Version Played: Xbox One, via Game Pass (Also available on PS4, Switch and PC)
The Contra series was absolutely huge in the 80s and 90s. Across arcade as well as 8- and 16-bit consoles, they enjoyed massive critical and commercial success. Coming at a time when action movie heroes like Stallone and Schwarzenegger dominated pop culture (and clearly modelling the heroes closely on the oiled up musclemen of the era), the sci-fi run and gun gameplay was an excellent wish fulfilment fantasy that drew inspiration from plenty of contemporary sources, such as Aliens, Terminator and Predator (though the latter was released the same year as the original arcade game, the cover art for a number of the home versions shamelessly referenced Predator promo images in the poses of Contra’s heroes).
Due in part to the Iran-Contra political affair, the games in the series were known by a variety of different titles in different regions – including C, Gryzor and Probotector (the latter of which, for PAL territories, saw the action hero leads replaced by robots in order to work around the German censorship laws of the time).
The franchise arguably reached its peak with 1992 SNES entry Contra III (or Super Probotector in PAL regions), which was an absolute masterclass in level design, gameplay, audio and visuals. The 16-bit style has aged incredibly well, giving it an appeal even now – 27 years later.
It’s clear from the start of Blazing Chrome that Contra has been a huge influence on its design. There’s an unbelievable sense of déjà vu when playing the first level, which feels uncannily like the opening level of Contra III in so many ways. That’s not a bad thing; it’s just unusual and surprising to see an homage hewing this close to its inspiration. Given the choice of robot or human protagonist, you can replicate the feel of Contra or Probotector too, depending on which one you grew up with.
There’s some stunning work here, in terms of the art. There’s a lot more detail and smoothness in the graphics – due to the capabilities of modern machines – than you could have expected to be wrung from the SNES or other early 90s machines. It’s perhaps the Contra III you now remember playing, not the Contra III you actually played.
The audio is wonderful too, with an era-appropriate soundtrack and even muffled voice samples replicating the retrogame feel.
Once you’re past the first stage, others are less reliant on sticking so closely to the Contra III template and seem to be more confident to stretch out into other areas, with levels taking place on fast-moving speeder bikes and elevators, for example. Mechs, jetpacks and the aforementioned bikes add some variation, seeing more than just running going along with the gunning. Bosses are suitably huge and well designed; challenging without being unfair, for the most part.
Which goes for the game as a whole; it certainly continues the tradition of being a tough challenge from those classic, run and gun action games too. Though very challenging, it’s playable, addictive and doesn’t ever feel unfair. Just as in those older games, another player can join in for some local multiplayer action too.
It perhaps seems odd that I’ve devoted so much space to the history of Contra in a game review that isn’t even discussing a game from that series, but with Konami readying a new Contra for imminent launch – Contra: Rogue Corps, which looks nothing like you’d expect, or a game that anyone needs or wants – I wanted to stress that Blazing Chrome is the sequel that the fans really should be getting hold of. It’s Contra through-and-through, infused with the same spirit and excellent design that the original games had.
Contra: Rogue Corps appears to be Contra in name only. If you’re looking to scratch that very particular run and gun itch, forget the official entry and download Blazing Chrome instead – you won’t be disappointed.
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