When Contra: Rogue Corps premiered at this year’s E3, some longtime fans wondered whether this surprise new entry was pointing the series in the right direction. After all, Rogue Corps ditches the franchise’s traditional side-scrolling perspective for the top-down isometric camera angle of a twin-stick shooter. Gone is the 2D and in its place is a beefier 3D art style.
Needless to say, Konami has made some pretty big changes to the Contra formula with Rogue Corps (2004’s unremarkable Neo Contra featured a similar approach), but producer and Contra veteran Nobuya Nakazato, insists that the game’s design and art style are inspired by the classic, early entries in the series.
“Our responsibility is to shepherd the Contra series into the future while ensuring it stays true to its roots,” Nakazato says. “Making certain the game holds on to those elements that fans look forward to wasn’t lost on us when working on this title. This is why the more modern touches you see in the game are not just stylistic.”
These “modern touches” also include four-player online multiplayer, a feature that is surprisingly not so commonplace in a series that’s had co-op gameplay since the 1987 original. For Nakazato, adding these online capabilities to Rogue Corps was a must.
“Evolving to make the game available to play both offline and online, along with adding multiplayer functionality up to four players, is a huge part of what we think success will look like for the series.”
While the online mode is Konami’s attempt to modernize the way we play Contra, the game’s revamped art style is an homage to the muscly, over-the-top attitude of the original games with a modern twist.
“Something that has remained consistent across the Contra series is that we’ve remained inspired by ’80s and ’90s Hollywood action movies. That translates to games that are vibrant, memorable, fun and entertaining,” Nakazato says. “However, it was also time to think about what was next for the series. So, making the switch to 3D accomplished that fine-tuned balance between allowing fans to feel like they were picking up where they left off, but also visually sharing a glimpse into this new generation of Contra game.”
In lieu of 3D rendered cutscenes, Rogue Corps tells its demon uprising/alien invasion story (which takes place immediately after the events of Contra III: The Alien Wars) via hand-drawn, motion comic interludes by artist Emilio Lopez, whose past credits include work on TV shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, illustrations for DC’s Batman Beyond 2.0 comic, and promotional artwork for BioShock.
“The main crux of the art style was to make it as fun as possible,” Lopez says. “It’s funky. In the game, there are lots of homages, and one is an homage to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, which Nakazato worked on. You know how [in that game] you can grab somebody and throw them at the screen? You can do that in Rogue Corps, too.”
Den of Geek played the game at E3 2019, and while the new camera perspective and motion comic do add a different flavor to the Contra experience, plenty of the things you love about this series are accounted for: large waves of meaty enemies to kill, explosions that engulf the screen in bright fire, and ridiculous weapons that you can upgrade and customize.
The game’s playable characters include a gatling gun-wielding Panda named Hungry Beast; a femme-bot ninja with an alien living in her belly named Ms. Harakiri; a maniacal, gun-toting cyborg named Kaiser; and The Gentleman, a very polite alien bug. Yes, the characters look as absurd as they sound, and the game’s overall aesthetic feels cartoonish, violent, and totally irreverent — like the fever dream of an angry, pre-pubescent nerd boy in the ‘90s (I was one, so I know).
There’s also a more adult bend this time around. Dismemberment and gore are par for the course, as are the dark humor and potty-mouthed antics that have secured the game its M rating. With a series as over-the-top as Contra, it’s really no surprise that Konami has leaned into the violence and action hero tropes.
Nakazato says that he made it a goal for his team to add modern elements to the game — such as a new dash mechanic — “without losing the fun of shooting that can be enjoyed in the series’ earlier titles.” But will Contra fans warm up to all of these changes?
“It was important to us that while the overall style of the game has progressed from arcade-style with stage clears, the core elements of Contra were still very much present,” Nakazato says. “We made sure that the same over-the-top action and gameplay that our fans enjoy and look forward to remained central to the game.”
We’ll see what the fans think when Contra: Rogue Corps releases on Sept. 24 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.
Bernard Boo is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.