Contra: Hard Corps
by Bpwner



"I saw a Contra: Hard Corps cartridge at Gamestop last time I was in the mall."
"Contra Hardcore? Which one is that? I never played it."
"I don't think many people have. It was on the Genesis."
"Is it like Contra III?"
"Eh, sort of. Except you can select from four characters and they each have different weapon sets. One of them is a werewolf with a machinegun arm."
"What?"
"Yeah. In the first stage, you come out in a speeding APC to techno music, plow through a line of enemy robots, then crash into a car and go flying through the windshield.
"Wow, that does sound hardcore."
This is approximately the conversation I had with a friend of mine, some time back in 2001, regarding Contra: Hard Corps. This was back when Gamestop still took trade-ins for NES, SNES, and Genesis games. This particular store had a copy of Final Fantasy III (VI) on prominent display behind the counter... with a sticker price of about $80. Anyway, I picked up a copy of Gunstar Heroes from this store, but for whatever reason, passed on Contra: Hard Corps. I had rented it back in '94, initially selected the werewolf with the machinegun arm, and promptly got my ass handed to me. Even through an entire weekend of dogged persistence, I never got farther than stage 4. Despite not being much of a Contra fan and only having played Super C for five minutes, even I knew something was odd about this franchise entry. Maybe it had something to do with the hidden ending that I managed to get, wherein your character is sucked back in time and marries a monkey with a bow and a skirt.

Despite being put off by the difficulty at every serious attempt at a game, I eventually warmed to the Contra series. They really are games that reward memorization as well as twitch reflexes, and most entries are pretty fair. Even someone like myself who isn't on super god level can respectably one-credit Contra and Super C. Don't listen to those pariahs who, to this day, hold the original Contra up to be some kind of Polybius of 8-bit NES games. "OH CONTRA'S IMPOSSIBLE, PUT IN THE KAH-NAMMY CODE! UP UP DOWN DOWN LEFT RIGHT LEFT RIGHT B A B A SQUARE RUN BACK LICK THE VMU SELECT START." Anyone with enough patience can get past the inital difficulty hurdle of your average Contra game and appreciate the tough-but-fair challenge and great action set pieces of level design. Well, except for Contra III. That game is cock on a cracker.

Of course, I've probably spent more time trying complete Contra Hard Corps than any other entry to the franchise that I've tried to tackle so far. It's pretty evident that they were trying to make "the sickest Contra game yet, bro!" or whatever people sounded like in the 90's, because it's evident from the get-go that this game isn't playing around. After the above described in-game intro, you're thrust into what is possibly the most chaotic initial segment ever in a Contra game. You're assailed from all sides by robots, robots who explode with the most gratuitous cacophony of pyro outside of a Rammstein concert (because I wanted to say something other than "Michael Bay film"), with nary a hint of slowdown. There's that blast processing for you. The stage soon introduces you to the game's overall modus operandi: heaping minibosses on you like poop on the seat of a Port-o-Let at a barbecue convention. This marked shift in stage design, plus the unique selectable characters and weapon sets (and more than likely the two year gap between releases in the franchise) make Contra Hard Corps superior to Contra III, much in the same way that I prefer Castlevania Bloodlines to Super (WE GET IT IT'S ON THE SUPER NINTENDO JESUS) Castlevania IV. As much as III gets bandied around as being the pinnacle of the series, it's sad that this entry doesn't get more recognition, if only on the virtue of not being fetid ass that III fans have somehow developed scent-blindness to.


