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I am a Contra kid through and through. I was right there when the first installment arrived, and I played the absolute hell out of it with friends in its NES iteration. That’s when my love affair with Contra bloomed, and I’ve stuck with the series ever since. From the fantastic sequels on the NES/SNES/Genesis and so on to the rougher years where experimentation came at the cost of solid gameplay, I’ve seen it all. That’s why it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’m front-and-center for the latest installment, Contra: Operation Galuga.

This time around, Konami has once again teamed with WayForward to give us a fresh Contra installment. The duo first connected for Contra 4 on the Nintendo DS all the way back in 2008. That’s not the last time we saw Contra, but many would consider it to be the most recent entry that actually felt and played like classic Contra. It’s clear Konami was happy with how that project turned out, as they were willing to give WayForward the keys to the kingdom once more for Contra: Operation Galuga.

Prior to the game’s release, it’s been a bit hard to nail down what exactly Contra: Operation Galuga offers. The official press release for the game says it’s “reloaded, reimagined, reborn and new.” That’s a lot of descriptors for a game, and I’m sure it has some wondering just how new the adventure is. Having seen it through to the end, I’d say Contra: Operation Galuga definitely echoes past adventures in some location themes/vibes, but it certainly feels more like a new title. If you’re worried about the game being nothing more than a gussied-up rehash, I think you can confidently put those concerns aside.

That's a pretty nice spread
That's a pretty nice spread

Now, the bigger question is if Contra: Operation Galuga is any good, and obviously, the answer to that is going to differ from person to person. I can say that from my time with the game, Contra: Operation Galuga is quite good, and actually got better the more I explored it. Unfortunately, it also has some drawbacks and issues that don’t make the experience unbearable, but they are noticeable blemishes. These could definitely be fixed through subsequent patches and updates as they’re almost entirely technical, but as the game stands right now, Contra: Operation Galuga is a largely enjoyable game that’s held back from greatness.

Right out of the gate, it’s important to note that Contra: Operation Galuga is going to be a Contra game for those that prefer classic Contra-style action. There are some bells and whistles here, such as the ability to discard one of your power-ups in exchange for a screen-shattering attack and extra maneuvers like slides and dodges, but by and large, this is old-school Contra. I would imagine that’s what most Contra fans are looking for, so that should result in a sigh of relief from longtime supporters who want a tried-and-true approach rather than one that aims to reinvent the wheel.

So…what really matters in a classic Contra game? In my opinion, you need tons of enemies coming at you, a considerable level of difficulty, interesting level design, crazy bosses and weapon power-ups. Thankfully, Contra: Operation Galuga has all of those in spades. Truth be told, I was a little weary after the game’s first level, as it played things a bit too safe for my liking, but every stage after that had some sort of approach or flow to it that made things pretty darn fun. You get all the classic locations you’d expect (jungles, waterfalls, caves, alien landscapes and so on), but they still feel fresh in how they’re laid out and how you progress through them. There may be some stages that have sections that try your patience a bit more due to difficulty, but there weren’t any levels that felt like throwadays or bummers by any means.

Don't go chasin' waterfalls
Don't go chasin' waterfalls

One of the most surprising elements of Contra: Operation Galuga came from the boss battles, which really ratchet up the excitement. There really aren’t any bosses that feel too similar to others, and usually you end up fighting these big baddies in unique scenes or methods. There are a few returning bosses from previous Contra titles, but you take them on in ways quite different from the past. There were honestly multiple boss battles that put a smile on my face or made me gasp a bit due to shock from how distinctive they were. To spoil them would take away from the fun of encountering them yourself, but just know that these fights use all sorts of patterns and styles that’ll keep you on your toes.

It’s also nice to see some dynamic camera movement in Contra: Operation Galuga. While you’re always going left to right or climbing bottom to top, some stages utilize a more cinematic camera. Your character will end up walking around corners, over hills, around bends, into the foreground or more. It’s not anything amazing and it doesn’t change the gameplay at all, but it does spice things up in terms of presentation, especially for a Contra game. It also feels like a time-honored decision to make, as previous Contra games have certainly played with perspective.

