Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 12/16/2020 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Contra was one of the defining games on the NES, and most of the subsequent sequels were really good. Alien Wars, Hard Corps, and Rebirth were all solid games. Surely Contra on the Switch would be solid, too, right? Right, guys? You wouldn’t let me down, would you, Konami? You wouldn’t release a game so ugly and awkward to control that it would have been bad even by the Wii’s standards, would you?
Spoiler alert – they would, and they did. Contra: Rogue Corps is terrible. It looks terrible, it plays terrible, and it doesn’t even sound that good. It doesn’t even have the “so bad it’s good” factor going for it because it was almost great. There’s a good game buried deep, deep beneath the muck of low-resolution textures, awful controls, terrible writing, and more rough edges than a 2000s numetal concert. Nintendo has never been one to embrace anti-aliasing in their games, but even by those standards, the jagged edges in Rogue Corps are abysmal.
The most immediately noticeable thing about Rogue Corps is how god awful everything looks. I can’t stress that enough; this game looks like rubbish. There are numerous Dreamcast games that look better than this, and that console came out more than 20 years before this game. The character models look hideous, the environments look bland, and the whole game looks like it was rendered in 480p and upscaled using nothing more than a budget TV’s built-in upscaler. If you first showed me this game and told me you were showing off a new N64 HDMI output option, I’d believe you. My *only* source of skepticism would be that I didn’t recognize the game from the N64’s library. It really does look that muddy and terrible, and this is for a game that came out in 2019.
The visuals are bad enough, but the controls aren’t any better. It’s a run-and-gun with twin-stick controls. That should be pretty easy to get right. Somehow, though, they manage to make the controls so bad that it’s more frustrating than fun to play. The aiming is so jerky and finicky that it’s a headache to actually hit an enemy, and your weapons overhead in a few seconds. Bad aim and quickly overheating weapons are not a good combination. Thankfully, the ammo is unlimited, but when you have to wait for the weapon to cool back down as enemies swarm you, it quickly becomes an exercise in masochism. A game’s being hard isn’t a bad thing, but when the sole reason that a game is hard is because the controls are terrible, that IS a bad thing, and that’s how Rogue Corps is.
The one and only redeeming thing this game has is the upgrade system. Well, and the character line-up, but those are hilariously designed characters with atrocious voice acting, so it’s a toss-up. The game allows you not only to upgrade your main and sub-weapons for each character by swapping out modifications and parts, but you can also utilize the surgical bay to have your characters’ internal organs replaced to upgrade the characters themselves. It’s an EXTREMELY interesting and deep upgrade mechanic; it’s just a shame that it was wasted on such a terrible game. There are five characters in the game, four playable and one support NPC. The support NPC is a cute kid who flies your VTOL because her parents were killed in the Alien War. The other characters are a standard dudebro with a machine, a badass chick who has an alien parasite or something trying to take over her body that she keeps at bay by keeping a sword plunged into her gut, a giant murder panda with the brain of a human, and a mutated bug thing with the brain of a human scientist. The characters are actually super awesome in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way, but again, they’re wasted on a terrible game.
Contra: Rogue Corps was never going to be an amazing game, but it was so close to being good. The characters are funny, the concept of a cursed city filled to the brim with monstrous alien hordes is perfect, and the upgrade system is fantastic. Unfortunately, none of that can redeem the truly craptastic graphics, the bad writing, and the downright unforgivable controls. It offers side missions as well as local and online co-op in addition to the single-player campaign, but when the core of your game is so rotted, it really doesn’t matter what nice features and details you tack on the sides. This is just a bad game. It may look less bad on Playstation or Xbox, but it never looks good, and the controls are just inherently awful.