Contra: Rogue Corps joins Bomberman: Act Zero and Hideo Kojima’s firing as one of Konami’s biggest disappointments.
Editor’s Note: DualShockers attended Contra: Rogue Corps‘ launch event the weekend before its release, with hotel and travel costs being covered by Konami. That is where we received a physical copy of the game for Nintendo Switch to review. DualShockers prides itself on its integrity and honesty in reviews and we felt it important to divulge this in the pursuit of transparency.
Contra: Rogue Corps may be one of the worst games of 2019 thus far, but it is also one of the weirdest. Over eight years after the release of the last game in the Contra series, it has made its return with an entry that feels more like a terrible experimental spin-off from a bygone era rather than a proper revival of a classic franchise. Contra: Rogue Corps looks and feels like a game from the late Xbox and PS2/early Xbox 360 and PS3 era where companies tried to bring back their most notable IP in a brand new genre and with a brand new coat of paint in order to entice new audiences.
Unfortunately, Contra: Rogue Corps falls more in line with the poor revivals of that timeframe like Bomberman: Act Zero and Rocket Knight rather than the memorable ones like Ninja Gaiden or Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Even if the gameplay or online community was there, this is not the game the Contra series needed right now nor does it even look the part. Despite some occasional glimmers of hope thanks to intriguing ideas and okay controls, there are still a lot of balance and design issues that don’t work for a twin-stick shooter nor a Contra game. Worst of all, Contra: Rogue Corps looks like a muddy mess on Nintendo Switch.
To make one thing clear, I’m not only ragging on this game because I dislike Contra’s jump from 2D to 3D; in fact, I think there is a lot of potential with the added dimension. Games like Neo Contra proved that, and on paper, there are actually some elements to Contra: Rogue Corps that aren’t inherently terrible. Believe it or not, the fast-paced top-down shooter and action platformer genres actually meld together decently. At least in the game’s earliest levels, Contra: Rogue Corps is able to capture that fluidity of the originals in a different visual perspective. The incorporation of an overheat meter consistently had me switching weapons, and the game was enough of a challenge to where I was always on my toes.
Contra: Rogue Corps controls well enough for a twin-stick shooter, and there is a ton of variety and customization to be had with the four playable characters, upgradable weapon types, and body and weapon enhancements. There is a good game that evokes the spirit of this classic series at the core of Contra: Rogue Corps, missteps were just made at almost every step along the way to dilute that, and the few online elements with promise will never reach their full potential.
Though I praised the weapon variety, some weapons just feel underbaked in single-player when compared to others. If your pair of weapons can’t deal a lot of damage quickly and cover a wide area around you, it’s a bad set-up; unfortunately, this makes a large chunk of Contra: Rogue Corps’ weapons simply not fun to use in the single-player story mode. Feeling a bit underpowered while staring down a group of fast-moving enemies does evoke that classic Contra feeling for a second, but that quickly went away once I had to take on bullet sponge enemies in a cramped environment with an arbitrary time limit multiple times per level.
Exploration Mode lets players loose in some bigger levels with a non-linear structure, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call playing these by myself fun. There is actually some fun to be found in the first few missions of Contra: Rogue Corps, but once I hit levels with lots of arenas that stopped me from progressing and had tons of bullet sponge enemies as well as reused assets and set pieces, I was done with the game. To find a potential saving grace to all of this, I turned to the multiplayer portions of Rogue Corps, and as you can tell from some of my earlier statements, I did not find that redemption.
I’d tell you about the game’s PvP modes, which seemed interesting from the reveal trailer and launch live stream, but I haven’t been able to play it since launch. Even on the day of its release, nobody was playing Contra: Rogue Corps’ PvP online. The only online connectivity I was able to get was with the online co-op for the first level of story mode, which I have played at least 5 times by now across the demo, launch event, and full release, with a user named after 6ix9ine. For all it was worth, it was fun spamming dumb taunts at each other and the online net code seemed very stable. It is clear that the developers put a lot of work into the online portion of the game (it was actually one of the reasons Konami chose Toylogic to develop this game in the first place), but any of Contra: Rogue Corps’ potential saving graces online are dead on arrival, outside of 6ix9ine.
I would be willing to overlook the lack of players online if I could go through story missions locally with a buddy; shockingly, in one of Rogue Corps’ worst offenses, that isn’t possible. Couch co-op isn’t even unlocked until level 2, and once it becomes available it is limited to the aforementioned Exploration Missions. Do you want to know why? The official review guide for Contra: Rogue Corps tries to justify it with the following statement:
“Couch Co-Op offers different missions, a different camera perspective-it’s vital to Contra. Lead Producer Nobuya Nakazato, who has been working on the franchise since Contra III: The Alien Wars, knows this. So, while the main campaign is strucutred around this free-floating camera, that doesn’t work with two buddies playing side-by-side on a couch. Split screen was simply not an option.”
Some dynamic camera angles being the reason such a pivotal part of Contra does not carry over into the main parts of Rogue Corps is a tough pill to swallow. This whole mindset was banking on a portion of the game that no one is even embracing at launch. Somehow, Konami and Toylogic were able to recognize a vital part of Contra’s identity and chose to implement a workaround mode instead of tweaking the main experience to support co-op. Once players hit the grindy portions of the story mode, they will sorely wish that local co-op outside of Exploration Missions was a thing.
Despite all of these problems, players like me would at least want to be able to turn to the game’s visuals and find something. While Emilio Lopez’s comic-book style art in cutscenes is great, Contra: Rogue Corps looks bad during gameplay. It would already look out of date on PC, PS4, and Xbox One, and as one would guess, it looks even worse on Nintendo Switch, especially in docked mode. The aliasing is horrid and the images look muddy enough where it doesn’t seem like some of the textures have fully loaded. Shadows only show themselves once in a blue moon, which may be the greatest indicator of how behind the times Contra: Rogue Corps is as a whole.
When I see a poorly rendered puddle with no lighting or effects attached to it I just get sad, which is not something this game needed on top of all of its other problems. Unless this in-house engine gets some serious upgrade, Konami should consider moving to Unity or Unreal Engine 4 so their games at least look passable going forward. Contra: Rogue Corps doesn’t only feel like those odd 2000s revivals, it looks like them in the worst way possible. I haven’t even mentioned the writing’s odd tone yet, as this game features a surprising amount of swearing and meme references. I don’t think anybody expected a Contra game with a “you know I had to do it to ’em” reference to release in 2019.
I like some of Contra: Rogue Corps‘ ideas and wanted the game to be at least passable, but it disappointed me on just about every front. The fun parts of Contra: Rogue Corps go away once a grindy progression wall that filters the action down to just a few weapons hits, local co-op isn’t featured in a part of the game where it is sorely needed, the PvP and other online modes that had a lot of effort put into them are dead on arrival. Plus, this is one of the worst looking games from a major publisher in recent years.
As die-hard Contra fans have probably already picked up or sworn off Contra: Rogue Corps, the only people I could see this game being good for now are die-hard groups of twin-stick shooter fans who want to play online and aren’t playing on Nintendo Switch. That’s quite niche to say the least. Contra: Rogue Corps puts the whole series in a position as weird as its own concept and execution, and I’m afraid that this will kill Contra off for good so we’ll never see that 2D revival. Oh well, there’s always Blazing Chrome.