More like Rogue Bores
Konami isn’t presently held in the highest regard by most people. After canceling Silent Hills, firing Kojima at the tail end of Metal Gear Solid V’s production, adapting long-dormant franchises into pachinko machines, and releasing the sub-par Metal Gear: Survive, it seems like they’ve stumbling in the dark with thin hope that they might eventually find the light switch. Something has to go right at one point.
The announcement and subsequent release of the Konami Arcade Collections seemed like a good start. Bundling a ton of classic games together and making them available on modern platforms, Konami appeared to be far from abandoning the franchises that made it popular. Then Nintendo’s E3 Direct revealed the existence of Contra Rogue Corps, a brand new entry in a series that last saw a release was eight years ago. Could Konami have finally found its way?
I’m sorry to say it, but no, based on what I’ve seen at E3. Maybe things can change in the few months left before release, but while Contra Rogue Corps captures absolutely nothing of what previous Contra games so revered, its main problem is that it’s just not that good.
The demo started off with what could be considered an extended version of the game’s trailer. Rogue Corps picks up immediately after the events of Contra III: The Alien Wars. Even though Earth’s troops have dealt a devastating blow to the aliens, the battle is far from over and a new team needs to strap on some gear and get to killing. Enter the titular “Rogue Corps,” which consists of Kaiser, Harakiri, Gentleman, and a panda named Hungry Beast.
Following explanations about what makes each person tick, the game shifts to the team in-progress on a mission. On the orders of their commanding officer, a woman named Aero Handler, the team is attempting to extract a target that will help them produce weapons for their battle against the oppressive aliens. After killing a bunch of people in a mostly static cutscene (cut-outs of characters have single frame animations that look really stilted), something goes wrong and a vat of acid melts the target. Kaiser utters, “Oh shit, that’s fucked up,” and the tone is now set for this adventure.
I don’t think I need to point out what is wrong with this scene to any Contra veterans. While the games have never taken themselves seriously, they’ve also not been imbued with teenage humor. I can sort of understand the grindhouse vibe that Rogue Corps is going for, but it’s so far removed from the series past that it might as well be called anything else. Still, a foul-mouthed, low-budget style doesn’t necessarily mean the game will be bad. House of the Dead: Overkill has that and it actually elevates the experience to something magical.
What really starts to confuse me is how far the game goes to actually not be like classic Contra. If it wasn’t self-evident, the reason for multiple characters in this game is not only for co-op purposes but so individual players can select a playstyle that fits them best. Each character has strengths and weaknesses along with access to special abilities that are unique to them. Through the acquisition of gear and leveling-up your weapons, you’ll begin to slowly make them stronger and give yourself even more crazy techniques to pull off.
The gameplay, itself, is that of a twin-stick shooter. You move with the left stick and aim with the right. Holding down R2 will fire your gun, though firing for too long will cause your weapon to overheat. You can’t lay on the trigger recklessly, but you can overheat one firearm and swap to your secondary. As well as those two options, you have a dash attack that can stun enemies and a screen-clearing bomb that can help you out of a pinch.
Surprisingly, there is a health bar in this game (which is sort of like Hard Corps and Hard Corps Uprising). You can take multiple hits before dying and find health pick-ups from certain enemies. Performing your screen bomb or the context-specific super moves will also restore your health a little, which adds some strategic depth to them.
As for what your other weapons are, that is where some of the customization options come in. While certain weapons appear to be locked to specific characters, you do have a choice of whether or not you want a standard machine gun, a shotgun, a mini-gun, or possibly a chainsaw in your possession. As you finish levels and gather materials, you’ll level-up those guns and acquire various different forms of currency to power them up further. Before you even ask, there are no microtransactions or loot boxes. Think more something like Earth Defense Force than any number of scummy mobile games.
While all of that is fine on paper, it just doesn’t pan out to much. Putting aside how un-retro this all this, Rogue Corps is just too empty. There aren’t enough enemies swarming you, so stretches of the levels see you slowly walking towards or away from the camera and looking at ugly visuals. Even the boss fights are like this with the two I faced featuring a gigantic enemy stumbling about like a buffoon while you back up and take pot shots from afar.
I only bring this up because the game is three months away from release. While it would be silly to criticize an alpha or beta build for lacking fidelity or having design decisions that don’t quite pan out, this demo could very well be the final game. Konami was showing off a close to finished version that contained every level of the game. The lacking graphics, sloppy levels, and difficulty tuning are likely set in stone now, and I hope something can be done to possibly delay the game to better refine these elements.
The initial shock of how not-Contra this is is something I’ll have to get over. I clearly went in with a certain set of expectations that were not met at all. I don’t blame Konami for wanting to try something new, but you have to bring your A-game when doing so. So far, Contra Rogue Corps is more like a C-game. It honestly isn’t so bad, but it does nothing to capture the style and essence of what Contra used to be about. Worse, it doesn’t even do its own ideas all that well. That’s the real problem here.