Backlog Review: Contra: Rogue Corps (Switch)

A disappointing return for the series.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 04/17/2020 06:58 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Gameplay is fun in spurts; hand drawn art is solid; the occasional callbacks to old-school Contra are a nice touch
Poison Mushroom for...
Overheating guns kill every bit of momentum; bland aesthetic; annoying cast; humor is out of place and the crudeness is juvenile in a cringe-worthy way

Welcome to another Backlog Review where we evaluate less recent releases that slipped through the cracks. This time we’re poppig open Contra: Rogue Corps. A note on the Version 1.3.0 update to the game has been included at the bottom of this review.

I had some serious reservations about Contra: Rogue Corps the second I started playing it at E3 2019. Contra as a series is known for 2D run-and-gun shooter/platformers. While the gunplay is always intense and bombastic, there’s also an emphasis on learning enemy movements and firing patterns in order to survive. The most hardcore of Contra players laugh at using the legendary Konami code because they firmly believe that the stock number of lives is more than enough to get through the campaign. Contra at its best is deliberate in its execution, not a simplistic menagerie of explosions and bullets whizzing through the air.

Contra: Rogue Corps loses sight of too many of the things that define the series. This game is a 3D twin-stick shooter that fails to capitalize on any of the ideas that it brings to the table. It’s a bloated, laborious slog that has sparks of life but too many flaws to allow it to become a fun and fulfilling experience. The only saving grace that Rogue Corps seems to have is that longtime designer Nobuya Nakazato was involved in development, but his impact is entirely nebulous. Whatever he gave his stamp of approval on here has failed to elevate Rogue Corps beyond a serviceable, unspectacular bulletpoint in Contra’s history.

The biggest issue with Rogue Corps is the nonsensical cooldown period for its guns. Shooting in Contra is traditionally never restricted. Bombarding enemies with a hailstorm of munitions is as much a part of the Contra experience as memorizing enemy placement. Why anyone would think that fans have been clamoring for an arbitrarily slowed down take on shooting in Contra is beyond me. It completely kills momentum during hectic battles when scores of enemies appear on-screen and the action screeches to a halt as the character’s weapon overheats.

Progression in Rogue Corps is already stymied by the uneven combat, but it’s further impeded by the grinding nature of leveling up. Playable characters can be customized in a seemingly endless number of ways. In the Operation Room, players replace organs, build guns, implant new cybernetics, and more to make the four members of the Rogue Corps squadron the most efficient killers they can be. It’s not a horrible addition to the franchise, but like other elements of Rogue Corps, the customization feels out of place, overwhelming, and borderline perfunctory. Less can be more, and that could easily have applied here.

Players have the opportunity to return to previous stages to mine for resources for upgrading, but Rogue Corps does everything it can to turn its gameplay into a chore. The main campaign is mission-based, meaning players go one stage at a time completing objectives and fighting a boss. Movement is mapped to the left control stick while aiming is on the right. It’s a setup that more or less works, but isn’t entertaining over long stretches. Rogue Corps’ other biggest grievance is that it’s guilty of feeling generic in almost every facet. Slap any other name on the box and this could be practically one of countless other nondescript shooters from the past decade. The action here is simply not memorable.

What’s also disappointing is that even the platforming elements of Rogue Corps aren’t quite up to snuff. It’s hard to tell where the player character is actually going to land when jumping. There’s a nice wink to the series’ roots as the cast twists into a tight ball with each leap, but easily getting from point A to B would have been more appreciated. Another homage that falls flat is when the camera shifts to over the player’s shoulder and the shooting takes place from a third-person perspective. The implementation isn’t notable and diminishes what should be a delightful nod to the days of running down 8-bit corridors.

All of which is a shame, because there are moments when the gameplay can be genuinely fun. Mowing down waves of opponents with a hurricane of munitions never gets old in video games, after all. Yet, even during these occasional pockets of bliss Rogue Corps’ lackluster art direction rears its head and dulls the action. Rogue Corps is a multiplatform release so it’s understandable that concessions would need to be made to get the game running on Switch. To that end, outside of some muddy textures and jagged edges, Konami has achieved relative parity with the other versions of the game, as there aren’t really any notable performance fits on Switch. What is a problem, sadly, is that Rogue Corps is bland to look at, delivering a whole bevy of recycled elements from countless other derivative shooters of the past three console generations.

Everything in Rogue Corps is wrapped in a dismally try-hard or over-the-top “extreme” veneer. The hellscape of The Damned City has its fair share of neons, but overall there’s a lot of bland urban rubble to stare at, peppered with generically ghoulish foes to attack. Contra as a series, particularly during the NES and SNES days, does have an edge to it, but Rogue Corps leans into this tone from a comedic angle. Contra has never been and should never be “tongue-in-cheek.” Sadly, the roster is filled with largely forgettable gag characters like Kaiser, a musclebound maniac, and the horribly miscast and out of place pilot Fiona whose saccharine tones are grating to the ear. It’s very unclear who the cast is being targeted at— the lot comes across as a senselessly hodgepodge assemblage meant to appeal to as many people as possible and, as a result, connects with no one.

Finally, it would have been nice to see the writers of Rogue Corps show some restraint when it comes to the language in this game. Rogue Corps is littered with crude humor and cursing in a way that would make an NFL locker room look like a monastery. Some games, like Bulletstorm, wear this sort of attitude well because they’re not an established brand. Contra, however, has history, and in none of it is there anything on this level of juvenile and puerile storytelling and foul language. By all means, video games can feature all manner of adult content, but in Rogue Corps it comes across as infantile and out of place. It’s a bad look.

There’s an earnestness to Rogue Corps that makes it even sadder to see the game fail as it has. There have been updates since the game launched, but nothing thus far has been able to elevate Rogue Corps to the standard of quality set by past series installments. If Konami wants to modernize its franchises for future generations, the message should be clear: fans want what made those classics so endearing to begin with, not misguided radical redesigns.

Thoughts on Version 1.3.0

In fairness to the developers I’ve elected to comment on the game following its 1.3.0 update. Almost all of the complaints that I raised in this review were addressed by the time 1.3.0 was released— to varying degrees of success. Playing the game with these adjustments certainly offered an improvement over the game as it existed at launch. The weapon overheat parameters  for weapons, in particular, have been greatly reduced. That said, many issues still remain that prevent Rogue Corps from coming anywhere near the best this series has offered in the past. That the guns overheat at all does nothing to further the gameplay. Increasing resource drops is another welcome change, but the smorgasbord of customization features is an unnecessary complication that is still overwrought and uninteresting. Perhaps most offensive, however, are the unlikable cast members and petulant humor, which remains unchanged. The game is much more palatable but no less forgettable in its current form. My score rose a bit after the updates, so kudos to Konami for not abandoning Rogue Corps or its players, but it’s still not quite the game Contra’s return deserved.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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