Let's Meet the Hard Corps

Ray Poward
Quote: Ain't found a way to kill me yet!
Bio: Ray Rizer is the hero who saved Earth from the vile alien overlord Red Falcon in Konami's Contra and Super C on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Along with his red pants-wearing comrade, Loverboy lead singer Mike Reno, Bill Poward survived Falcon's 16 stage invasion and intergalactic goon squad, but after his unit was wiped out during his tour of duty on the Super Nintendo, he began to doubt his country's involvement in an unpopular war, and upon returning home found it difficult to adjust to civilian life. After running afoul of a small-town sheriff and being arrested for vagrancy, Brain Powerd escapes custody and gives them a war they wouldn't believe.
Weapon Loadout: Ray's arsenal can be succintly described as "a bunch of guns that were in Contra III." His powered up A just changes the bullets into blue dashes, his B is a grenade launcher that doesn't quite traverse the entire screen (kind of like the C missile in III, but with a better rate of fire). C is the familiar spread shot and D is a homing missile. The biggest problem with Ray is that he doesn't have any penetrating weapons, and doesn't have anything else going for him to counter-balance this fact. The spread shot also has a limit of two waves on screen at a time, resulting in a crummy rate of fire unless you're really close to the edge or a big target.
Portrayed by: Tim Roth

Sheena Etranzi
Quote: I can do anything the boys can do!
Bio: Sheena is the first playable female character in the Contra franchise, and hell, as far as I know, the first female character period outside of some background sprites in Contra III's ending. She paved the way for such strong, memorable female Contra protagonists as that other chick who doesn't wear pants and loli robot. All of Contra's female fans had been clamoring for representation of the fairer sex in the franchise for years, but Konami only created Sheena because, after seven years of pure sausage fests, the neighbors were starting to talk. "Did you see that latest Contra game?" said Capcom. "Full of muscle-bound, shirtless men I see," said Irem. "Look, I don't care what he does in the privacy of his own home, but there are kids in this neighborhood. I'm just not sure they need to be exposed to that kind of element yet." "Howdy neighbors! Say, either of you want to play my new game? I bet you'll never guess which anime it's based on!" "Go away Banpresto, no one likes you!"

So what if I imagine Japanese game publishers all living on the same street and making small talk while they get the newspaper in robes and slippers.
Weapon Loadout: Sheena's weapons are pretty standard, but with a few twists. Her double A fires red and blue glowing gumballs with a bigger sprite than your regular bullets, while her B is a grenade launcher that fires at a 45 degree arc. If you aim this one NW or NE, you can get away with some firing positions that the other characters normally can't pull off. Her real star is C, a laser that comes out in relatively quick bursts compared to lasers in previous Contra games, penetrates multiple targets, and does a bunch of damage. If you can learn to time your shots and compensate for the rate of fire, this will tear up most bosses in no time. Her D is a rapid volley of homing lasers that come out in a fan pattern before following their target, giving it much greater rate of fire and coverage than Ray's D. Oh, and it's also penetrating. Basically, Sheena rocks.
Portrayed by: Natalie Portman

Browny
Quote: GODDAMN SHITMOTHER COCKSUCKING FUCKFIST! I'LL FUCKING KILL YOUSE!!!
Bio: Browny is a combat robot designed by time-traveling Youtubers to create the Contra franchise's ultimate win button. In exchange for future knowledge of sporting event outcomes, our temporal meddlers instructed the scientists of Konami to develop a cybernetic combat chassis powered by adrenal output, using only nicotine energy drinks for fuel. The augmented cyber-brain governing this tin horror is equipped with an "aggression amplifier" that converts pure malice into corporeal energy, manifesting some of the most devastating weapon systems known to military science. In his spare time, Browny enjoys making tool-assisted speed runs, debating fighting game character tiers, and lording his musical taste over others despite only listening to bands that he learned about from Guitar Hero.
Weapon Loadout: LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO LASER YOYO NO NEED TO USE ANYTHING ELSE EVER

He also has a double-jump thanks to his jet pack, which slows his descent as you hold the button down on the second press.
Portrayed by: Andy Serkis (motion capture and voiceover)

