Hard Corps: Uprising Review
Developer: Arc System Works / Publisher: Konami / ESRB: Teen (Mild Language, Use of Tobacco, Violence) / Played on: Xbox Live Arcade / Price: $15
Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start. If this means anything to you then you’ve probably been playing video games for the past few decades. The infamous Konami code has remained in gamers’ hearts since the NES era as the great leveler of difficulty for which older video games like Contra became infamous. It’s nearly 23 years later and the notable code appears yet again in the latest entry in the Contra series, though not in life-giving form. Hard Corps: Uprising for the Xbox Live Arcade continues the series’ run-and-gun action coupled with insanely difficult levels, bringing that same feeling of action-packed shooting to a whole new generation of gamers.
It’s 2613, and an empire known as the Commonwealth has come to power, with the megalomaniac tyrant Tiberius at its head. As the Commonwealth takes power by force, an elite group forms from the ashes of the defeated nations opposed to the Commonwealth. You play as one of four members of the resistance as they venture through deserts, forests, ancient ruins, and even into the clouds in their effort to restore peace to the land. The ex-Commonwealth solider Bahamut acts as the leader and main character of the story, with his fellow soldier Krystal, a mysterious and skilled woman, as his partner. Two DLC characters are also available: the motorcycle enthusiast Harley Daniels and the sword-wielding samurai Sayuri. The story is told entirely through the opening and ending anime-esque cutscenes as well as little blurbs between each of the eight missions. The story itself is completely obsolete and only serves as an excuse for the war you need to fight. If you’re looking for a fleshed out and compelling story you need not apply.
Hard Corps: Uprising is all about the action, and boy does it deliver on this promise. The game plays just like the other entries in the Contra series: get from the left side of the level to the right through a literal army of enemies whose only desire is to see you fail. You start off with a simple peashooter gun but by collecting weapon power-ups you can use machine guns, flamethrowers, and the series stable spread gun. Double-tapping forward allows you to run much faster; double and triple jumping and mid-air dashing all become essential elements of gameplay, especially in the last few stages. If you’ve played other side-scrolling shooters you’ll feel right at home with Hard Corps.
There are two main modes, both of which can be played in offline or online co-op. Arcade mode is a standard affair in which you have a set number of lives and continues to beat all eight levels. The much more in-depth Rising mode is where you’ll spend most of your time. In Rising mode you play all the same levels as Arcade mode but you also collect Command Points (CP) as you kill enemies. CP can be used to purchase upgrades for the character your using, much like how you can upgrade your party in an RPG. You can buy everything from extra lives, bigger weapons, and more continues. This helps make the game more bearable, as even if you fail your mission you still gain CP. Rising mode creates an incredible level of replayability, as improving your character is both fun and rewarding.
I’d be doing the game an injustice if I didn’t comment on the difficulty. I’ll get this out of the way now: Hard Corps: Uprising is a hell of a difficult game! It punishes you every chance it gets. Weaker enemies may only take away a small portion of your health, but later enemies can kill you in one shot. Getting hit by an enemy causes you to drop your current weapon upgrade, the numerous bosses are nearly unbeatable unless you learn their strategies, and the platforming sections in the last stage are damn near impossible. This is definitely a frustrating game, and the only way to get through the absurd difficulty is simply to play and memorize each level. Rising mode reduces some of the stress with its upgrade system, but as it stands Hard Corps: Uprising is easily the most difficult game I’ve played in recent memory.
It seems natural that a game focused on shooting anything that moves in a futuristic war with robots should be accompanied by a sweet rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack. That’s why it’s a shame Hard Corps doesn’t. The background music for each stage is a simple beat that you most likely won’t notice because you’re concentrating so much on the gameplay. Worse yet, the voice acting is downright awful. The screams of death from your enemies get redundant and hearing Bahamut cry “What the Hell?” after each death is annoying.. On top of this, every sound effect sounds like it was overlaid with static, as if it wasn’t recorded as well as it could have been. The only saving grace of the sound system is the Konami code. Entering it during the stage one loading screen replaces the normal stage one soundtrack with a remix of the original Contra’s first stage music.
Hard Corps is a 2D side-scrolling shooter with 3D backgrounds and environments. Each stage looks great, with small details like leaves falling from trees and dust clouds forming at your feet making the backgrounds look authentic. Rainforests are lush and green, while the remnants of a city are nothing more than dilapidated buildings and burning cars. You can sometimes interact with the background, causing barrels to explode and platforms to shift. Equally impressive are the cinematic cutscenes that cap the beginning and ending of the game, and are executed in a sleek anime style. Beautiful hand-drawn character models in-game look good, but enemy models are recycled too frequently. Expect to fight the same masked baddies over and over.
Konami apparently thought games were too easy these days and decided to throw a flaming, lightning-spewing shuriken at the hearts of gamers in the form of Hard Corps: Uprising. Though the game is incredibly difficult and will test the patience of even the most Zen players, it is still a blast to play and a definite challenge to hardcore players. Rising mode offers up a great and rewarding challenge that warrants repeated playthroughs. Graphics and control are both high points, but the same cannot be said for the sound, with the music and sound effects falling flat. Offline or online co-op is old-school fun and helps to even the games odds. If you’re looking for a side scrolling shooter or like your games on the challenging side, Hard Corps: Uprising is ready to slap you across the face and keep you coming back for more.
7 / 10