Rogue Corps has pedigree, if nothing else: it’s directed by Nobuya Nakazato, who previously worked on, among other things, Contra: Shattered Soldier and the full-on classic, Contra III: The Alien Wars.
Stepping away from the side-scrolling run-and-gun platforming of the earlier games, Rogue Corps instead emerges as a top-down twin-stick shooter: you roam an alien-infested city, gunning down endless waves of fiends that jump out from behind burned-out cars and buildings.
From the moment you let off your first burst of machine-gun fire, there’s a sense that something’s not quite right with Rogue Corps. The gun noises are tinny and distinctly lacking in oomph; more frustratingly, your character’s movements actually slow down while you’re shooting, making this less a case of run-and-gun and more gun-and-plod.
Rogue Corps adds a few mechanics to spice the action up a bit, such as weapons that constantly overheat, forcing you to switch between your two main weapons: the brawny Kaiser, for example, can fire low-powered machine gun shots and explosives but slow three-way missiles.
You can also eliminate certain enemies with a finishing move – a feature that might feel more satisfying if it didn’t play precisely the same canned animation every time it’s activated. There’s more variety to be found in the four characters you can choose from (an alien/ninja hybrid, a panda, and an amorphous alien blob named Gentleman), each with their own weapon combos, and rankings to entice you to improve your scores.
The trouble is, none of this adds up to a hill of beans when the action itself feels so rote and lifeless. The best Contra games were marked out by their pace and the meatiness of their gunplay. Rogue Corps, meanwhile, is distinguished by a camera that’s constantly either zoomed out too far from the action, or positioned so that your view’s obscured by a piece of scenery in the foreground.
Couple all of the above with some unimaginative level design that simply throws waves of bullet sponge enemies at you, and some of the brownest graphics I’ve seen in a decade, and you have a game that really doesn’t live up to the Contra name.
This year’s seen some great games inspired by the Contra series – such as the terrific Blazing Chrome, one of our favourite action titles of the year – which only makes Rogue Corps look all the more tawdry.
If nothing else, Rogue Corps offers a wealth of modes to dig into, including online multiplayer, couch co-op, and workshops where you can upgrade your character’s abilities and develop new weapon parts. If only the game underpinning it all was actually fun.
This is one B-movie best left on the video store’s bottom shelf.
Format: PS4 (tested) / Switch / PC / XBO
Release: Out now