Of course, it might be tough to take in the scenery, as enemies are coming at you non-stop and bullets are flying in your face from beginning to end. You very rarely get any downtime, so hopefully you’re ready to process a lot of visual activity. You can certainly get overwhelmed at times, just as you could in past Contra games, but there are certain level color schemes that make it a tad tougher to see all the bullets whizzing by. I’ve got no problem dying by a bullet that took me out, so long as I could see it. When you get wiped by a bullet that blends in with the background, it can be frustrating. I’m all for difficulty in a Contra game, but that challenge should come from gameplay mechanics and not poor color choices.

Major laser
Major laser

If that aforementioned difficulty is too much for you, Contra: Operation Galuga does a good amount to make you feel comfortable. There’s a Perk Shop that uses in-game credits, and you can spend them to unlock mechanics to help. Each one will make you a bit more nimble or tougher to kill, and you can activate these to find a loadout that better works for you. Some will also be happy to know that Contra: Operation Galuga isn’t one-hit kills like past entries have been, as you get a life bar this time around. This usually nets you two or three hits depending on the character, but if you still want that classic Contra one-and-done gunplay, that’s an option as well. There’s no doubt many will want that brutal Contra experience, but it’s nice to see WayForward offer elements to make Contra: Operation Galuga more welcoming to all skill levels.

That difficulty also varies depending on the characters you use, some of which you unlock as you play, and even more await in the Perk Shop. The Contra mainstays, Bill and Lance, give you exactly what you’d expect in terms of abilities and mechanics, albeit with a dash move added in. The other characters will change things up, as they vary in their amount of health, movement abilities, and more. For example, one character has a charge gun but they lack a double jump, while another uses a jetpack to hover or fly through scenes. These small tweaks can make for wildly different play sessions, and you’ll no doubt find that some of them work very well for you while others increase the challenge by a near insurmountable level. Finding who works for you and why is part of the fun!

You’ll get to learn all about your classic Contra favorites and the new cast through the story mode in Contra: Operation Galuga, but to be blunt, I’m not sure that you’ll want to. The story presented here just isn’t that entertaining, and tends to bog down the game considerably. You’ll usually get story portions at the beginning and end of levels, but there are some story scenes thrown into the middle of levels as well. To me, it just feels odd to slow down Contra’s insane gunplay with dialog scenes, but I guess WayForward figured there’s an audience today that flat-out expects story no matter what game they pick up. Sadly, the story really wasn’t for me in any regard, although I do love that Steve Blum (Spike Spiegel in Cowboy Bebop) voices a role, and he’s fantastic as usual. Mercifully, you can also play Contra: Operation Galuga in Arcade Mode, which cuts out all the story and is presented as a classic Contra game would be.

It's a jungle, brother
It's a jungle, brother

Regardless of whether you play Contra: Operation Galuga in Story or Arcade mode, you are no doubt going to come up against a couple of bugs throughout your journey. There are times when the framerate gets a little choppy, but this really didn’t impact me much at all. I never felt hindered by this, although it would be nice to see things further cleaned up. What did take me out of the experience were the technical issues that were clearly unintended.

During my time with Contra: Operation Galuga, I had a camera that zipped far off screen to a future portion of the level, leaving me in the lurch. There was a boss battle that accidentally activated way early, and I had to fight the boss as it danced around half on-half off screen. There were in-game cut-scenes that just stopped out of nowhere for no rhyme or reason, leaving me to sit in silence for 30 seconds or so until the game caught up. I had the game’s soundtrack cut out after I died, leaving nothing but explosions and sound effects until the next level. These all happened throughout the course of 3-4 hours with the game, making it very clear that technically speaking, Contra: Operation Galuga needs another pass or two. These glitches and bugs were always remedied by a reload or restart, but you know as well as I do that they shouldn’t be there.

