There's a good reason that Hard Corps: Uprising has the word "hard" in its name. It's old school all the way, with no concept of "easy mode" for beginning gamers. The spiritual successor to Konami's long-standing Contra franchise, Hard Corps: Uprising dispenses with the pleasantries right from the start and throws you into the action. Unless you have nerves of steel and an accurate trigger finger, you're going to die … a lot.
If the grueling difficulty hasn't put you off, then you're exactly the type of gamer for which Hard Corps: Uprising was designed. At a mere eight stages, it may sound short, but rest assured, most casual gamers will likely spend the first few hours of play just trying to see the end of the first stage.
Gameplay is pulled straight out of the Contra playbook, with players either going it alone or co-op with a friend. Enemies come fast and furious, so survival is dependent on constant shooting. An advantage can be gained by collecting floating power-ups. Each one upgrades your default weapon by swapping it out with another type. Examples include a flamethrower, a grenade shot, homing laser, spread shot and upgraded machine gun.
You can carry up to two different weapons at a time, which allows you to swap at will. Choosing which upgrades to stick with is important, as you can combine multiple upgrades of the same type to get a more powerful weapon. However, if you are constantly swapping weapon types, you'll always have the most basic upgrade.
Another useful tactic with the weapon swap is to quickly change away from your favored weapon right before you get hit or die. This is because any upgrades to your active weapon are lost when your character suffers damage. The gun in your pack is safe unless you run out of lives.
Learning the enemy patterns is key to survival, both during the standard levels and when facing off against the bosses. While low-level goons can be dispatched with a simple shot, more complex enemies sometimes require a bit of thought. All have a weak spot, though, and learning it can make an otherwise impossible opponent seem like nothing more than a minor speed bump.
Boss patterns are consistent every time you play. This is something that you can easily turn to your advantage. Learning where and how each boss attacks, as well as when they leave themselves exposed, is part of the challenge of the game. It's a necessity for those who want to complete arcade mode.
Although arcade mode is the main draw, if you're having trouble cutting your way through the hordes, there is a secondary option: rising mode. In rising mode, you earn points based on your performance, and those points can then be used to buy character upgrades in the shop. Upgrades are performance-related, such as always defaulting to level 2 of an upgraded weapon rather than starting at level 1, so they indirectly make the game easier. Note that upgrades only apply to rising mode. If you want to beat arcade mode, you still have to do it the old-fashioned way.
One nice addition to Hard Corps: Uprising is the full complement of moves that have been made available to the player. You can move and fire in eight directions, fire opposite your direction of travel as well as aim and fire while stationary. You can dash to quickly move out of danger. You can even pull off special moves, such as reflecting bullets. Some of the more advanced moves aren't easy and require precise timing, but for expert players, they add an additional level of control that is appreciated.
Older players are likely wondering about the inclusion of the classic Konami code. It's here, but it doesn't grant you any extra lives. Enter it during the loading screen for the first stage, and you'll hear an alternate music track play. Yes, it even works in the trial version of the game. It's a nostalgic touch.
Where we have to complain is in how Konami handled the playable characters in the game. Despite showing all of them in the opening movie, only two of the five are playable from the outset. The others have to be purchased as DLC. This seems to be a bit of overkill, especially when Hard Corps: Uprising is already selling for the premium price of 1,200 MSP ($15). Buy them all, and you've increased the price of the game by 50%. DLC is fine when it adds content to the game, but when it looks like the player is being charged for content that should have been there by default, well, it feels cheap.
Griping aside, Hard Corps: Uprising is a game that delivers exactly what it promises. It isn't going to be for everyone, but for those who appreciate the challenge of old-school gaming, it's a must-buy. For the rest who are going to whine that "it's too hard," go play Black Ops. This game is exclusively for the hardcore.
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