I generally consider myself to be pretty decent at games. Not particularly amazing, but adequate, and I prefer my games erring on the side of too hard rather than too easy. Getting 100 per cent completion on Bayonetta was a personal gaming highlight of 2010, for instance. Because of this I deemed myself the perfect person in the office to tackle Hard Corps: Uprising.
Maybe I was wrong.
Hard Corps: Uprising is exhausting - and not in a good way. Time spent chipping away (often fruitlessly) at its eight stages is rarely satisfying, and an initial rush of retro-tinged goodwill is quickly eroded when you're sent crashing back time and time again to a dishearteningly faraway checkpoint. While I can sympathise with - and inherently encourage - developer Arc System Works' desire to make Uprising a challenging game, there are far too many wonky encounters and frustrating moments along the way. The robot spider at the end of level six, which you have to fight without falling to your death dozens of times, is one of the least enjoyable bosses I've fought in years.
For those who fancy a bit of a history lesson, Hard Corps: Uprising is a semi-prequel to 1994's Contra: Hard Corps, the side-scrolling shooter which Europeans may (but probably won't) know as Probotector, which itself is one of many sequels to 1987 heavy-hitter Contra, a game so difficult it was responsible for popularising the most famous cheat code of all time.
Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A and Start do nothing here, however. I've already checked. This is 2011, after all, and Konami will just sell packs of 30 lives as premium DLC.
Arc System Works has stamped its own visual identity on the series, with the 2D character sprites immediately recognisable to those familiar with Guilty Gear and, more recently, BlazBlue. Occasional efforts to feature 3D models (such as bosses) on a mostly 2D screen usually look slightly squiffy, but the game keeps its aesthetic fairly clean and pleasing for the most part.
Despite the bizarre decision to lop Contra off the title, the nitty-gritty is much the same as always; you start on the left of the screen and move to the right, blasting everything which stands in your way. For your significant time investment, at least if you're looking to complete the game's three-strikes-and-you're-out arcade mode, you get eight levels, two characters and one guffy plot revolving around the future space military and oppression or something - it's all told with sparse amounts of terrible voice acting and thick blocks of chunky text during load screens, but you'll probably be off looking at your friends' Achievement lists at this point. But never fear, as the guns are still the stars of the show, with many of Contra's reliable favourites, like the Spread Shot, making their return.
Ah, the Spread Shot - I have missed you. You truly are an iconic weapon of the 80s, with your screen-filling streams of fiery red bullets putting you on a similar level of overpowered mayhem as Modern Warfare 2's akimbo 1887s. But not quite.
Weapons, two of which can be carried at once, drop like candy out of floating green piñatas whizzing across the screen at set points, and these let you beef up your standard pew pew assault rifle into altogether more resplendent options - lasers, bombs and plasma charges, for instance. Each weapon can be upgraded twice more by picking up another of its type, meaning you'll need to be careful not to pick up a Ripple Gun when you've got a level 3 Spread Shot.