The beautiful toon shaded graphics may not immediately scream it, but Hard Corps: Uprising is the latest game in the Contra series. The first game to get to Microsoft’s House Party, this creation out of Arc Systems gives you a gameplay scenario as old as video games themselves: take your grunt and his oversized gun and use it to mow through a bunch of bad guys, all the while avoiding a veritable hail of returned fire. It’s an old task, but Konami manages to breathe new life this spiritual sequel, delivering coin-op shooter action right to your console in a way that is both accessible and fun.
Staying true to its heritage, Hard Corps: Uprising doesn’t believe in holding your hand; it throws you right into the fire starting from the start and doesn’t let up until you’ve finished stage eight –in the process delivering some of the most difficult gameplay this side of Super Meat Boy. In stark contrast to some other Konami games though (yes I’m looking at you Harmony of Despair), the difficulty feels carefully measured and not overwhelming to the point of being unfun.
The biggest contributor to this is the pacing and stage design. Every area feels like it's packed with enough enemies to keep you interested but never so many that you become overwhelmed with the challenge; while the game never gives you a break, this makes it clear that the developers weren't in it to make you feel bad. The end result is that although there'll be rage aplenty at your innumerable deaths, you'll always want to pick up the controller and give it just one go.
While hard corps certainly kicks it old school in the difficulty department, much of its success lies in how well Konami includes mixes newer elements, i.e hybrid game modes, with older mechanics. With respect to single player, the masochists-need-only-apply arcade mode is still present; giving you only three lives and three continues to complete all eight stages. That isn't your only option though, as Konami has included something for gamers who don't like their video games with a side of impossible: the RPG/FPS fusion Rising Mode.
Not an obvious pairing, the two genres form a harmonious marriage in Hard Corps. RPG elements come into play between levels, when you are able to upgrade everything from your health bar to the starting power weapons and smooths out some of the game's difficulty in the process. The brilliance of the mechanic is that the enemies still progressively increase in power — so even though you'll die less frequently, and consequently enjoy the game more — Hard Corps never feels like it's dumbing itself down.
One note difficulty isn't the only feature on its way out with this update; Konami has also ensured that you will never be forced to play alone again thanks to both online and local co-op. Either way you play the experience is fantastic. Difficulty doesn't scale with the number of players, so the experience might be just a touch on the easy side with a fully leveled character — most gamers will appreciate being able to sit back the gunplay with a friend helping to shoulder the load though.
If you don’t have any friends on hand, you can also head online where you’ll find that Konami packed just about every possible option short of specific stage selection into the multiplayer component. Once you’re connected up to another player everything is smooth sailing thanks to few network problems.
If you wanted to nitpick there are a couple of flaws that you could find – in particular the usually responsive control scheme sometimes is a pain when moving and shooting in opposite directions—but they’re only minor blemishes on an otherwise excellent game. If you’re not one who deals with difficulty well, Uprising might not be your cup of tea, otherwise, pick yourself up a copy; Konami’s started off the House Party with a bang.
[Hard Corps: Uprising]-1200 MSP