Contra: Operation Galuga Header
Image via Konami

Review: Contra: Operation Galuga

I think you're a contra.

It’s been rough for Contra fans. The last new title in the series we had really seen was 2011’s Hard Corps: Uprising. That was it, I swear. Don’t look it up. Just believe me.

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However, Konami seems to be waking up from its gambling-induced stupor and has been coaxing developers to bring back their most venerated franchises. For Contra, they went back to WayForward, who were also the developers behind 2007’s Contra 4 on the DS.

I can confirm that Contra Operation Galuga is, at the very least, a Contra game.

Contra: Operation Galuga Boss Fight
Screenshot by Destructoid

Contra: Operation Galuga (PC [reviewed], PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox SeriesX|S, Switch)
Developer: WayForward
Publisher: Konami

Released: March 12, 2024
MSRP: $39.99

It has been so long since the last Contra game (trust me) that WayForward has made the assumption that you have forgotten the thrilling storyline of the original arcade/NES title, and are retelling it in an entirely new way.

That’s right, Contra: Operation Galuga has a story mode with cutscenes, and it retells the story of Bill Rizer and Lance “Mean” Bean as they visit Galuga island and shoot everything. The new approach also ties in an ancient artifact, and I kind of wish it didn’t. I wasn’t expecting a deep story, but Operation Galuga manages to tie in a few of my least favorite storytelling devices. If you look at it as though it’s trying to convey a Saturday morning cartoon vibe, then it might work. I’m not sure that was the intention, however.

On the other hand, Steve Blum is terrific as Bill Rizer.

The story mode is only part of the overall equation, however. It will probably take you an hour or two to topple it. In terms of difficulty, Contra: Operation Galuga is flexible. Beyond just having an easy, normal, hard setup, there’s a life bar you can axe in favor of the classic one-hit deaths and a variety of “perks” you can slot to tailor your runs to your liking. 

I’m a simple girl, and tweaking my own difficulty always bugs me. Contra: Operation Galuga seems to intend that you play the Arcade mode repeatedly. The arcade mode has you attempt all of the levels to get as far as you can. It feels more like a typical run-and-gun, where memorization of the levels is key to pushing further into the game.

However, the difficulty seems set up with the lifebars in mind. There are sections of the game, and even boss attacks, that feel like avoidance requires more foresight and luck than is reasonable. Maybe. This genre requires multiple replays to really get down, and while I have certainly done multiple, I haven’t done “flow state” multiple.

But I don’t really want to, and that is a problem of its own.

For a game to demand that a player keeps practicing for the simple sake of enjoying it more, it has to be damned good. I’ve played Metal Slug more times than I can count, and that’s because it’s an incredible, well-designed game. There’s satisfaction in reaching for the bar games like Metal Slug set. The same goes for the original NES port of Contra and Contra: Hard Corps. Contra: Operation Galuga is merely okay.

Contra Operation Galuga Dialogue
Screenshot by Destructoid

While the original Contra was somewhat grounded aside from the sudden appearance of aliens, the subsequent games began getting weirder and weirder. Contra 3 and Hard Corps were incredibly imaginative with their settings and challenges. Contra: Operation Galuga is comparatively more grounded, which maybe fits its reboot intentions, but doesn’t do it any favors.

There are levels where you’re on a hoverbike, but you’re traveling through some bland areas. One of the levels takes place in a temple, and while it does a unique graphical effect to add some spice to its gameplay, I hate it so much. Every time I hit that level on a playthrough, my enthusiasm would just die. The enemies are annoying and boring, the hazards aren’t well placed, and the backgrounds are bland.

That one level kills the momentum of the game as it starts building to a climax. What comes after it is a smidge more interesting, but because it stumbles right before, I just can’t get excited.

Galuga’s roster includes a bunch of playable characters, but I could only ever stand playing as Lance and Bill. Lucia has a grappling hook that is barely handy on the rare occasion that you’re climbing vertically, while Ariana has a slide kick that is useful only when the level is flat. Worse yet, playing as Lucia perverts the spread gun into a chargeable wave cannon that feels terrible in motion.

Completing the game unlocks more characters. The most exciting ones require you to save up a massive number of in-game currency. I unlocked the one I was most interested in and found out that their moveset is based on Ariana, and she has the terrible Lucia spread gun. At that point, my disappointment had peaked, and I was done with the game.

Contra: Operation Galuga hover bike fight.
Screenshot by Destructoid

I’m really trying to come up with some praise for Contra: Operation Galuga, but the best I can offer is that there’s an interesting end boss, there are multiple soundtracks, and Steve Blum puts on a good performance. The challenge mode can be some decent fun, but the rewards you get are poor. Aside from that, it’s fine.

It’s slightly above par for a game in general and below it for Contra. Despite my complaints, I enjoyed swaths of the game when playing with Bill Rizer, but not enough to want to replay it endlessly. The Contra series has done much worse, but it’s also done much better. Contra: Operation Galuga manages only to be a run-and-shrug shooter.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

Slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.

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Zoey Handley
Staff Writer - Zoey is a gaming gadabout. She got her start blogging with the community in 2018 and hit the front page soon after. Normally found exploring indie experiments and retro libraries, she does her best to remain chronically uncool.