Brad Fang
Quote: I can make it on my own!
Bio: Fun fact - by virtue of being a werewolf with a machinegun arm, many believe Fang to be an unused sprite from Castlevania Bloodlines, however this isn't the case. His hairiness, shirtlessness, and 80's Ray-Bans clearly indicate that he was originally intended to be Thrilla Gorilla, but was altered at the last minute due to the character's license for video game appearances being tied up in legal battles between T&C Surf Designs and LJN. Seriously. Why would I make this up.
Weapon Loadout: This guy's all about big damage. His double A has the most ridiculous spread of any rapid shot in the game, like Gunstar Heroes' Force + Force after a quad shot of espresso. B generates an explosive burst a little less than a quarter of the screen in front of his sprite and leaves you unable to move while firing, C is just the flamethrower from Contra III, and D is a Mega Buster-style chargeable shot. To be honest, I don't use Fang all that much, as his weapons are incredibly situational, but I suppose the jacked-uppedness of his double A compensates for his lack of a homing shot and the fact that you can't aim his B and D.
Portrayed by: Robert Downey Jr.

Your characters' differences aren't just aesthetic. For example, Fang's sprite is a bit bigger than the rest, which makes him a bigger target, while Browny is a tiny little thing and can walk under some spots that other characters can't (YOU CAN JUST, WALK UNDER IT?!). But the real game-changer between each character, besides the fact that you can now play as a furry or a robot or a woman, is the weapon system. Each player starts out with a basic machine gun in their A slot. Like most Contra games, you have to shoot down capsules to acquire a new weapon icon. There are five items in all, A,B,C,D, and bombs. Grabbing a letter will give you access to the corresponding weapon for your character, and you can switch between them at any time. Grabbing A will give you a jacked up version of your machine gun, while B is usually a higher damage shot (but with limited range), C varies in theme and function between characters, and D is a homing shot (except for Fang). Losing a life means losing your equipped weapon, although you always have your basic machine gun even if you lose your powered up A. Thankfully, your bombs don't reset to one when you die like in Contra III, instead you start with zero and you only lose them if you get a game over.

Now pay attention, because this is where things get confusing. In Contra, your objective is to negotiate with the enemy so a peaceful resolution can be reached. However, they only language they speak is Getting Shot in the Face-ese, therefore you must use your gun (universal translator) to regale them with with a parable of bullets (negotiation waves) and win them over with your superior powers of communication (trigger-happy bloodlust). You accomplish this monumental task by pressing the B button. Unfortunately, sometimes the enemy's position makes this difficult to achieve, in which case you must press the D-pad in one of eight directions while firing to change then angle of your projectile's movement. But take heed! The enemy will be negotiating back at you, sometimes with projectiles of their own, or, more often than not, with more "intimate" contact. Since the terms of negotiation aren't open for discussion, you might feel the need to avoid their point of view by either jumping (C button), crouching, or, bear with me here, running to the left or right. It's Contra you pukes, you should know how this works by now. Run through the stage, shoot bad guys, try not to get killed, beat the boss, dunna nuh nuh, dunna dunna dunna dunna, bum bum bum bum. I know I spent 9 freaking paragraphs talking about the gameplay in Persona 2: Innocent Sin, But if you need to be told how to play Contra, you really are helpless. You probably have the KAH-NAMMY code on a post-it stuck to your NES. Pussy.

But wait! There are a few more things you need to know in order to make this thing happen, cap'n! First is the slide maneuver, a new addition for Contra Hard Corps. By pressing SW or SE and jump, your character will slide along the ground for a short distance, during which he or she (or it or puppy) is invulnerable and will damage any enemy caught by it. You don't have to be the King or Queen (or Master Computer or Alpha Dog) of video games to guess that you're going to need to use this move a lot. It's not just some silly little thing that's nice to have, it's prettymuch vital to your success, and even mandatory against some bosses. The other important auxialiary function at your disposal is shot locking, that is, fixing your position while firing so you can aim without moving left or right (or crouching). Contra did shot locking before via the R button in Contra III, but the Genesis' 3 button setup necessitates that the function be toggled on and off. Normally the A button cycles through your weapon slots, but pressing A while firing toggles shot locking. If you have a six button controller, any of the top three buttons will serve the same function.

