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Blazing Chrome

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: The Arcade Crew
Developer: JoyMasher
Release Date: July 11, 2019


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PC Review - 'Blazing Chrome'

by Cody Medellin on Oct. 30, 2019 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Blazing Chrome is a side-scrolling action game where militant AI-fueled computers rule the Earth while humans are expendable, lacking power, prestige or status among their machine overlords.

For many classic gamers, the Contra series represents a quintessential run-and-gun shooting title. Offerings like Metal Slug and Gunstar Heroes are classics in their own right, but few would argue that Contra paved the way for games like that to exist in the first place. Like a good number of classics, the Contra series has had a rocky time when everything transitioned to optical media. There were a few bright spots like Contra 4 and Contra: Shattered Soldier, but most efforts were like Legacy of War, where you wondered how the developers lost the touch for the genre. It all came to a head when Konami gave up on game development altogether, and while there was that surprise announcement this year of Contra: Rogue Corps, most players feel that game lacks the spirit of its predecessors. Luckily, the plucky indie development team at JoyMasher has been working on its own run-and-gun title with Blazing Chrome.

The story proves to be enough of a throwback to show that JoyMasher has a good idea of what it's doing. In the far-flung future of 21XX, the war between man and machine has taken a dark turn with the machines gaining the decisive upper hand and mankind on the brink of extinction. With little else to lose, one soldier and her reprogrammed robot companion are taking the fight to the machines in an effort to reclaim the world. Again, this is exactly the kind of tale you would expect from many action titles of yore, so the simplicity is welcome here.

Likewise, the gameplay is very straightforward. Either solo or with a friend locally, you'll shoot at anything and everything in your path. You always start off with your machine gun, but picking up additional power-ups will grant you different guns, like grenade launchers, a laser, and a plasma rifle with a sweeping motion. Other power-ups give you things like a shield to take in more hits, a helper robot to give you extra firepower, or boots to give you the ability to double-jump. You can aim in a few directions when moving, or you can increase your aim range to eight specific directions if you stand still.

The gameplay is the title's strongest asset, since it faithfully emulates the run-and-gun feel of the classics. Every gun feels satisfying to shoot, and the appropriate cannon fodder can be dangerous if you aren't paying attention. Taking a page from 16-bit Contra titles, each stage has you doing more than just running and shooting. Some will have you speeding through the stage on hover bikes. Others will have you shimmying on poles or riding on giant mechs. There are even levels where you're descending via a cargo elevator or flying through a tunnel with the camera angle shifted so you're viewing things from behind.

That sort of classic emulation also extends to your mortality. Unless you have a shield, it only takes one hit to kill you, and if you're using anything other than the default machine gun, you'll lose that as well as any non-firearm power-ups. Death means being immediately brought back to the field with a little bit of invincibility, but losing your lives means continuing from a good distance away from a boss fight if that's where you perished. With a limited continue set to go along with the small number of extra lives, prepare to spend some time with the levels since you can't spam your way to the end.

What may amaze some players is that Blazing Chrome adheres to the style of the classics without resorting to some of the things that are now commonplace in most indie games. You have a set path for each level, with a few secrets here and there, but don't expect to blow up everything to create your own path. There are no roguelike elements, so each run has the same enemy and power-up placement. There's no RPG system, so don't expect to get stronger by defeating more enemies. In short, unlike most titles that try to be retro-inspired, this game wouldn't have felt out of place in the 16-bit era.

The only issue some may have with Blazing Chrome is that it is only six levels long. One can make the argument that the game doesn't necessarily play the same way for everyone, since you can choose the order in which you want to tackle the first four levels, but once you understand the levels, you can knock out the game in about 90 minutes. Then again, it isn't going to be an issue for classic game aficionados, since this is roughly the expected length for a good run-and-gun title. The variety of each level certainly keeps things fresh, but the length ensures that there's no opportunity for the game to get stale. It adopts a pacing that is good enough that some would argue other games can learn from.

Despite being just as long as the classic titles that inspired it, the game has a few extras to keep people playing. Beat the game on Normal, and you'll unlock the Hard difficulty, which lives up to its name because you'll face off against a bunch of additional enemies and fewer lives. More enticing is that beating the game allows you to unlock two new characters who play very differently due to their focus on melee attacks. In a way, their inclusion transforms the game into something like Strider with co-op play instead of just solo action. Additionally, beating the game provides a boss rush mode like a good number of bullet hell shooters do. There's also a mirror mode in case you want to challenge everything you learned via multiple replays and move from left to right instead of the more traditional right to left.

Like many of JoyMasher's other retro-inspired titles, the presentation on Blazing Chrome comes close to feeling authentic for the time period it's emulating. The graphics take in some elements of the Sega Genesis 16-bit style with a gritty but limited color gradient, and the game doesn't suffer from any slowdown when things get busy. The title also takes in a bit of the SNES 16-bit style with lots of smooth zooming and rotation, a trademark of almost every game that took advantage of the system's Mode 7 capabilities. Thanks to this, Blazing Chrome looks timeless.

The sound, on the other hand, aims solely for that Sega Genesis feel, so voice samples are infrequent and a bit garbled, but the effects are meaty and the music has a hard FM rock edge that most Genesis games were known for, again parroting the things that were done well in Contra: Hard Corps.

Blazing Chrome understands exactly what made the older titles tick. It has the look and sound of classic titles, and it emulates the gameplay really well. The action is relentless, and boss fights reward skill over pure ammo dumping. The game doesn't go for adding on extras from other genres, relying instead on pure gameplay to drive the title. The short length, which was normal for offerings from that time period and genre, is buoyed by gameplay modes that feel worthwhile instead of tacked on. For run-and-gun fans, Blazing Chrome is an essential addition to the gaming library.

Score: 9.0/10

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