When Konami announced Contra: Rogue Corps – the latest entry in the Contra series – during Nintendo's E3 2019 Direct, you could almost hear a collective groan of disappointment worldwide. Of course, the realisation that Konami is actually still investing in console games was an absolute delight, and whilst the game didn’t necessarily even look bad, it just wasn’t Contra – at least, not the Contra that we all know and love.
Purists need not worry though, because developer JoyMasher has delivered just what you're looking for with Blazing Chrome, a 2D run 'n' gun action title that fully encompasses everything you love about Contra and then some. It’s the sort of retro-inspired title that feels so astonishingly authentic that you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a re-release of an early '90s title. It’s that good.
Set in the year 21XX, Blazing Chrome focuses on a band of soldiers struggling to survive against the onslaught of machines (known affectionately as ‘toasters’) intent on completely wiping out humanity following a long, devastating war. This is about as in-depth as the plot wants – or needs – to go. Unfortunately though, the subtitles displayed during the short opening cutscene had a few grammatical errors. We’re not entirely sure whether this was a mistake or an intentional way to match the game’s retro aesthetic, but it was a bit jarring regardless.
You initially have access to two main characters, with more unlocked as you progress. The first playable character is Mavra, a truly hardcore resistance soldier, and the second is Doyle, a deadly robot reprogrammed to join the resistance, who just so happens to sport a wonderfully over-the-top mohawk. Once you select your character, you can choose the game’s difficulty, which primarily dictates how many lives you start your campaign with, along with the frequency of enemy spawns. Keep in mind that you can’t choose ‘hard’ difficulty until you’ve cleared the game on ‘normal’.
Of course, like its spiritual ancestors, Blazing Chrome is all about that moment-to-moment gameplay, and it's absolutely glorious. You start off with a fully automatic machine gun by default, which you can shoot in any direction you wish. As you progress, the game will drop new weapon pick-ups at various points of the levels, which you can keep for as long as you like, providing you manage to stay alive. These include a grenade launcher, a wave beam and a charge shot. What's brilliant is that all of these weapons feel so darn good that any one of them could easily become your main.
In addition to weapon pick-ups, you’ll also find tools that will boost your character in several different ways. This might be a shield that will allow you to take multiple shots before depleting, an attack drone that will shoot concurrently with your own gun, or a speed boost that will also allow you to double jump. You can only carry one at a time, so learning which enemies are lying in wait may dictate which one you’ll need to pick up. Crucially, nothing feels tacked on – every item or weapon you pick up feels genuinely useful, and you won't want any of them to pass you by.
The stages themselves are incredibly varied. You'll find yourself traversing a speeding train, climbing dilapidated platforms and even racing across a sun-drenched landscape in a hover-bike, all whilst fending off an endless onslaught of deadly enemies. These consist of standard grunts that simply run across the screen towards you, deadly sandworms that spring from the ground, giant insect creatures that can carry you off the screen, and more. You'll also come across bosses that somehow manage to be both stunning in design and pretty darn intimidating to boot. The first mission's boss reminded us a lot of the giant cyclops boss from the opening level of Contra: Hard Corps.
Blazing Chrome doesn’t just play like classic Contra titles, but it fully looks the part too. It really nails the apocalyptic theme that’s so synonymous with '80s movies and games; backgrounds are made up of deep red skies and burning skyscrapers, and character designs take direct inspiration from franchises like Terminator and Aliens. Its overall look and feel has a distinctly serious tone, but hints of playfulness are scattered throughout to keep things from feeling a bit too bleak, such as NPCs flying past in ships yelling “hey bro” at your character.
There’s no getting around the fact that Blazing Chrome can be an incredibly difficult experience, particularly on the higher difficulty setting. If restarting a level again and again after multiple deaths doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you might be better off with a slightly more forgiving action game, like Gunlord X. Veterans of Contra and newcomers looking for a bit of a challenge will relish the experience, however, particularly if they're after something to play in short sessions on the go.
For those longing for a time when side-scrolling shooters ruled the roost, Blazing Chrome is exactly what you're looking for. Perfect for short sessions, its slick gameplay and old-school art direction make for an astonishingly fun game full of explosions, epic set pieces and spectacular boss battles. Its brutal difficulty may not be for everyone, but if you're up for the challenge, then get ready for one of the most accomplished 2D action titles in years.