It's not the Contra we want, and the focus on online is sad because no one is playing this online. UPDATED WITH FINAL SCORE
As of this writing, Contra: Rogue Corps has been out for almost a week. I have tried to get in online games multiple times in both the four-player co-op and eight-player competitive modes. I have found nothing. You could make the argument that maybe I just had the wrong timing, but the game just came out. This should be the busiest, most active time for the online community. If this is the fate of Contra: Rogue Corps in its first few days, that means the major focus of online multiplayer is not anything any future player can be dependent on.
That means the competitive eight-player mode is functionally useless. That means your only hope for the wide majority of the story mode is to play it in single-player, as couch co-op is only for a very specific mission type. With a non-existent online community, Rogue Corps is a bad video game, even if I still had some fun with its weapon customization and twin-stick shooting by myself. This is a game built for a co-op experience and as it stands, your only decent viable option is to find friends who all bought the game and play online together, as I have zero faith in matchmaking ever leading to anything consistent as the game currently stands.
Read the original review text below for when I was hopeful that good online play could make this B-tier game a fun time in spite of other blemishes. That optimism was foolish and so is Contra: Rogue Corps.
Original review first posted on September 23, 2019:
A few hours into playing Contra: Rogue Corps on Switch made me realize what specific itch this left turn of a Contra sequel was scratching. Rogue Corps started to remind me of the Masahiro Sakurai-directed 3DS classic Kid Icarus: Uprising. Much like the classic side-scrolling action of the 8-bit and 16-bit-era Contra games, Kid Icarus was known for being a platformer. Uprising bucked that trend, instead taking the very well-defined nature of the original Kid Icarus games and transforming it into a third-person shooter with a heavy focus on loot and online multiplayer.
Rogue Corps does a similar thing to the Contra series, even if it isn’t the first entry in the series to do that (I played Contra: Legacy of War on PlayStation back in the day and wow - that is a terrible video game). This isn’t an action side-scroller; instead it’s a perspective-shifting twin-stick shooter focused on getting loot and upgrading your eclectic quartet of heroes. Of course the huge difference here is Kid Icarus: Uprising is, at least in my opinion, one of the best games on 3DS. Contra: Rogue Corps, on the other hand, is more of a generic shooter at its core whose highest moments entail the occasionally crisp moments of frenetic action and a potential for enjoyable multiplayer.
The latter is a key aspect as to why this isn’t a full review yet. Contra: Rogue Corps is heavily dependent on multiplayer, with every level being able to be played in co-op with up to four players total. Unfortunately, only a certain level type - the randomly generated Exploration Missions - are playable in Couch Co-Op. This seems like it might be a technical limitation as there are definitely moments in the more structured missions that skew cinematic in a way that would make four players on a screen unbecoming. Still, it limits the game horrendously in local play. You have to put a solid hour or more into the game to even unlock the option for Couch Co-Op.
As for the online multiplayer, well the online is currently not up as of this writing. When it is, we’ll put time into the co-op and competitive multiplayer. The co-op is the same content as the existing single-player and local options whereas the competitive multiplayer is four-on-four team battles with varying objectives.
The actual twin-stick shooting gameplay is totally fine aside from the shifting camera perspectives making aiming a little frustrating at times, especially at off-screen foes. Where Rogue Corps succeeds is in the weapon customization and variety. You always have two weapons to switch between, a main gun and a sub weapon. To start, you have options between machine guns and lasers for main guns with the likes of homing missiles and flamethrowers as starting sub weapons. Playing through missions will earn you credits, weapon blueprints, a mess of upgrade items, and body parts. Yes, as part of Rogue Corps’ hardcore story, you can take each of the four characters under the knife to surgically graft boosts to their brain, eyes, skeleton, and organs. It’s a dopey way of doing this, but it lets you more minutely customize each character. The upgrade items are used to create new weapons from blueprints, which adds zanier and more powerful weapons. My early favorite is the Devil Baby, which just shoots out I guess a small devil baby that rolls through enemies and explodes. You can also crack open a chainsaw, a drill, and all sorts of peculiar weaponry.
That mixture of weapons and modifiers helps to make the basic gameplay loop enjoyable. Every once in a while though you move into shooting gallery mode, which seems modeled after the behind-the-back levels of the original game. These don’t jive well with the controls as aiming is extremely jerky and if you have the wrong loadout of weapons, these moments can be infuriating.
On top of all this is the aggressively and needlessly R-rated direction of the story. F-bombs launch on the regular here in a way that’s not funny so much as it feels like the writers were given the direction to be as unnecessarily ribald as possible. I’m down for a well-executed obscenity and dirty joke; this just lacks any semblance of good execution.
Ostensibly, this is a direct sequel to the SNES game Contra III, but aside from some generally minor references, it might as well be in a whole new franchise. One of the characters is a woman who has an alien in her stomach that, surprise, curses a lot. She eternally has a sword shoved into this alien’s mouth, removing it to do special attacks. Another one is a panda. There’s also an alien named the Gentleman and a generic male hero who, shocker, says the F-word a ton. Contra doesn’t need a deep story - just place gun-toting heroes in the front of a war against aliens and junk and we’re good - which is why I’m just confused there’s an attempt to tell one here. It drags the finer elements of the game down.
I’m enjoying my time with Contra: Rogue Corps far more than I expected when the game was announced at E3 and revealed to be as un-Contra-like as possible. It’s rough around the edges, specifically in the ridiculous faux-bad-ass story and presentation coupled with the restrictions on local multiplayer. The actual shooting has enough there that could make it a fun multiplayer game, but with so much of it hinging on the online play, I can’t draw a total conclusion. I hope the weapon customization and upgrading can gel well with online multiplayer so that way Rogue Corps can transcend its issues and be a boisterous and enjoyable action game.