Great things come in small packages.
Hey, do you like Contra? Of course, you do. Contra’s awesome. Well, let me tell you about a game that’s basically trying to be the modern Contra and is doing it very well. Blazing Chrome takes everything you know and love about the original Contra and gives it an excellent update for 2019.
Blazing Chrome strips the run and gun genre back to its roots. You (and potentially a friend) control a member of a rebel group that’s fighting back against the machines that rule the world. Functionally, they’re both basically identical from what I can tell. However, I always picked Doyle because he’s a turncoat robot who has a mohawk, and I’m here for it.
Your main rifle does decent damage, but Blazing Chrome quickly ups the ante with a number of power-up weapons. You’ll get a grenade launcher, charge cannon, and a laser that sort of functions like a super long beam sword. There are also different drones that either give you a shield, boost your speed/give a double jump, or automatically attack your enemies.
Those six power-ups provide you with a sizeable arsenal against the hordes of enemies coming your way. And when I say hordes, I do mean it. Even on easy difficulty, this game is no joke. In fact, if you’re planning to go alone, I would suggest playing the game on easy for your first run through. It’s not that normal is impossible, but the game feels balanced around two players. On your own, you’re forced to learn the fights as you move at breakneck speed, and easy difficulty brings the monster density down considerably. It gives you a better chance to learn the game and process what’s happening.
With a friend, the game really shines. There’s nothing much better than getting into a scrap with a buddy, feeling completely overwhelmed, and then somehow making it out alive together. You can play Blazing Chrome solo (and I did for my first playthrough), but I would highly suggest you find someone to play with. While playing in co-op, I don’t think a smile ever left my face. It’s a great experience that feels like a true throwback to the late 80s/early 90s.
That said, the campaign is pretty short. This is both a smart and frustrating move. It’s short enough that you can pretty easily beat it in an afternoon. And in that afternoon you’ll play through some really incredible sequences which add gimmicks that I don’t want to spoil here. Because of how short Blazing Chrome is, you only get to do each of them one or two times, which keeps them fresh. However, the quality of the gameplay makes you wish it were a little longer.
Instead, developer JoyMasher sticks very closely to the Contra formula. There are only six stages for you to play through. If you’re good, they really don’t take that long to beat. Like I said, my first playthrough took an afternoon, and I’m certainly not that great at the game. I can imagine the speed runs for this one are going to be fun to watch.
Fortunately, Blazing Chrome’s heart-thumping arcade action isn’t the only reason to pick it up. The devs have absolutely nailed that late 80s/early 90s vibe. The game’s pixel art looks out of that era, while also doing things with its animation that would’ve impossible on the SNES. The enemy design is inspired. The bosses, in particular, are a series of action puzzles that I had a great time solving.
The music is also particularly exceptional. The ending theme might actually be my favorite part of the game. I usually try to find the quickest way to skip the credits, but the second that tune started to fade in, I knew I was watching the whole thing. It’s that good. The rest of the music is solid to great.
Really, my only issue with Blazing Chrome is that there’s not more of it. Those six levels fly by and once you finish them, you just unlock two new characters, a boss rush mode, and a mirror mode. Those are fine additions, but none of them really feel very meaningful. JoyMasher has also included leaderboards, so they obviously expect people to play the game over and over. For me, that’s just not how I play video games, so I’d prefer more content in the main campaign.
Additionally, it feels like a missed opportunity to only give you six power-ups. I mean, NES Contra had seven. While they aren’t as involved as the ones in Blazing Chrome, you’d think we could get more variety after 21 years. What’s here is undeniably cool, and I’d love to see the team at JoyMasher really go for it with some over-the-top weapons.
It also seems extremely weird to develop a world with such a cool aesthetic and then have a plot that is so completely forgettable. There’s a cutscene at the beginning and end with nothing in between. Blazing Chrome didn’t necessarily need to have some incredible story. It’s not that kind of game. I’d just like to see them actually explore the world they’ve built in a more substantial way. The end cutscene also appears to be setting up a sequel, which felt odd given how brief the campaign is.
It all comes together in a package that is incredibly fun while you’re playing it. There are a number of truly remarkable moments during the short campaign and a few inventive mechanics that spice the run-and-gun gameplay up sufficiently. However, that package left me desperately wanting for more.
Blazing Chrome is a top-of-the-line appetizer to what could be a masterpiece of a five-course meal. I really hope this game does well because I cannot wait to see what JoyMasher does for their follow-up. If they can build on the rock-solid foundation they’ve created here, they might produce something truly spectacular.