Thanks to KONAMI for the review code
Title: Contra Rogue Corps
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 09/24/2019
In this return to the Contra series, you take control of a squadron of four warriors who set out to investigate a mysterious city that rose after the events of Contra III: The Alien Wars. One thing to note is that this is a story focused Contra akin to Shattered Soldier and Neo Contra, but this one has a bit of a cruder tone and doesn’t always take itself seriously, though it does have some nods to the other games.
Right off the bat, this presentation is going to be divisive no matter what system you play it on, and unfortunately the Switch has the worst looking version of this game in general. Overall, Rogue Corps has this very gritty look to it that not many other Contra titles have, with the closest comparison I can think of being the PS2 entries, for better or worse. Lots of dark colors and gritty enemy designs, although the game still manages to look enough like a Contra game to pass by. (albeit, most of the inspiration comes from the PS2 era and not the original 1-4 series, so this still contrasts with what most people know)
On Switch, these dark colors are also accompanied by a very big annoyance, and that comes in the form of the sheer amount of blur this game has on offer. The good news is this game runs at a rock solid 30FPS and doesn’t slow down as much as you might expect, but the tradeoff here seems to be how smeary they made the visuals. Seriously, on Switch this game looks like someone spilled a gallon of vaseline on everything but the text, which makes this game look dreadful no matter what mode you play it.
On one hand, I actually do like how the devs at Toylogic prioritized stable framerate over visuals, but I also feel that more optimization could have been made to prevent the amount of blur on screen, since in handheld mode some enemy swarms look like smeary blobs, and I feel that for TV mode it might have been better to include an option that would push better visuals for more slowdown, although the game doesn’t even try for 60 to begin with (it’s a locked 30), so it makes me wonder if this blurry nature was just because of bad optimization.
Nevertheless, the game’s look may certainly be a thing that could turn you off, but the audio is at least decent. Some music tracks are vague remixes of classic Contra themes, while most of the time the songs are just generic or atmospheric enough to get by. Still, considering how epic Contra OSTs tend to be, the score’s pretty disappointing. Thankfully the voice acting in this game is a lot better, performed by actors that do a pretty good job getting the point across in both the cutscenes and combat missions.
However, as part of this game’s edgier tone, this game has an unusual amount of F-Bombs compared to any other game in the franchise, with only Neo Contra coming remotely close. As someone who doesn’t mind this language, it didn’t bug me much, but long-time fans might be really turned off by this massive tone shift.
Rogue Corps is a top-down shooter sorta akin to the top-down segments from Super C and Neo Contra. You still navigate each stage by shooting down enemies, although now they’re done in waves akin to a traditional twin-stick shooter. In fact, you aim via a twin stick control scheme too, since the right stick adjusts your aim. You fire your equipped weapon with the ZR button, use your skills with the R button, and use a bomb with X. Besides that, you have your standard move and jump controls, leading to these working pretty decently for the most part, and when your weapon starts to overheat, you can use the Y button to switch to your secondary weapon.
Unfortunately, there is one glaring flaw with these controls that I could notice right away, and that’s how much weight they have. Due to embedded input lag or some sort of mechanic, every action takes a bit before it actually pulls off, and as a result it sometimes feels like you have to push down the buttons hard in order to get things like a moving jump accomplished, even though there’s no pressure sensitivity at all. In all honesty, this is probably just some very bad input lag, but considering how it was very noticeable in handheld mode, it’s pretty inexcusable, though I never found much times where it outright killed me. Even after a recent patch that added extra content, there was not a thing done about this lag, which is very annoying.
Still, once you get into a mission, it’s pretty simple to get the hang of the controls, and navigating the levels is fairly straightforward. However I noticed yet another annoying problem shortly after starting up, as when I went to pause my game I noticed that everything around me kept moving. Same for when I used sleep mode. Yep, this game completely lacks a proper pause feature, thus making it so you have to play through an entire stage in one sitting, even when you’re playing solo and offline. This decision makes no sense whatsoever and yet again, even the patch didn’t do anything to fix this odd choice. You could try and pause by putting the system in sleep mode, but it feels like it only works this way 50% of the time.