Let's revisit that first stage again. You crash through an unruly Robot Pride Parade and hit the ground with nothing but your fancy tricks, your wits, and your default gun. You're assailed from all sides by robots and the occasional bullet in a classic Contra run and gun section, albeit with enemies who spaz like bobcats on booze. After shooting down your first weapons capsules and blowing up an oil tanker (because not enough stuff was exploding, clearly), you're met with a hulking metal centipede that stands roughly twice your height. If you didn't grab that homing gun, now's probably a good time to put that fancy shot locking to use. Kill that fool and run over the ripples that form in the pavement (I'm not sure why this part exists, unless it's supposed to be a fake-out callback to the end of stage 3 in Super C). Get the bomb, you might want to hold onto it for later. Okay, you're at the end of this part. Don't stand in the center of the screen! There's a boss coming out! Okay, the flame-throwing spider robot isn't that tough, just keep shooting it. Good, it's dead. Uh-oh, here it comes again! Use the slide! Or jump, too. If you want to be lame.

This segment sets the tone for what's to come, and this is only the first thirty seconds of the game. Numerous minibosses sometimes separated by quick bursts of run and gun. Pattern memorization and knowing where to stand are possibly more important than twitch reflexes here. You will usually eat some cheap deaths when taking on an unfamiliar section. "How was I supposed to know that was going to land there!" you scream, as a massive robot upper torso attached to the ceiling by its spinal column slams its fists on the floor and starts playing with mutated Tinker Toys. "Oh, so wailing on this thing full bore isn't such a great idea," you realize, as you chase a boss through a tunnel, his movement changing in reaction to your fire. Nearly every section of the game is based around trial and error, moreso than the 8-bit Contras, which relied more on reflexes and effectively dispatching your targets before they could do the same to you. Those games were more languidly paced; Contra Hard Corps is even faster than Contra III and you will need to adjust your play style accordingly. I don't believe your actual characters move faster than its SNES predecessor, but most enemies won't extend the same courtesy. It's really a matter of knowing what to do when (or what not to do, i.e. jumping when fighting flying enemies = usually a bad idea) and having the wits about you to pull it off. And it only tends to amp up as the game progresses.

The reduced focus on run and gun sections allows Contra Hard Corps to showcase some of the best action set pieces on a 16-bit console, and really pushed the over-the-top stage design that the series hinted at with Contra III to a new level. One such segment starts you off hanging from a glider, avoiding missiles launched from a vehicle below you. You can't damage it directly, instead you must kill the robots that pop out of the missiles and make them crash into it. Then you take to the skies, where you fight that jerk with the jetpack and grappling hook from stage 4 of Contra III, and a plane that looks like something out of Warhammer 40k, after which your ride suffers a critical blow and you come crashing down in front of the research facility that you were on your way to save. One of the later stages has you fending off robot vehicles from atop a speeding boat, during which they sink your ride and you must continue the fight from a hover bike. After you think you're done with those jerks, you hit the highway, the soundtrack switches into overdrive, and your robot assailants return, combining into a series of Getter Robo knockoff bosses. And of course there's the segment where you ride missiles up to a speeding rocket carrying the game's alien menace macguffin and climb your way to the top to take down its repulsive, pulsating payload. The game has enough variety in the stage design department to keep the boss-rushy nature of the gameplay interesting, and surprisingly never resorts to top-down or isometric stages. I don't know if they were ommitted due to hardware limitations, but I can't say I feel the overall package is lacking due to their absence. Maybe somebody finally realized that they just aren't that much fun.

I like to think that Contra: Hard Corps wasn't entirely developed in a vacuum with no influence from 1993's Gunstar Heroes. Someone at Konami must have taken notice of that little game that those jerks who left the company put out, and I think Hard Corps is all the better for it. Given the creative new weapons and the game's penchant for massive, fluidly-animated, multi-sprite bosses (like the aforementioned "Three Force," as I like to call him, and the train-humping robot), I wouldn't be surprised if a friendly little message of "Suck it, Treasure," was hidden somewhere in the game's code.

