Contra: Hard Corps (Genesis) review
"I hate to say it, but Contra: Hard Corps is HARDCORE. Dozens of enemy soldiers swamp you right from the get-go and huge robotic monstrosities tear through the cityscape in order to blast you to hell. Bullets whizz by loud and fast and explosions from countless wreckages fill the screen with dazzling pyrotechnics. With all the carnage going on there's very little time to sit down and think about how you're going to save the world. Oh, and forget about keeping an eye on your life..."
I hate to say it, but Contra: Hard Corps is HARDCORE. Dozens of enemy soldiers swamp you right from the get-go and huge robotic monstrosities tear through the cityscape in order to blast you to hell. Bullets whizz by loud and fast and explosions from countless wreckages fill the screen with dazzling pyrotechnics. With all the carnage going on there's very little time to sit down and think about how you're going to save the world. Oh, and forget about keeping an eye on your life bar - there isn't one; a single hit from a stray bullet or an unexpected head-on collision is enough to do you in. Could it get any worse? How does a plethora of relentlessly bombarding bosses sound? I'm scarred for life. From hereon in, I will refer to this game by its European release name, Probotector. Ah, that feels better!
Call me a wuss, but over the past two decades I've played more games than I can count, and I've cracked plenty of tough nuts while at it. Probotector definitely ranks somewhere up there with my top ten nuts. The first time I played it was over ten years ago; I remember it all too clearly. Robotic foot soldiers were running rampant in the city and my law-enforcing CX-2 crashed into the scene in a hard-bodied assault truck. I ran forward and blasted a couple of scumbags away, but failed to notice a tiny red dot heading towards me until it was too late. I died. No sooner than I was brought back to life, a kamikaze robot jumped in my face. Damn. I managed to go a little bit further on my next run, but then a giant insectoid creature ran me over. Game over. I was speechless. I had only played for less than a minute and I was already back at the title screen?! Whoa!
But I've since matured as a gamer and now that introductory level is a cakewalk. I now run rings around the robotic scoundrels and I make mincemeat of bosses that literally spit napalm in my face. But I can't be too careless, for one hit is all it takes to knock me out good and leave me without my precious upgraded weapons; then it gets really tough again. The Probotectors start off with a weak rapid-fire machine gun and along the way they pick up piercing laser rifles, automatic grenade launchers, spread-shot cannons, homing rocket launchers, and more; different firearms for different characters, of which there are four to choose from who all control in nearly the exact same way.
The crux of Probotector (and the series; more widely known as Contra) is blasting the hell out of everything that moves whilst avoiding anything remotely harmful, whether it be a massive radiating flame whorl or a simple dot of gunfire; both are equally deadly. There's hardly any room for error and often you'll die because the game throws something unexpected at you with only a few milliseconds to react and act accordingly. For example, you may be running uphill when an enemy suddenly drops two steps ahead of you and fires straight at your forehead. There is a lot of trial and error involved if you hope to make it through unscathed and unscathed is the only way possible given the one-hit kill nature of the game.
You have to pay much attention to what's going on around you, but you probably won't mind; the destruction is simply divine. There's rarely a time when you're not moving, shooting or jumping all at the same time. The same goes with enemies; they are always coming at you hard and fast, constantly refilling the screen as you demolish each and every one of them. It's classic Shmup action, but instead of piloting a ship, you're controlling a humanoid robot. How cool is that?
Not as cool as the bosses, that's for sure. There are some mini-bosses that pose a relatively small risk (still cool, though), but the end level ones are really something else. The battles all last for quite, too, and compared to most other games in the genre, they occur very frequently. One of the first mammoth bosses you encounter can be seen in the background torching the city with an arc of ionised energy. He then jumps over to your side and you can feel the heat of the molten lead dripping from his metallic chin. Now that you've seen what he can do, you're somewhat ready to dodge what he has got in store. Another boss stalks you on the highway. The perspective switches to a straight-on view with your Probotector sprinting towards you while the crazed macho robot lugs its spiked fists from afar or charges at you like an agitated bronco. Protector likes to make use of the background a lot and many times it's not just about eyeing immediate dangers on either side, but recognising possible threats that insidiously approach from the rear. This makes the pace much more frenetic than your average 2D action-platformer.
Sometimes is can be a bit too much, though. Explosions are cool, but too many of them can mask some hidden projectiles or pieces of tangible rubble that may cause an unexpected death. Over time, it becomes less of an impressive show and more of a nuisance. The graphics do a good job of depicting the futuristic city and various facilities, but the screen is usually too congested with explosions for you to take much notice anyway. At least the music fits to a T. It's hardcore synth, bordering on techno, and never ever letting up. I can't say that it's memorable in the slightest, though, as there doesn't seem to be any underlying theme; it's pure chaos, not unlike the premise of the game.
If you enjoy Shmups, you'll enjoy Probotector. But only if you have nerves of steel, or lightning fast reactions; it wouldn't hurt to have both, though. It's hard to say if it is the best episode in the Contra series; it's a pretty damn short ride even with the few decision points that lead the story in slightly different directions (and hence opening up different levels); you'll be done in under an hour, no sweat. (Or is that with profuse sweat?) The robots aren't as engaging as Guerillas, but with classic run and gun gaming either way, does it really matter? There are a ton of enemies present at all times (with a consistently smooth frame rate throughout) and it's just plain fun sending them all to their graves with some highly overpowered firearms at your disposal. But it's fair, though; the bad guys can cause you just as much grief and with the lack of continues, finishing the game legitimately is something you can be proud of as a hardcore gamer.
Probotector is a game where a lot of precision is required. It bears a lot in common with vertical or horizontal scrolling Shmups in that it's all about dodging everything that moves - and it isn't wise to let go of the fire button, ever, if you can help it. At times, it plays like a mindless blast-athon, but quick reactions are needed throughout seeing as the tiniest amount of daydreaming is fatal.
These days, most video games are fun because they look cool, but they pose very little challenge. Games like Probotector are infinitely more satisfying because it takes a lot of skill (luck's not really a factor) and determination to make it through to the end; plus it looks cool too. As you take down each of the ceaselessly assailing bosses, you'll feel like giving yourself a pat on the back, and you should. Probotector is hardcore gun porn, and its just as orgasmic as it sounds.
VERDICT - 8.0/10 It's like Metal Slug, but on 'roids, and without the guy yelling "shotgun!"
Featured community review by arkrex (December 07, 2007)
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