That being said, I didn’t really mind the lack of a pause feature at first based on my positive impressions from the game’s demo, but as I progressed through a couple of missions, I soon realized just how long some of these missions can be, and honestly I found moments when I was playing in handheld mode where I wanted to stop and take a break, but literally couldn’t due to the game’s lack of a pause feature. This honestly hurts the pacing quite a bit and makes the appeal of the switch’s portable mode pretty worthless in Rogue Corps.
It doesn’t help that even despite the core gameplay loop of getting new arms and materials to make better weapons, there really isn’t much in terms of memorable stages or something that stuck out during a set of stages. Unlike other Contra games where there was something to remember about the stages, Rogue Corps’ stages feel so disappointingly generic that I can’t really remember anything about them because some of the dialogue, which is pretty disappointing. Yeah, using a flamethrower to burn down enemies is still fun, but when there really isn’t much else to write home about the fun dries up quickly.
So, how about the online? According to the dev team behind the game, the main focus of the style change and the gameplay loop (along with being the likely reason why there’s no pausing allowed) was to make this more of an online-friendly experience, and with the differing ways of using the four characters and getting your loadout set, it should seem like a no brainer, especially since Toylogic worked on Kid Icarus Uprising, a game which has some amazing online multiplayer.
I’m very disappointed to say that despite my efforts in the past month to connect online and do a match to test these features, there’s just nobody else to play with. I’d wait around at base camp for a room to be filled up, only for nothing to happen. Likewise, I’d search for any available rooms, and get nothing. This was not only during launch week, but also during a few random days in October and just this past weekend, and disappointingly I never got to join a match even once. When your game heavily focuses on using your single player skills for the online arena, then a dead online is one of the worst things that your game can have, and unfortunately I got so bored of Rogue Corps by this point that I didn’t even bother to try beating the first boss once I reached him, thus ending my journey.
However, there was one light at the end of the tunnel, and that was in the form of the local co-op. Formerly locked behind clearing a Mission Rank, (this game’s term for “worlds”) it’s now available right after the tutorial after the latest patch, so upon getting access to the first boss me and my friend took on the first Co-Op mission, which are entirely separate from the main game. Here, you fight waves of enemies, pushing your way to the end of the stage as you gather items and other material along the way.
Somehow, these stages manage to be even more boring than the main stages, due to the non-stop flood of enemies that feels like a bad Mario Maker level. It’s very, very easy to get mobbed by enemies and killed in no time at all here, and it’s a very disappointing experience all around. Here your co-op partner doesn’t even feel like they help that much, instead acting like a tiny band-aid against a flood of enemies. I would have much preferred if the campaign had local co-op support over these boring levels, as it would have made the experience a lot more enjoyable. You CAN do a form of local co-op, but only if another person with their own switch uses local wireless, which is still a pretty silly restriction.
In conclusion, Contra Rogue Corps was a game I really wanted to like more. The core gameplay is decent, but so many quality of life improvements need to be made here, from local campaign co-op being a vital feature to add, the lack of a pause button that confuses me the most, and most importantly of all, some way to make the game’s online mode more active or encouraging.
As it stands right now, Rogue Corps‘ online is deader than dead, which is unusual for a game’s launch week, but incredibly disappointing considering how so much of this game is reliant on building up your characters for online play, and without the option to at least fight against players on the same system or CPUs, there’s almost no way to even experience these modes unless you get the grace of luck.
The developers did promise free updates down the line, so I truly hope all these things get added in a post-launch patch, but one of these have already launched, and it did little besides add a few new costumes and a few new weapons, doing nothing to improve the visuals or quality of life whatsoever outside of allowing Co-Op to be done earlier.
It’s also unfortunate that the main core of the game is pretty much unusable thanks to not only a dead community, but also due to the lack of an offline practice mode. The game really shouldn’t have launched the way it did, as while the controls and gameplay are solid and there are tons of in-game achievements to unlock, a lot of the content just feels like repetitive bloat, and that satisfying loop that Contra games are known for is just gone.
Here you get what feels like a successor to Neo Contra, but one that tries to innovate in such a poor way that it feels like it forgot the basics, and it needs a lot of polishing up in order to really be memorable. I really tried hoping that this would still be a hidden gem in the end, but unfortunately even I couldn’t get into it despite an update being released, as that update did almost nothing to improve the core experience.
I give Contra Rogue Corps a 4 out of 10.