Hard Corps: Uprising hands-on – Just like Contra... only better

Everyone that grew up in the 80s and early 90s with a NES knows the Konami code. For those of us with slow thumbs and even slower reflexes, it was the only way to get through the grueling levels of Contra where one hit from an enemy’s weapon meant a life lost. There was a thrill to playing the game without the infamous cheat code though, and those of us that made it through the game “naked” often told war stories of our trials and tribulations.

Announced during E3 2010, Hard Corps: Uprising is Konami’s upcoming attempt to recapture the thrill, challenge and fun of yesteryear’s Contra titles (without making a Contra game, for one reason or another). As such, this is not an easy game. The Contra-style combat may still be there in its basic forms, but the developers at Konami did away with the single shot kills for a reason.

In Hard Corps, the threats are literally coming at you from every direction. The first level we played (which ended in the same “angry wall” boss that Contra was so well known for) seemed fairly straightforward at first… until mechanized sandworms began burrowing their way through the hazy dunes to try to consume our character Krystal and her teammate whole. The creatures literally came out of the background, and it was only though a quick dash button press that we managed to survive till the end of the level.

And the variety of violent monsters didn’t stop there. From the standard “run towards enemy shooting” human to more sinister aerial drones that drop chunky bombs into your hot little lap, the number of enemies and their numerous different ways to attack the players always keep the action at a breakneck pace.

The developers, with all of their monsters in tow, really do a splendid job of making sure the players are using all of the different strategies presented to them in the relatively limited 2D space. From ground and air dashes to the ability to store multiple “bonus” weapon types in your gun and switch them out on the fly, you’re really given a full battery of ways to defeat the various monsters.

An example of the kind of strategy we’re talking about was needed during the final, and most intriguing, battle of our demo. Unlike the relatively stationary “angry wall”, this was a battle against a maneuverable and manic mechanical construct the size of a tractor trailer. We were on motorcycles, but our characters were still able to jump over obstacles, fire their weapons, and generally remain fairly maneuverable. At first, it seemed easy enough to kill the end boss by using the “aim-lock” feature to aim behind us. But then the monster launched itself into the air and attempted to slam down on top of us. We had to leap over additional obstacles in our path or get crushed by the enormous bulk of the thing. And in perfect action movie form, the battle ended with us jumping our bikes off the edge of a cliff, then jumping from our bikes to the edge of the opposing cliff face, hanging on by our fingernails as our pursuer plummeted to its doom.

Hard Corps appears to be a really solid, possibly stellar, 2D run-and-gun title. But, of course, the end result always depends on the amount of varied content the developers are able to toss into the full game. If the level of variety and adrenaline-drenched creativity in our two-level demo stretches through the rest of the game, we’ll be seeing a fantastic return to the classic 2D run and gun format come Spring 2011.

Jan 18, 2011