Just when you thought it was safe to completely write off Konami, it goes and does something like this.
Contra: Rogue Corps isn’t just a brand new entry in a classic series – it also brings back long-time Contra director and producer Nobuya Nakazato. For those unaware, he directed Contra III: The Alien Wars and Contra: Hard Corps, so this chap knows his Contra-ing.
Following a number of false starts over the past two decades, Rogue Corps marks a renewed attempt to restore a bit of lustre to the series, and as such, it aims to mix the earlier games’ run-and-gun elements with new ideas to attract both longtime fans and newcomers: local multiplayer for up to four players, multiple, upgradeable weapons, a selection of characters (including a panda), and a top-down isometric viewpoint with twin-stick controls.
Yes, Rogue Corps eschews the traditional side-scrolling action for a surprisingly different take on the series. Eager to find out more, we sought out Nakazato and fired some questions his way.
“We felt the top-down twin-stick shooter format was the best way to bring the madness of Contra to the current-gen consoles,” Nakazato explains. “Contra is great as a side-scroller, but it was clear that Rogue Corps was something bigger and it needed to break out into the third dimension. As for top-down, we tried various camera angles, and it felt right.” With the new format comes a switch to 3D – and with that, more movement.
It’s a big shift for a largely left-to-right series, and one Nakazato is very aware of. “Contra has always been about big moments, big surprises,” he says. “Switching to 3D was a decision we felt would help the game expand and show off where the series can go.
“We’ve tried to remain faithful to the preceding Contra games and are sure that fans will feel like they’re stepping right back in where we left off. The franchise is growing, so it needed to be updated for modern gamers – we’re pleased with the results and think fans will be, too.”
So with all the changes, are we looking at a different setup? An engaging, deep tale of camaraderie and loss on the battlefield? Well, no. There’s a story, sure, but in classic Contra style, it doesn’t actually matter very much, it’s just there.
“We have always tried to make sure the storyline is simple but entertaining,” Nakazato says. “That way, no matter where you are from or what language you speak, people all around the world can enjoy it. That is the style of play that Contra became known for, and that is what we’re trying to continue building on today.”
With the pain the Contra series has put us through over the years, there’s a sadistic part of the brain that almost hopes development of the game is as difficult as those overwhelming boss battles. Not so, says Nakazato.
“Compared to when we were working previously on major mainstream projects, this has been much easier,” he reveals. “It’s hard to believe we were ever able to make it work before. In the 8-bit/16-bit age, there were no specification documents and everything was sort of improvised, which led to daily challenges. It’s all much more organised these days.”
So does this mean Rogue Corps will be a soft touch? Absolutely not, says Nakazato. “There will also be missions for the players who want to play at a high difficulty level, which is what you’d expect from a game in the Contra series,” he explains, but he adds that there will be an element of balance to things – it’s not the 10p-gobbling arcade approach of yore.
“[It’s] hard, [but] once players gather materials and strengthen their weapons, they’ll find it easier. The difficulty level is the same for both single-play and multi-play, so the missions become more manageable if players play in multi-play mode – all of this will help newcomers and series veterans enjoy this game.”
Even though this is a return to a classic franchise, with enough changes to make some series stalwarts unhappy, the fact is the core – the heart – of Contra is still very much present in Rogue Corps.
It will live and die by its ‘over the top’ arcade gunplay, but at the very least we know Nakazato is approaching his revival in the right way.
“We’ve always been hugely inspired by 1980s and 1990s Hollywood action movies; movies that were entertaining and engaging but which don’t require a huge amount of deep thinking,” he says. “That’s what we like to go for in terms of action, with the design for the characters coming out of that line of thinking – good fun, entertaining, and memorable.”
Genre: Arcade shooter
Format: PC / Switch / PS4 / XBO
Release: 24 September 2019