The game may seem a bit on the short side, due to its fast pace, and once you know what you're doing, you can probably breeze through it in about half an hour. However, Contra: Hard Corps gives you some built in replay value in the form of alternate routes. Upon defeating the first boss, which is not an unmanned robot, as some would have you believe, and how dare feed me some bullshit line such as that when I'm a busy man, and I need to know all the facts up front, it's not my fault your security is a piece of shit and now you need me to save your ass... um, oh yeah. At the end of stage one, you're presented with a choice of how you wish to proceed: answer the distress call of the research center that's under attack, or chase after the obvious decoy who was piloting the robot you just defeated. Who is a man. And was in the robot (seriously, I think the whole "unmanned robot" thing is Konami's dig at the whole Probotector series' reason for existence). Based on what you select, stage two will either be a highway chase on hover bikes, or the aforementioned glider/research center stage. Stages three and four are the same no matter which path you choose, but after stage four, you're presented with another choice, which will determine your final stages and ending, giving you four possible routes through the game, and six endings if you count the hidden ending in stage 3 and the Streets of Rage style bad ending. Add to this the fact that you have four characters with which to tackle these routes, and you're going to be playing for a while before you've mastered everything.

Of course, it wouldn't be Contra without being frustrating to the point of "fuck this, never touching this game again" from time to time. This one's touted for being the toughest in the series, and while I don't necessarily agree with that, it can be the most initially off-putting. In the options menu, you're given no difficulty option, and you can only reduce your number of lives from the default three (and I'm talking about the North American version here, not that panty-waist Japanese shit with the three hits per life). You have five continues, that's it. Like any Contra before it, Hard Corps gives you extends for points, a bit more frequently than the 8-bit ones given the relative shortness of the stages, but not quite at the rate of Contra III. Continue checkpoints are parsed out fairly throughout the stages, although some are more frequent than others, but with a few exceptions, you usually won't feel like you're wasting time trying to get back to the part where you died.

Even with all these accomodations, the game will still kick your ass. Memorizing boss patterns is only half the game, you still have to perform, sweetie. Some of them require tight movement control, like when the tank robot form of Three Force drags that spear across the road. Others will shower the screen with projectile horsepoop that sometimes you just have to pray you can dodge, like the Turbo Bug in the alien lair (look, the game doesn't tell you what the bosses are called so I just make names up) or the Wacky Waving Double Snake Head Thing. Then there are those who just do whatever the fuck they want, like Robot Master Bahamut or the Zodiac Boss, forcing you to just play twitch dodging games and hope that the slide you're about to execute doesn't put you in the path of a stray projectile or the boss' spastic zipping around the screen. If I had to guess, that damn Zodiac boss is probably responsible for more rage quits by new Contra Hard Corps players than any other part in the game. Some of the things it does are just so unpredictable, especially when it's in Gemini form, and I know it's responsible for the most cheap deaths on average whenever I make a run. Also, some of the later bosses suffer from Gradius syndrome. While your basic machinegun is usually enough to take care of most threats, sometimes you just end up at a checkpoint where you feel ill equipped to take care of what's ahead. I can think of a few in particular that I just bomb cheese if I can simply because I don't feel like dealing with them, including one that's such bullshit, one time it actually managed to break the game and left me unable to progress.

