first level... you can choose to go after the robot pilot or respond to a distress call from the lab. You'll end up on the same route once the level is complete, but this choice also affects the path (and ending) later in the game when another choice is given on what to do. There are a total of four normal endings, an additional ending that occurs if you accept Colonel Bahamut's offer to help him rule the world (a la Dragon Warrior and Streets of Rage) and one extremely bizarre ending if you find the secret area.
The graphics are nothing short of amazing. Although in still-shots, the game looks like nothing compared to the crisp detailed world of Contra 3 for the SNES, the game needs to be seen in motion. It does things you thought the Genesis could never do...it even seems to push the boundaries more than Castlevania Bloodlines and Gunstar Heroes. One of the first bosses is a humongous one-eyed rock monster that leads from the background to right in back of you, throws a car, and attacks with a laser. It's absolutely incredible. Also, the game is completely side-scrolling... no overhead or behind-the-back isometric scenes (unless you want to count the battle with a robot while running on a road, but that doesn't quite count.) The music is more techno-ish than other games, but most of it sounds very cool nonetheless. The explosions are great too!
If you thought Contra 3 had tons of bosses, that was nothing. Hard Corps is almost ENTIRELY bosses. Unlike most games which are side-scrolling levels with periodic large enemies, Hard Corps feels like large enemies with side-scrolling levels interspersed. In fact, this is where I find fault in this game...the bosses are not only extremely difficult, but way too numerous. You'll be spending hours memorizing the patterns of the bosses and applying them, running out of lives, continuing and eventually starting over (you get three lives and five continues...there is no option to select the number of lives or difficult settings.) What bugs me the most about this is that the Japanese version had a life bar! Your characters could take three hits before dying! It's so obnoxious that you have to deal with the little margin of error when fighting bosses.
Honestly, if the game concentrated more on what the series is good at (more red-blooded running and gunning) then this would be the ultimate Contra game. But as it is, it's just too insanely difficult to be the best. It just doesn't haven't the balance Contra 3 had.
But that doesn't mean it's a bad game. Not in any way, shape, or form. Just because you may not be able to beat the fourth level doesn't mean you won't have fun. It's still extremely enjoyable, especially with a friend. As a recommendation though, I heavily recommend packing along a Game Genie for this one.
Thanks to Ed Oscuro for the Japanese scans and Setzer the Gambler for the European scans.