Level Up: Contra: Hard Corps
When people hear “Contra” they think of the NES, the Konami code and two Rambo-looking-dudes blasting up a jungle. My Contra memories are with Fang, the gun-armed werewolf and Brownie the vertically-challenged robot. I don’t exist in a different cog of the multiverse; I was Genesis kid. The Contra universe I know and love came from Contra: Hard Corps.
This game is infamous for its unforgiving difficulty. In the Japanese release you could take multiple hits before dying. Some jerk must have thought it was too easy because in the US version every hit is insta-death, so naturally you’ll try to Konami-code your way to victory. Those extra 30 lives got us all through Contra on NES, right? But alas, there are no extra lives to be had. Only painstaking memorization and cat-like reflexes will get you through Hard Corps.
For those who have the patience, Hard Corps is arguably the best game in the series. It’s over-the-top set-pieces from start to finish. You’ll scale buildings, ride hover bikes and cruise on top of jets, all while taking on countless enemies and bosses. Konami pushed the Genesis hardware to do all kinds of 3D effects, parallax scrolling and transparencies. The visual push make this one of the system’s best looking games and keeps every stage fresh. It’s an onslaught of crazy situations.
It’s unfortunate that few will get past the first stage, because Hard Corps brings unprecedented depth to Contra. At key moments you’re prompted with a choice between actions. The game you play is entirely dependent on these choices. The diverging paths lead to different levels, bosses and endings. After managing to complete one run of the game, I became obsessed with tackling every possible route. Those who experiment are rewarded with a variety of epic final stages.
It’s a shame that the game was unnecessarily difficult for its American release, because it’s a crowning achievement of the 16-bit action genre. It’s not too hard to track down a physical copy of this on eBay, but you might want to emulate it on your computer, or the easier Japanese version so you can save-state your way to the top.
And if you want to check out Contra in another dimension, look up its European counterpart, Probotector. Because of German censorship laws, all characters in the game were replaced by robots.