Contra's way forward
Back in the 8 and 16-bit eras, Contra was one of the most recognizable franchises around. Everyone who had an NES either owned or played games like Contra and Super C, and gamers across the SNES and Genesis got to see what the next generation of Contra could offer as well. From the the mid 80s to mid 90s, the name Contra commanded a ton of respect, and brought an equal amount of fun with it.
As the years rolled on, the Contra franchise would fall on difficult times. The transition into the 32-bit era brought with it new expectations from gamers, which meant numerous big-name franchises had to reinvent themselves in more ways than one. Some series’ would thrive with the jump to 3D, while others would struggle to adapt. Unfortunately for Contra, the latter would be the case.
Numerous developers tried to recapture what made Contra great while introducing new mechanics and directions, but most of these titles ended up being sub-par experiences. The lone standout from the bunch ended up being the Nintendo DS title, Contra 4, which came about through a collaboration with WayForward. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, WayForward expanded on the idea of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” Contra 4 remained very close to what made the franchise a household name in its early days while also playing up the strengths of the DS hardware and features. To this day, Contra 4 is regarded by many fans as the best installment in the series since the 16-bit era.
Finally, after trying a handful of other experiments over the years, Konami has decided to team up with WayForward once again for another crack at Contra. 2024 will bring us Contra: Operation Galuga, which will continue the tradition of old-school side-scrolling action all while mixing in tons of new content, creatures and stages, plus a lot of classic elements longtime fans will no doubt recognize and appreciate. To learn more about what this upcoming title has to offer, we sat down (virtually) with WayForward’s Tomm Hulett for all-new insight.
GoNintendo: This isn’t the first time WayForward has tied up with the Contra franchise. What’s it like getting another crack at the series?
Tomm Hulett: It’s a huge honor, of course! I remember when Gradius V was announced, and that Treasure was developing, it was a different kind of excitement. Like…well, yes, with their history with Konami and the genre, it’s perfect. That’s perfect; just give me the game. I hope that’s the kind of feeling Contra fans have, looking forward to Operation Galuga.
Personally, it is a big deal for me as well. With Contra 4 I was the Konami producer, and I pitched the game and helped choose WayForward, and obviously that game was very well received. But returning now as the game director, I felt the pressure on me now. I have to make sure lightning strikes twice. Adding to it, back then we approached returning Contra elements by asking: how do we build the ultimate Wall Boss? The craziest Gromaides (waterfall alien)? This time we had to find the ultimate ultimate, the crazier crazy.
GoNintendo: What did you learn from your work on Contra 4 that you’ll take over to Contra: Operation Galuga?
Tomm Hulett: The original inspiration for Contra 4 (from my co-producer Simon Lai) was the “return to basics” approach that was new and in the air at the time. Our early conversations with WayForward involved Matt Bozon and the team really identifying what the core essence of what Contra was. But we then pushed it a bit beyond that with stacking weapons, the grappling hook, and so on. Simon and I also worked on the foundations of what would become Hard Corps: Uprising, with different producers and the capable hands of Arc System Works. And then, more recently, I explored some of those ideas on my own with WayForward’s Spidersaurs. Contra: Operation Galuga is the recipient of those years of refinement and experimenting with run-‘n’-gun gameplay.
GoNintendo: What didn’t pan out as planned with Contra 4, and how will that be changed up with Contra: Operation Galuga?
Tomm Hulett: I argued really hard to make sure Contra 4 was extra difficult. And locking the ending out of Easy mode? That was me. A few weeks after the game came out, a friend of mine sent me a message apologizing that he was selling the game because it was just too hard for him. And when he learned that he couldn’t even see the full game at his skill level, it was the final nail in the coffin. I carried that with me to future games. Being back on Contra, it was definitely heavy on my mind.
You can experience every level and boss in Contra: Operation Galuga, even on the lowest difficulty setting. That ultra-hard experience is definitely here, but we aren’t judging anybody for not being up to the challenge just yet.
