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If you take a minute to consider the current state of the gaming industry, it’s quite amazing that a game like Hard Corps: Uprising has come out. This is a game rooted neck deep in the older days of gaming that began in arcades. All the trademarks of that era are present in this game; a vertical learning curve, brutal checkpoints, severe penalties and borderline broken mechanics. The question is though; does this still make for an entertaining game in 2011? Well, I’m going to get to that now as answering that question depends on a ton of other elements.
the difficulty in this game is absolutely nuts. When you first start out you
will curse at your Xbox like you were back in an arcade in the days of
Pac-Man. The main thing that makes this game so hard is at the beginning there
is a complete lack of preparation for the player. Apart from a control screen,
the rest is up to you. Hard Corps: Uprising takes a huge inspiration from
Contra and for those of you who don’t know what Contra is, it’s a side
scrolling shooter with some platforming thrown in that is notorious for being
hard. Hard Corps: Uprising has the difficulty part in spades, but with equal
amounts of frustration.
There are two ways to play in Hard Corps: Uprising, the traditional arcade mode and rising mode. Arcade mode is what you would expect; you select your character and then play through as many stages as you can until you run out of lives. Rising mode is very different, in this mode you earn credits as you progress that can be spent on upgrades and you have the option of replaying levels. Which are essential if you intend to climb the games steep learning curve. You will need to play the levels a few times just to be able to get through them at a steady pace, and even then it will only take one mistake to virtually castrate your character. Like in most side scrolling shooters, you can collect weapon power ups when you defeat a certain enemy. These are very confusing when you’re just starting though. Until you power them up, half of these weapons are worse than your default one; this breaks a fundamental rule for this genre.
The weapon system is the second ingredient to the ultra hard formula for this game. You can hold two power ups at once and you can switch between them on the fly. However, it will only take one hit and you will lose whatever weapon you have equipped. This wouldn’t be such a hindrance if cheap hits weren’t a dime a dozen in this game. You can also power up your weapons by collecting multiple pickups for them. If you pick up three machine guns, you will have an incredibly powerful weapon that cuts through entire levels with ease, but remember, just one hit and it’s gone. These problems are exacerbated by the fact that the game throws an insane number of enemies at you at any one time from all directions. There are a limited number of enemies but the pace of the game is so fast that you rarely have time to stop and think about what you’re doing, making numerous playthroughs of a level mandatory. You can offset some of these problems by playing the game cooperatively, but that doesn’t excuse the pacing nor the balance problems this game has. The first level is a good example of this, the first half is a breeze, and then out of nowhere you’re thrown into a relentless boss fights and platforming sections that feel like they belong at the end of the game.
Make no mistake, this game pulls no punches in terms of difficulty and if what I’ve listed so far has set off any alarm bells I would advise staying well clear. However, like with all games that come from this era, once you put in the time necessary to memorise enemy patterns and the levels, there is fun to be had with Hard Corps: Uprising. Arcade mode is definitely tailored towards the diehard fans of this genre. Rising mode does present a very good challenge once you get the hang of things. Once you level up your character a little, the insane difficulty becomes somewhat manageable. However, it’s unfortunate that in order to enjoy the game you must do this type of required grinding, this is something that just doesn’t belong in this type of game. The brutal difficulty should be compensated by a powerful character right at the start, not after a couple of hours of grinding for points. These problems are only further magnified due to the harsh checkpointing and life structure in the game. You will have to repeat entire portions of levels if you die on a boss, with no weapons and even less margin for error.
Hard Corps: Uprising knows the kind of person it is aiming for, the problem is that is focuses too much attention on that and not enough on being true for its genre or the modern day. The reason games like Contra or Atomic Runner existed the way they did back in the arcade era was because there wasn’t the options to make them more forgiving. However, right off the bat these games were fair, your character is powerful enough to make it through and power ups were something that just made the game more fun, they were not an essential tool in order to progress on. Hard Corps: Uprising just makes too many mistakes in its attempt to recreate this experience in the modern day; losing power ups should be something that is irritating, not game breaking. The pacing should be a gradual build, not a straight line at the highest difficulty and the penalties should be fair, something that this game certainly is not.