Contra: Rogue Corps review - Scrappy pleasure if you hunt for it
I found my drill.
Forget Contra, because Contra: Rogue Corps pretty much has as far as I can tell. Sure, there's some attempt to slot this game into the timeline, I think, but it's essentially a co-op-focused action game that has very little to do with the main Contra series. Is Rogue Corps any good in and of itself? Not really. Does this matter? Not really. Rogue Corps is one of those not-brilliant games that can still be a fair amount of fun to play in lazy bursts - largely because of the central idea.
Listen: Rogue Corps is a twin-stick shooter. You choose one of four playable characters and then you race around a bunch of dingy levels sticking it to hideous bad guys. The playable characters feel like they've been pulled in from Borderlands rather than Contra. One is a panda, one has an alien living in their stomach, one has a drill for an arm and another is a very well-to-do custard-slug-mutant thing - and they all have two basic weapons and their own specials (drill guy Kaiser can shoot firey things out in a bit of an arc, for example). The hideous bad guys are plentiful, but the camera is so far back and the visuals so muddy it's hard to make out much about them. Early on there are lots of red beef-jerky zombies and wibbling pink things that may have a propellor attachment. These are soon joined by skittering things, some huge meat-umbrellas, a sort of S&M elephant, turrets and huge exploding brains and all of that sort of stuff.
It's not a top-tier twin-stick. Movement feels like you are maneuvering an industrial floor-buffer over a generous expanse of peanut brittle and aiming is skittery. The weapons lack punch and collision can seem iffy, particularly with a dash move that is used to stun as well as get out of trouble. Level design relies on a handful of samey objectives, and longer missions can really chug. You can't pause the game, even if you're playing on your own.
And yet there is something about the twin-stick design I find very appealing, regardless, it appears, of the implementation. It is fun to be chased by a horde of things. It is fun to scrape through a hectic encounter with zero left on your life meter. It is fun to walk into a new area and find that the doors ahead are barred until you have unleashed chaos on whatever is about to spawn. It is fun to collect stuff dropped by baddies, even if the stuff you're collecting doesn't really excite you that much, and just ties into an upgrade grind. It is quite fun to try and manage the cooldown on weapons, because if you get it wrong you're left unable to fire for a few seconds while the mob gets closer. (It's particularly problematic with some of the bosses.)
Alongside the main campaign there's couch co-op, which cobbles together procedural levels which are mainly about collecting as much loot as you can. Twin-sticks with friends is fun, so these things work quite well, even if the camera is not great. There's also team-based PvP online, which I admit I haven't been able to play because I haven't been able to connect with any other players. I will keep trying and I will update this review if I ever meet anyone out there.
Beyond that you're in for some fairly generous weapon modding and upgrading options and an actually rather brilliant system that allows you to swap in and out new body parts to gain perks. The perks themselves are simple things - a new pair of eyes might offer a reduction in venom damage and a boost to shields - but who doesn't want to try out a new brain or ribcage every now and then? Even better, you can pick between a range of surgeons to do the transplanting, all of which have their own risks and rewards. There is the start of a rewardingly involved system here.
Those surgeons! Now and then there is something very smart about Rogue Corps. And throughout the game there is often something quietly likeable about the direct-to-video jank of it all. Rogue Corps isn't a beloved double-A in the making, but it's a sort of somewhat plucky, somewhat shameless single-A at least. It's a handful of hours of fun with friends - but if one of those friends is really serious about Contra, they're going to be pretty confused and disappointed.