After writing about a decent game, then a terrible one, I thought I would treat myself to writing about a good Mega Drive game for a change. That game is Contra: Hard Corps. Or as it is known by its very, very different Japanese title, Contra: The Hard Corps. I probably don’t need to tell you that Contra, as a series, is awesome. Hard Corps is one of those Contra games that doesn’t really get a lot of talk about it, being overshadowed by the original Contra on NES, and most notably, Contra III on SNES. This is a real tragedy, because Hard Corps is probably the best game in the series.
There are Contra games where you run and shoot at things that explode nicely. Hard Corps is the most Contra game. Things explode when you shoot them. Things explode you don’t shoot them. Level 1 begins with you ramming a giant futuristic vehicle of some sort through waves of enemies and parked cars before you crash into something too big and launch yourself out of the front windshield. This act of complete chaos sets the mood for the rest of the game. Chaos is the theme of Hard Corps, and it never ends until you see the credits.
A little less than a year prior to the release of Hard Corps, Treasure had released Gunstar Heroes, arguably the best game they have ever made, and among the best titles on the Mega Drive. I have always wondered if Treasure had worked on Hard Corps in secret, or if Konami was just really good at copying other people’s work. Hard Corps is the most Contra Contra has ever been because it is the most like a Treasure game Konami has ever made. The frenetic pace that never lets up (Contra 1 and Contra 3 have stages that are much more slower paced and feel like a break in the action (the base levels and the overhead sections, respectively)). The emphasis on constantly fighting mid-bosses. Multiple playable characters being able to use multiple weapons. The goofy humor that pops up from time to time. All of these are things that Treasure games are known for, especially Gunstar Heroes. The closest Contra ever gets to this sort of design again is Neo Contra on PS2, which goes a long way towards explaining why Hard Corps and Neo are my favorite Contra games.
While guns and big explosions are cool and all, there’s more to Contra than just that. I’ve always been a fan of the H.R Giger influence in the enemy designs, and I’m a big fan of this game beginning the trend of Contra moving that style towards body horror. While not as abundant as the later PS2 games, there are enemies and bosses that look like some real fucked up Cronenberg shit; hell, there’s even a boss fight against the teleporters from The Fly, where enemies get fused together to form newer and grosser enemies. Defeat enough of them, and the final fusion will eat the scientist responsible alive in a satisfying way.
Something you may have noticed in the screenshots I’ve posting is the character I played as. While there is body horror to gross you out and establish who the villains are, there’s also really cool body horror. Cool body horror in the form of Brad Fang.
Brad Fang is a cyborg werewolf with an arm-grafted machine gun who wears sunglasses. Contra exists as this pastiche of 80s actions/sci-fi films like Predator and Alien, with over-the-top action that enters the realm of parody, but there has not and will never be a Contra that has a cyborg werewolf with an arm-grafted machine gun who wears sunglasses. The other characters are fine: buff army dude, sexy army lady in tactical underwear, and a little robot guy, but they do not compare to a cyborg werewolf with an arm-grafted machine gun who wears sunglasses. There are few games in the world that have character designs on this level.
Also adding fuel to my Treasure speculation: Brad’s design being awful similar to WOLFGUNBLOOD GAROPA, a boss in Alien Soldier.
Something else no other Contra has: multiple endings! Hard Corps gives you branching paths to take, leading you to different levels, fighting different bosses, and leading to different endings. No shit, Contra: Hard Corps has six different endings. That’s three more than Fallout: New Vegas! A personal favorite is the joke ending you can get on level 4, where you can find a secret area hiding a carny fight promoter, who offers you a spot in his competition. If you say yes, you fight a small boss gauntlet (three bosses), one of which is an example of the fine art of Subtle Japanese Satire.
This boss is based on a popular Japanese singer named Masato Shimon. His attacks involve swing a whip and throwing Taiyaki like a boomerang. Some context is needed, obviously. You can probably figure out that Shimon sounds like Simon as pronounced by a Japanese speaker, hence the whip and the Vampire Killer remix that plays during the fight. But why the Taiyaki?
Shimon had a big single in 1976 called “Oyoge! Taiyaki-kun!” When I say it was a big single, I’m underselling things a little bit. This is the highest selling single in the history of Japanese music. I don’t mean for a week, or a month, or a year, I mean ever. From the creation of the Oricon music charts, to the literal second I’m writing this, still the highest selling single in Japanese music. Konami felt like a secret boss fight in a Contra game was the perfect place to throw in a reference to this, I guess. Neat bit of trivia that will completely fly over the heads of any players outside of Japan.
Anyways, defeat Masato Shimon and the next two bosses, and you fall through a tear in the space-time continuum to the prehistoric days, and settle down to marry a monkey. Did I mention this game rules?
All kinds of incredibly imaginative stuff happens in this game: fighting a computer hacker in cyberspace, a chase sequence with a recurring villain named “Deadeye Joe” that has genuinely some of the best visual effects on the Mega Drive, and the obligatory riding on missiles sequence that Contra games have to have. Yes, Hard Corps is a fun, goofy game with good level design that feels good to play, but the one point I want to make above all else is this game’s creativity. Hard Corps had effort and care put into its creation, and it shows. There is a misconception on the internet that Konami favored the Super Famicom over the Mega Drive, and didn’t put the most effort into anything they made for Sega. Between this, Castlevania Bloodlines, Hyperstone Heist, and Rocket Knight Adventures, that is obviously not true. Granted, they made more SFC titles, but this is very much a quality over quantity thing. I’ll say it: Hard Corps is better than Contra 3. Levels aren’t as good, action isn’t as fast-paced, bosses aren’t as good, music isn’t as good, and most importantly, it doesn’t have a cyborg werewolf with an arm-grafted machine gun who wears sunglasses.