Another thing responsible for unexpected deaths, deaths that never should have happened, deaths that you can't believe you're still eating after having played the game for this long, deaths that make you hit reset because you're just off to a bad start, are the run and gun sections. They aren't numerous, but they're somewhat ill-designed and artificially more difficult than they have any right to be. While your characters move at about the same speed as they do in Contra III, popcorn enemies can leap across the fucking screen in a single bound and come at you with such frequency that just as you think you've got a path clear to scroll the screen a bit more, three or four more of the fuckers are already on top of you. Trying to physically avoid them with a jump or slide usually puts you in the path of another one that was waiting just of screen, or a stray bullet that you lost in all the confusion. For the most part, the run and gun sections in this game are simply utter chaos. There's just too much shit happening on the screen at any given time. Good fucking luck if you don't have the right kind of gun to deal with it either. If you're playing the section in stage 4 with the waves of mutant pygmies, you prettymuch have to inch forward, keeping the onslaught just at the edge of the screen, jumping to catch the occasional one that goes high and hoping that a couple of his buddies didn't take the opening you just made and come down on you. If you're using Ray, you're better off not using his homing missile, since it just can't keep up with the volume and coverage of the wall of enemies coming at you. When your average run and gun section only takes about 15 seconds, I guess they figured making them random as hell would balance them with the rest of the game, but to me, it only makes them seem like more of an afterthought.

The other major gripes I have with the gameplay are more technical in nature. Specifically in regards to the controls. As much as I appreciate being able to go between a fixed and a free shot at will (suck it, Treasure), toggling it on the fly can be a pain in the ass. Working within the limitations of a three button setup, I'm glad Konami gave you a way to do it at all, but that half a second it takes to toggle my shot has gotten me killed on a couple of occasions, and there's no way it can compete with the ease of holding and releasing a shoulder button. Switching weapons can be cumbersome too, since you have a grand total of one button with which to cycle through a maximum of five slots. More often than not, I'll end up landing on something that isn't right for the section I'm facing (Fang's D) or wasting a bomb because I couldn't keep my eye on which slot was highlighted and the shit deluge coming at my character at the same time. These complaints are somewhat alleviated by the fact that you can toggle shot type and switch weapons during cutscenes where you can't control your character (those without the dialog bar anyway) or while the game is paused, although I'm sure doing the latter on a regular basis will wear on your buddy's nerves during co-op.

Konami was clearly comfortable with the Genesis by this point, coming off the technical wizardry they somehow squeezed out of Castlevania Bloodlines, and Contra Hard Corps looks fantastic as a result. The color palette isn't quite as robust as its SNES predecessor, but it more than makes up for this in smooth animation and neat little details. If you can somehow take a second of your attention away from all the carnage trying to tear your character a new urethra, you'll notice many things that breathe new life into the aging hardware. Buildings in flames on the horizon, massive clusters of explosion sprites, little sparks coming from the centipede robots' feet when they hit the pavement, sparks flying off surfaces hit by your gunfire, Konami's signature "hey, the Genesis isn't supposed to do that!" sprite rotation on the grooving cyclops miniboss, little splashes and bubbles in the sea level, the haze on the sunset backdrop, garbage flying off of robots as they leap from the ground in the junkyard, and all kinds of backgrounds that be scrolling in a parallax manner.

This is the most visually interesting Contra game by its time, not only for its smooth animation and attention to detail, but also for its shift in design aesthetic. Shirtless 80's action heroes and generic military hardware sprites wouldn't cut it anymore, instead you command distinct (well, mostly distinct) characters to shoot the cybernetic, primative, mutated, or disturbingly acrobatic foes that the game throws at you. I used to liken Contra Hard Corps visual cues and overall tone to a "Saturday morning cartoon" (nevermind how violent it is), although these days I'm more inclined to believe there was an influence from the American comic book scene of the 90's, particularly Image titles like Wild C.A.T.s and Youngblood, or Marvel's numerous X-books. The sci-fi trappings of the setting are more akin to what was popular at the time, just as the 8-bit Contras were based around machismo shoot-em-up films (with a healthy dose of H.R. Giger), although you could just as easily compare Hard Corps aesthetic to 80's sci-fi manga. Don't worry, there's still the obligatory jungle stage, as well as an organic stage that looks like it takes place in Beelzebub's GI tract.

