Hard Corps: Uprising, developed by Arc System Works and published by Konami, is the latest in the Contra series, available now for 1200 Microsoft Points.

Hard Corps Uprising tells a zany tale about a corrupt nation or an evil dictator or both, some other evil bits here and there but truth be told the story is not the reason to buy the game, however there are many others. This latest installment in the Contra series, though not named as such, revamps the visuals with a crisp anime-esque appeal and animations and tops it off with an exciting hard rock soundtrack, as is Arc’s trademark.

Hard Corps epitomizes an action shoot ’em up in every way, for better and for worse. Tons of enemies on screen of which there are decent variety, but not too many you have to learn something new every two seconds, though the same can’t be said for the boss fights. The game starts a bit slow and there’s no formal tutorial so certain elements of the game go unexplained, but once you get the hang of the Action Ships and play some of the more inventive levels, Hard Corps shows itself to be as enjoyable and thrilling as any other Contra title.

So here’s what we liked:

Top Shelf Level Design – While the game is slow to start out, Hard Corps presents some really awesome set pieces including one that takes place on a hoverboard racing through a city full of hostiles and another where you jump back and forth between trains that somehow always add up to three cars. Each piece of the game is challenging in its own way, and each level presents a general theme for the player to enjoy both visually and in gameplay. For the most part, gameplay has its own flow for each level and while trial and error is the name of the game, it’s usually not too big of an issue.

Actiooooooon! – Hard Corps is by-in-large a game of shooting stuff constantly, not all that unique, but the enemy styles, level direction, and character maneuverability really spice up what would’ve been a run of the mill shmup. Some of the boss battles do well to highlight the emphasis Hard Corps has on not only shooting back, but dodging enemy fire and working with the environment to stay alive. The near-constant barrage of things to kill, things to avoid, and upgrades to find to assist in the killing and the not dying keeps the heart rate up.

If at first you don’t Succeed – Contra is an arcade game at heart where-in players must beat level after level without running out of lives. Rising Mode presents the players with a more contemporary option where-in players use points derived from their score to buy upgrades. These upgrades really add to the game and are persistent for which ever character they use, as is their mission progress. Basic upgrades are aplenty here, but Action Chips for instance allow players to use dash actions to avoid enemies or take them out in a more convenient manner; nothing but coolness there. Without Rising Mode, most people wouldn’t even bother with this game considering the amount of trial and error there is.

Here’s what we didn’t like:

Insufficient Information – There’s no tutorial for this game, despite its multitude of mechanics. The first level isn’t too difficult, but for the initial run through it’ll be quite the butt-kicker. In Arcade Mode, there’s no indicator as to what your character’s stats or abilities are, which means you have no idea you can use Ambush Shot, Vault or etc. While dedicated players will learn all there is to learn about this game, Arc only covers the basics in the help menu and doesn’t have a venue for newer players to get used to the game.

Bits and Pieces – The core of Hard Corps is solid, enjoyable, challenging but rewarding, the list of positive adjectives goes on. However, here and there the game can get incredibly frustrating. While Hard Corps is definitely a story of trial and error, sometimes the error side can get a little out of hand, and the game becomes needlessly punishing. Anytime the character is knocked off screen, they lose an entire life, which would be fine if it didn’t happen quite so often on certain levels or during certain boss fights. While the majority of the game is challenging within reason, expect to get especially annoyed from time to time.

Hard Corps: Uprising’s first impression must be taken with a grain of salt, like an overly firm handshake. While at first the game feels very difficult and confusing, the chaos will soon sort itself out and progress can be made. More hardcore action gamers will love the game however and stick to Arcade mode like the characters in this game stick to their guns. It won’t be easy and it won’t be forgiving, but thankfully Rising mode allows players to turn the tide in their favor with helpful upgrades or another player to help out. Having someone to help deal with all the crap on screen can be a lot of fun and a giant relief, especially if they know what they’re doing.

Score: Try It!

Warning… Warning… Looks like we’ve got DLC to review as well!

Sayuri and Harley DLC (200 MS each)

This is a bit unconventional, but with Hard Corps the day 1 DLC simply must be addressed! You’d think in a game like this characters are all available from the start or unlocked by some side path or a significant plot-relevant boss battle. In Hard Corps, they’re unlocked via money. While the game comes stock with two characters each with their own stats and abilities for Arcade mode, there are two more that aren’t included in the game, despite making it into the intro and all the advertisements.

The DLC takes the form of two characters, Sayuri and Harley. Both behave as any character would with their own stats and pre-mission story text and nifty color palette swaps as far as options are concerned. In Rising mode, they both have abilities to unlock and in Arcade mode they both play differently, however Sayuri really takes the cake between the two. Or really between all four characters.

Sayuri‘s gameplay is completely different as she only uses a sword with short, quick and damaging strikes and the ability to charge it for directional slash-wave attack. On the one hand, that’s awesome, she plays totally different and it makes the game into a whole new experience, which is awesome. However, the bosses weren’t designed with her in mind, and often she can have difficulty fighting them, or can defeat them with incredible ease. Any co-op game should easily have one ranged character and someone playing Sayuri, she’s too much fun and does too much damage to avoid.

Harley, however, is just another character. He’s tougher, has a mustache and pompadour hairstyle, but really that’s all he has going for him. His purchase would be nice to round out the roster, but it’s unnecessary for the most part. Players of Arcade mode that are more concerned with staying alive will enjoy him.

The whole day 1 DLC with one completely unique character and one dry character calls the game’s 1200 MS point price into question. It seems as though making the option to use a sword available to every character would’ve been far more interesting and definitely warranted the accumulated 400MS price. Along with that, it would allow people to take their pick from a greater range of characters from the start, and worry about game changing mechanics in the form of DLC later.

Sayuri’s Score: Buy It!

Harley’s Score: Skip It!