Additionally, very observant fans might recall early shots of Contra 4 suggested a 4-player mode. We had to deliver that this time around.
GoNintendo: How did the opportunity to work on the Contra series crop up this time?
Tomm Hulett: WayForward and Konami had been talking for some time about various potential projects, and Konami Japan asked to see what we’d do with a new Contra. We pitched some ideas that I suppose they liked.
GoNintendo: What would you consider the team’s main goal with Contra: Operation Galuga?
Tomm Hulett: It’s been 13+ years since the last side-scrolling run-’n’-gun console Contra, so giving veteran fans an experience worth that wait is obviously important. We also want to expand the series to new fans, and sort of evangelize the run-‘n’-gun genre as a whole. To that end, we’ve attempted to encapsulate the Contra series itself in this one game. If you have a favorite Contra moment or core Contra emotion, we want to evoke it, and then share it with everyone else.
GoNintendo: So…is Contra: Operation Galuga a remake, remaster, brand-new, or a mix of everything?!
Tomm Hulett: We are describing it as a reimagining. As far as the story is concerned, it’s a retelling of the original Contra mission on Galuga Island. But think of it like the MCU, which took decades and decades of source material and then rebuilt it in a streamlined modern way that resonated (maybe an understatement) with movie audiences. I enjoyed seeing MCU films with friends who were more knowledgeable about a specific character or team, and learning from them and speculating where they might be taking the film universe and what events might get altered, and how/why. Just something to think about.
Regarding the gameplay, it’s a brand-new game. This is a different approach than we took with DuckTales: Remastered, for example. Contra:OG is the latest traditional Contra game, not an HD port of the first.
GoNintendo: Can we expect new mechanics, weapons and enemies we haven’t seen in any other Contra game so far?
Tomm Hulett: Yes! Like any Contra, of course, there are familiar faces and concepts. But also plenty of surprises. You might be changing what you thought was your favorite weapon!
GoNintendo: What can we look forward to from the soundtrack? Will there be new tunes or remixes? Who’s handling composing duties?
Tomm Hulett: Yes. We’ll be revealing more about the soundtrack in the coming months, but as someone who always strives to get amazing music, I had to pinch myself frequently on this one.
GoNintendo: Will there be any Quality of Life features included that might surprise Contra fans, or will this be another brutal Contra outing?
Tomm Hulett: I believe so. Konami cares a great deal about the brand and really stressed that while we must please loyal Contra fans, we have to show new players what is so great about Contra as well. The way I took this wasn’t just to make an easy game by removing enemies or dumbing down bosses. Because then when you beat it, you have to hear everyone saying “well that wasn’t a REAL Contra” or “you beat the easy Contra.” That’s no good.
We paid a lot of attention to Elden Ring, and why that was the From game that really blew up with the mainstream. You had so many players excited they finally “clicked” with a “Souls,” and suddenly those people were getting Platinum on Bloodborne or speedrunning Sekiro.
So we tried to create options and difficulty features that will provide an authentic, true Contra experience to all skill levels, but my optimistic hope is that it can also “teach” the genre to novice players. Because once they really get the itch, and put in the time, our top difficulty modes are the most brutal Contra’s ever been (in my opinion).
GoNintendo: Will there be more for fans to do once the credits roll in Contra: Operation Galuga?
Tomm Hulett: Definitely. There is a lot to savor here for fans of 2D action. Especially if they have three like-minded friends!
GoNintendo: BONUS QUESTION: What is a Galuga?
Tomm Hulett: The Galuga Archipelago, off the coast of New Zealand, is a chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean, and the setting of both this game and the original Contra. In the months following a notable meteor shower, the terrorist faction known as Red Falcon sends out a transmission which can be traced to the main island of Galuga. Additionally, strange gravity readings are observed near the island, suggesting the Red Falcon may be creating gravity weapons, banned years ago by the Earth Federation.
A huge thanks to Tom Hulett and the entire WayForward team for taking the time to chat with us about Contra: Operation Galuga. If you’d like to read even more about the title, you can find the game’s official website here.