“Hard Corps: Uprising”

Don’t let the generic name fool you: “Hard Corps: Uprising” is a brutally difficult run-and-gun 2-D shooter. Released on Xbox Live Arcade and coming to the PlayStation Network next month, it is the latest game in the “Contra” series. Usually, this type of game is strictly for the hardest of the hardcore and, while that is preserved in Arcade mode, the new Rising mode turns “Uprising” into a must-download for a larger audience.

While “Uprising” is technically a prequel to the 1994 “Contra: Hard Corps,” no other knowledge is needed beyond knowing that the main character of “Uprising,” Bahamut, was the main villain of that game. The game’s story is not the focus, as the action clearly takes center stage.

“Uprising” is both an intense and relentless experience no matter the mode. It starts out innocently enough, but no more than five minutes in, bullets cover a majority of the screen and you are thereafter constantly flanked from all sides until the end. Back-to-back and multistage boss fights are common and cool, but tricky set piece moments such as riding a speeder bike, dodging snipers in the forest and navigating an exploding train run abound. If all that isn’t enough, there are a few cool techniques to master such as mid-air dashing and reflecting bullets that add nuance to the gameplay before becoming absolutely crucial to your success.

As expected, “Uprising” is a really difficult game and most gamers would thus never be able to experience its greatness. Thankfully, “Uprising” comes with two main modes: the Arcade mode for the hardcore and Rising mode for everyone else.

In the traditional Arcade mode, the game is just as brutally difficult as fans would expect. Numerous cheap deaths abound and the limited health and lives make the game an exercise in frustration. For “Contra” fans, there are even some absurdly difficult achievements to shoot for such as beating the game with only killing 50 privates or beating the whole game without dying.

It is really awesome for the rest of us, then, that the new Rising mode eliminates a huge portion of the frustration. In Rising mode, you gain points that can be used to purchase a wide variety of upgrades from extra health, to starting guns, and even new abilities. Since even death and game overs don’t stop you from earning points, each and every time you play has meaning. It is particularly satisfying to play the earlier stages over a few times to not only become a better player, but to also gain the experience points needed for upgrades useful in conquering the insidious obstacles and challenges that only become harder as the adventure continues.

However, do not think that just because you can get upgrades, the game will be any less demanding. Guns do not fire on full automatic in “Uprising,” ensuring that you can’t just upgrade your way through the entire game. Also, in single player particularly, just one mistake can be devastating as you not only take damage, but also lose whatever special weapon you are carrying.

The game is good fun on single player, but multiplayer is definitely the best part of “Uprising.” The excellent local and online co-op features of the game let you tear through the campaign with a friend. The campaign is a blast with another friend, and since Rising mode is still accessible in co-op, this is by far the most manageable way to play. Strategizing with your partner is key to success, and it just feels very satisfying conquering the legions of foes together.

It is worth mentioning the presentation aspects of Uprising because it really becomes part of the experience. Developer Arc System Works, known for the “BlazBlue” series, poured their signature style into the game and the results are impressive. The hand-drawn anime art style gives the game a nice crisp look for both characters and locations, while the wailing guitar soundtrack does an equally satisfying job of setting the tone. Their attention to detail is evident not only in the foreground, but in the background too.  Plenty of action occurs in the background and it can be especially excellent when something terrifying in the background becomes a boss later in the level.

Unfortunately, “Hard Corps: Uprising” isn’t without a few problems. Loading times, which only occur between levels, are particularly lengthy in the game. Also, if you aren’t particularly into hardcore action games, 2-D run and guns, or aren’t up for the challenge, “Uprising” isn’t going to change your mind.

“Uprising” is simultaneously one of the most hardcore games to come along in a while as well as one of the most accessible. The level design, style, and relentless action provide great fun. Arcade mode ensures fans will be satisfied and Rising Mode opens the game up for a larger audience that may have been too intimated before. Even better is that the game features great co-op. Definitely don’t miss out on this one.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars