One of the best retro-inspired indie games of the year is a loving tribute to Contra III, and almost better than the real thing.
Not that we’re complaining, but we have no idea why Contra (aka Gryzor, aka Probotector) has been in the news so much lately. There’s been the Contra Anniversary Collection, all the associated interest in Konami’s 50th birthday and the PC Engine Mini, plus the unexpected annoucement of a new entry called Contra: Rogue Corps. You might say that’s still not much, but we honestly can’t remember the last time the series was even mentioned before that, let alone by Konami themselves.
The jury remains out on whether Rogue Corps is going to live up to the series’ legacy, but it’s certainly not going for the low-hanging fruit. A straight remake of the original, or at least a 2D title in the same style, would have been the most obvious route for a comeback, but to Konami’s credit that’s not what they went for. But if you’d rather they had done that then there’s good news: Blazing Chrome is exactly what you’re after.
Blazing Chrome looks exactly like some long-lost Mega Drive or SNES game, heavily influenced by Contra III (aka Super Probotector) but not to the point where it seems like a slavish copy. Rather than acting like a vapid cover band Brazilian developer JoyMasher has crafted what is essentially an unofficial sequel, although you don’t need to have ever played a Contra game to appreciate it.
While Contra III was actually released in 1992, both it and Blazing Chrome feel so 80s you can almost hear the hard rock soundtrack just from looking at a screenshot. There is, as you’d expect, no sensible story to explain anything that’s going on, but there’s a clear influence from the original Terminator in the opening, which vaguely hints at some sort of robot takeover – although one of the two playable characters is a reformed android with a punk haircut, so we guess they didn’t all go bad.
If you’re not familiar with Contra then all you really need to know is that it is the quintessential run ‘n’ gun game of the 8 and 16-bit eras and the one franchise to which all similar games are compared. As such, Blazing Chrome’s controls are purposefully simplistic, with a dodge roll and the ability to aim manually when standing still the only real complications.
Each level is teaming with power-ups, including helpful robot drones and ammo upgrades, but the most important items are the extra guns. These range from a grenade launcher to a laser that you can move around like the whips from Castlevania, and you can hold up to four at a time – switching between them as you want. Although the absolute best weapon is the robot suit with a built-in minigun, that is every bit as fun as it sounds.
The fact that Blazing Chrome is a mechanically sound 2D shooter is only the half the story though, the reason it’s so much fun is also down to how cheesy and over-the-top it is. Enemies don’t die with a cough and splutter but in a shower of pixelated shrapnel and explosions. All the guns are outrageously destructive and the game is filled with unexpected set pieces, from a friendly gunship suddenly appearing, where you can hang on to its skids, to a Battletoads style racing section on futuristic hoverbikes.
Blazing Chrome recreates Contra’s disregard for logic and reason perfectly, as you tackle an endless stream of mini-boss and boss characters, never sure of what’s coming next – except that whatever it is it probably wants to bite your face off. The graphics and character designs are excellent and the controls responsive and reliable… with one exception. Just like Contra III there’s a lot of climbing around on metal railings and sometimes it’s all too easy to jump off them when you didn’t mean to, which is especially frustrating in one of the harder boss battles.
The game’s final trick is a two-player co-op mode – an important factor in the appeal of the original Contras. Both characters handle identically, which seems a little like a missed opportunity, but the controls are simple enough that you can both play on a Joy-Con each, which means that, as with most retro indie games, this is probably best played on a Switch.
If there’s a fundamental problem with the game it’s that while it is highly imaginative within the confines of the genre, and the fact that it’s paying homage to a well-established franchise, it brings almost nothing new to the table. It’s always difficult to know whether to criticise retro style games for that but the obvious talent of the developer does make it a shame that they didn’t try and branch out just a little bit more.
There’s also the inevitable question about difficulty, but while Blazing Chrome is undoubtedly hard, even on easy, it’s not quite as sadistic as some retro-styled games and a generous continue system should mean most people can complete it no matter their prior experience. Although that brings up a final problem: the game isn’t very long. Although the low price tag largely mitigates that as an issue and there is a neat unlock when you beat it.
Blazing Chrome has a very singular purpose and that’s to be the best Contra III clone it can be. It achieves that almost perfectly and while that means the franchise is still stuck in the past this enthusiastic tribute almost makes that seem like a positive.
In Short: The best Contra game for decades, even if it’s not an official sequel, with amusingly over-the-top action and a great co-op mode.
Pros: Replicates the look and feel of Contra III perfectly with lots of imaginative bosses, unpredictable set pieces, and enjoyable weapons. Co-op works very well on the Switch.
Cons: Some minor problems with the controls when hanging from a rail. No new ideas and pretty short once you get the hang of it.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Publisher: The Arcade Crew
Release Date: 11th July 2019
Age Rating: 12
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