There’s also something a bit odd about one mechanic in Contra: Operation Galuga, and it seems absolutely crazy for it to be there. Without a doubt, there’s some kind of lag with jumping. It’s not something that feels horrendous, but it is undeniably noticeable. Once you realize it’s there you should be able to handle it no problem, but I honestly cannot fathom how the issue is present at all. Contra is about running, gunning and jumping, so for one of the main features to feel slightly off is disappointing. Again, not anything you can’t deal with, but it should definitely be addressed. Until then, I suggest firing up the Contra: Operation Galuga demo to experience the jump lag for yourself to see if it’s something you notice, can deal with, or can’t handle.)

Watch where you point that thing!
Watch where you point that thing!

As for other areas of Contra: Operation Galuga that feel lacking, I’m sad to say that the game’s soundtrack didn’t really tickle my fancy. Much of the soundtrack takes classic Contra tunes and gives them a faux orchestral makeover, and while the tunes are still solid, the new approach took the excitement and impact out of them. Game music is so wildly important to me, and I really believe it can elevate a game considerably. I also hold WayForward in high regard when it comes to soundtracks, as so many of their titles are filled with fantastic songs. Unfortunately they missed the mark this time around, but the good news is that you can unlock classic 8-bit Contra tunes and other versions of the soundtrack that make for a much, much better audio experience. (You can even unlock retro Castlevania songs, which makes for a truly strange, yet somehow amazing experience!)

You’ll need a considerable amount of credits to unlock those extra soundtracks in the Perk Shop, and while you gain credits from playing the regular game, you can also rack them up in the Challenge mode. I went in to see what this mode offered, and I have to say I came away downright impressed, if not even a little addicted! This mode gives you bite-sized challenges to take on in a number of categories, and clearing them nets you credits. There are time limit challenges, one-hit-kills objectives, pacifist runs where you can’t shoot, platforming obstacle courses and so much more. There’s a lot of these in the game, and I spend waaaaaay more time here than I expected. I figure the Challenge mode would be a throwaway addition, but I was 100% wrong about that. I highly recommend diving in to see the various tests thrown at you, as they’re quick to hop into, tough to beat and supremely satisfying when you clear them.

Just like I said earlier on, Contra: Operation Galuga is quite good, but it has its issues. There is a day-one patch in the works, but unfortunately it’s going to hit Switch a bit later. There’s no doubt this patch will remedy some of the things I mentioned above, but I can only review Contra: Operation Galuga based on what I experienced. I hope that this patch shapes things up, because if just a handful of the glitches and misfires were fixed, it could really raise my opinion of the game overall.

As things stand, Contra: Operation Galuga offers something that classic Contra fans should be quite happy with. It’s not the best game in the series, but it’s nowhere near the worst either. The firefights feel fun, the action is frenetic, the level design is engaging, the boss battles are extremely memorable, and pretty much all the hallmarks you’d expect are there. If the technical side of things gets a once-over, Contra: Operation Galuga could end up being a must-have for franchise die-hards.

About rawmeatcowboy

rawmeatcowboy

GoNintendo's founder, and bearded wonder. Although his beard is a little greyer nowadays, RMC is more than ready to tackle news and features. When not playing/talking/writing about games, RMC enjoys comic books, pro wrestling, anime, and more.

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Comments (4)

marl0

4M ago

Unfortunately, the frame rate is a non-starter for me with the Switch version. Thankfully, the game is much better on other platforms, so options are there for a good experience. But I long for the day when WayForward returns to what they once were on the Switch. They've been a shell of their former selves over the last four releases in a row now.


rawmeatcowboy

4M ago

@marl0

The framerate situation is definitely a bummer when it comes to the Challenge mode, but I honestly didn't have any bothersome issues during the main game. Granted, I'm really not that sensitive when it comes to that sort of thing, but I know it's a major sticking point for some. Definitely seems like the game runs better from a framerate perspective on other platforms.

As for the bugs/hiccups/issues on other platforms, I've got no clue if those exist outside of the Switch version. Let's hope the upcoming patch really sets things right on Switch and gives us smoother experience overall.


cestri

4M ago

A bit sad to hear about the technical issues, but seems that at least the core of the game is solid, gonna wait for some patches and a good sale before getting this one.


rawmeatcowboy

4M ago

@cestri

That day-one patch on other platforms should be showing up very soon on Switch, and I'll certainly share the notes. Eager to see just how much of a difference it makes!