Another new feature is Contra Hard Corps attempt to tell a story in game. Granted, it's what you'd expect, little more than an obligatory premise for making bullets come out of your gun in the general direction of hostile forces, but it's a cute little distraction to break up the carnage. This time, we're not just storming some base in South America because we want to save the rainforest's pretty flowers, instead the city's security grid has been hacked and our heroes are mobilized to smack down rampaging robots and restore order. Then we learn the whole thing was just a diversion to cover the theft of a horrible bio weapon. But! instead of the next stage having us going after the thieves, we're back to square one until we get a lead on the hacker who lulz'ed at our sec (seriously though, he's the "best hacker on the net" and he's too stupid to cover his tracks? Whatever, video game from 1994, how many kids knew what the internet was back then anyway?), wherein we kick his ass and learn who the real villain behind it all is. Okay, so without any of this, it would be the exact same game, just maybe without context for the "decision" parts, and you say the same lines regardless of which character you're playing, but I appreciate the effort to embrace the ridiculousness that is your average Contra plot. People take the series' outlandishness for granted these days, but before this, all you had to go on was some endgame text and some goofy excerpts written by a bored Konami of America localizer in the instruction manual. Hard Corps actually features this insanity in the game, and is probably responsible for the spirit of self-parody that runs through later titles like Neo Contra and Contra Rebirth. Plus, it's awesome to see your characters say "Damn!" That had to have been the first time I saw someone swear in a video game. It's so edgy!

Sonically (because we're on the Genesis WHOAH), Hard Corps isn't afraid to tread into new territory for the series. Far removed from the catchy 8-bit tunes or the impressive sample quality yet boring compositions of Contra III, Konami really pushed the Genesis to the limit with a soundtrack that emulates electronic dance music and industrial rock, with surprising results. Many of the compositions here are more beat driven and feature layers of instrumentals or "solos" as opposed to melodic hooks, although there is no shortage of fly diddies to hum along to. Stage 1 track "The Hard Corps" begins with crunching metal and stays with it for about sixteen bars before launching into the fast-synth main melody, a tune they reused in slowed down form on one of the ending themes, "The Hard Corps Blues." "Contra Overdrive," on the other hand, is an almost entirely rhythm house number with repeated metallic voice samples. Tunes like "Gekokujoh Norakura" and "Something Wonderful" are peppier, more melodic arrangements while still having a driving dance techno undercurrent, but the score can also be used to approriate effect with the frantic highway chase accompiament "Yoru no Nikusyokujyu," or the Terminator theme-esque alien lair stage song, "The Foggy Cave in the Darkness." Probably the most bizarre and often cited tune is "Simon 1994RD," which turns Castlevania's familiar "Vampire Killer" theme into hyperactive Rotterdam techno. With a lot of the electronic influences and overall more driving tempos, much of Hard Corps soundtrack seems like it would be at home in a Ridge Racer game, but like all of the game's other aesthetic shifts, it somehow just fits.

Although I like to think that the route where you have to chase the missile and destroy the alien cell before it infects all of Earth is the canon ending, a more obvious choice would probably be the one where the evil Colonel Bahamut escapes after you kill the alien queen. Sadly, the real ending here is a bummer, one where a great game fades back into relative obscurity and doesn't get the kind of nostalgia charge that III does, from fans or Konami. Poor Ray had the ignominious privilege of starring in the Appaloosa-developed Contra: Legacy of War and C: The Contra Adventure, while Sheena was a hidden character in Contra 4, alongside her pantsless protege Lucia from Shattered Soldier. Browny's monoeye and namesake were hijacked for Contra Rebirth's Tsugumin, and Arc System works made some (really good) game that uses two of the character's names but otherwise has fuck all to do with Contra. The fact that neither Contra: Hard Corps or Castlevania Bloodlines are availible in any kind of compilation or DLC release makes me want to grab a Squeezit, curl up with my Goosebumps books, watch an episode of the Secret World of Alex Mack, then put on The Downward Spiral and have myself a nice long cry.

But at least I'll always have the memories of the good times that Contra: Hard Corps and I have shared. And it's never too late to make new, oh, oh bullshit! Where did that dick with the lightsaber come from? I needed that gun for the boss! One life and no bombs left either. Fuck this game. Never playing it again. Never!





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