It has seemed as though Konami is beginning to rediscover their former greatness. In 2017, Konami launched Super Bomberman R for the Nintendo Switch and the game was met with a warm reception, both critically and commercially. This success was then followed up in 2019 with two quality releases in the form of the Castlevania Anniversary Collection and Contra Anniversary Collection. The Konami brand was once again resonating with fans and using their IP in smart ways. Then, at E3 2019, the publisher announced a brand-new Contra game, Contra: Rogue Corps. It had a new look but caught the eye of longtime fans who have been patiently waiting for a new Contra since 2011.
Contra: Rogue Corps is an interesting experiment to bring the Contra series to the modern era, but questionable design choices and lack of vision ultimately damper the overall experience and prevent it from achieving the success of its predecessors. Nevertheless, I didn’t hate my time with Contra: Rogue Corps, nor did I overly love it. It is far from the Contra game that fans crave, and it is by no means a great game, but there can still be some entertainment found from this misguided attempt at resurrecting the Contra brand.
The indie development scene has gifted the gaming industry with many quality twin-stick shooters over the last decade, so seeing Konami build Contra: Rogue Corps as a twin-stick shooter wasn’t all that surprising. In a way, it’s a callback to Contra 3: The Alien Wars, which had several top-down stages. A twin-stick Contra may not be the traditional path, but it is one that had the potential to work and Konami deserves credit for giving this avenue an attempt. All successful twin-stick shooters have tight controls, precise aiming, and challenging, yet engaging battle scenarios. Contra: Rogue Corps struggles to deliver on any of those.
When viewed as a twin-stick shooter, Contra: Rogue Corps comes up short against the competition due to sloppy aiming, subpar controls, weapon overheating, and enemy battles. The loose aiming and mediocre controls are things you may be able to come to terms with the more you play but dashing and trying to perform quick maneuvers will consistently feel sluggish. Even so, it is something you may eventually come to accept and adjust your style of play to compensate for the slothful movement.
Weapon overheating is another element you may adjust to and learn to accept, but it’ll require patience. Contra: Rogue Corps is designed around the idea of high-octane, explosive battles with swarms of enemies on screen at any given moment. Equipping the player with a weapon that overheats after a few rounds or a few seconds of constant firing slows the pacing down and will have you play defense almost as often as you are playing offense.
There is nothing inherently wrong with such a design, but it simply doesn’t work well with Contra: Rogue Corps. The game wants you to cause carnage and build up a combo meter but having to dash around and avoid enemies while waiting for your gun to cooldown removes you from that chaotic fun. Admittedly, the overheating problem is somewhat lessened while playing in co-op as you can better distribute bullets to annihilate enemies.
In terms of content, Contra: Rogue Corps is bountiful. The campaign is long and will take most between 12-15 hours to complete, but it also overstays its welcome by 6 hours. There are amble items to collect and upgrades to purchase, but the loot gathering isn’t engaging and instead feels like artificial filler and an unnecessary grind. None of the character upgrades were substantial enough to justify the cost and never felt they altered the game in any meaningful way.
Playing the campaign in co-op improves the experience a slight bit, but the game’s shortcomings stem from its core design and that isn’t something that can be easily rectified. There is an online PvP mode, but the lobbies were empty whenever I went to play the mode, so that doesn’t bode well for the online community of the game.
Visually speaking, Contra: Rogue Corps isn’t an appealing game. It’s blurry whether playing docked or undocked, the texture work feels like it originates from a game developed during the Wii era. Neither the visual nor sound design stimulates the senses. Both are dull and forgettable.
On paper, Contra: Rogue Corps should work, and it should work well. It has extravagant weapons, gaudy finishers, and bombs that can destroy every enemy on screen, but none of them gel together to create greatness. It’s the execution and implementation of all these ideas that hold it back from achieving greatness. Instead, they create mediocrity. Can fun be found in Contra: Rogue Corps? Yes. Will it be enough to justify buying the game at full price? No. I didn’t hate my time with Contra: Rogue Corps, but it isn’t something I feel the need to return to anytime soon, either.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Konami