Publisher: Konami / Developer: / Platform:

Kate: Hard Corps: Uprising is a spin-off of the Contra series that takes things in a more anime-flavored direction, stylistically similar to developer Arc System Works’ other games, such as BlazBlue and Guilty Gear. Pronounced “hard core,” I can’t think of a more fitting name for a series; this game is definitely aimed at the hardest of hardcore gamers.

Very early in the game, it becomes clear that it’s been designed for the variety of gamer who enjoys overcoming frustratingly challenging levels that require memorizing enemy patterns and positions in order to beat them, the type of gamer who might complain if a game is too easy. Even the achievements/trophies are geared more to those who prefer these to be badges of true accomplishment, instead of merely an indicator of story progress.

Fortunately, there’s also a separate game mode for those of us who might be described as “midcore.” Arcade Mode is much to your standard Contra game, but Rising Mode allows you to purchase upgrades for your character, including additional hit points and lives. You earn the credits to purchase these upgrades just by playing through levels. So if you’re struggling with a level and run out of continues before finishing it, you can use the credits you earned on that playthrough to increase your life or upgrade your power-ups, and then the next playthrough will be a little bit easier.

Repeating a level several times only to upgrade and try again seems like it’d get old fast, and yet the level designs are visually interesting enough that I didn’t find myself getting bored of them. And of course it helped knowing that even if I died on a particular run, I’d still have earned credits from it to upgrade my character more, making it not a complete waste.

Would you say that describes your experience as well, James?

James: I’d say so, yeah.  Usually I’m a big fan of frustratingly difficult games (Super Meat Boy, Apple Jack, etc), but Hard Corps‘ difficulty borders on stupid, with seemingly un-dodgeable attacks, cheap offscreen enemies after a jump (Castlevania flashbacks, anyone?) and enough one-hit kills to render the new health bar almost useless.  Yep, it’s a Contra game.

Fans of the Contra series may find that last paragraph “whiny”.  Well, yeah.  I suck at Contra, as well as most “bullet hell” shooters.  Why the interest in Hard Corps, then?  Well, what had originally got me interested in the game is, as Kate said earlier, the fact that the artist that does all the hand-drawn sprites for Guilty Gear and BlazBlue—two of my favorite fighting games—drew the sprites for the game.  That, along with the awesome rock soundtrack by Daisuke Ishiwatari is what made me bite the bullet (pun intended) and give Hard Corps a shot (ha, another pun!).

While Hard Corps‘ Arcade Mode is frustratingly difficult, the addition of Rising Mode makes the game a little easier to swallow.  The possible upgrades range from extra lives and weapon upgrades, to more unique bonuses like the ability to smack smaller bullets back at an enemy or invulnerability while jumping.  Most of these upgrades take a fair amount of grinding to unlock, but it’s still fun to build your character up while getting your ass kicked.

Kate: Also interesting is that each character has a few unique upgrades and abilities to unlock. For example, Bahamut has the option to start a level with Ripple or Laser, while Krystal can start a level with Machine Gun or Spread.

Unfortunately, two of the four characters were removed so that they could be offered as DLC. You can tell they were always in the game from the start, because the opening and closing anime sequences include all four characters. Harley is the tank, and Sayuri is a unique character that doesn’t use a gun, only a sword, giving you an experience similar to Capcom’s Strider. Offering them separately to make the “full” game $20 instead of $15 is a move I can only describe as tacky.

Also, the voice acting is a bit on the cheesy side. I’d almost think it was meant to be a throwback to vintage ’80s anime dub acting, except that it comes across as not being intentional.

James: Despite all the frustrations of the game I still found myself having fun while playing through Hard Corps‘ eight stages.  Even trying a few stages over again to improve my score and buy more upgrades never really felt boring.  While many of the game’s bosses (and minibosses) were fun, there were also a few that were just downright annoying and cheesy.  Despite all this, I’m sure fans of the Contra series will have a blast, and the surprisingly deep Rising Mode gives something for those of us with slightly less hardcore tastes something to enjoy.

I loved the graphics and slowly upgrading my character, but while a high difficulty was expected, the amount of cheap deaths just seemed over-the-top.  In my opinion, Hard Corps: Uprising earns an 8/10.

Kate: Rising Mode might start out seeming just as discouragingly difficult as Arcade Mode for all but the most hardcore of gamer, but once I started getting my character upgraded, the overall experience became much more rewarding. I also give it an 8/10.