I always find it interesting how indie development diverges. Some developers are aiming for deeper, thoughtful, and unique experiences, while others try to bring back and fill out genres that have been left behind by major publishers. Revisiting an old genre is an art, melding the feel and mechanics of the best examples of that genre, with enough new ideas to make it not feel like a complete retread. Yet lots of developers mess this balance up.
Today marks the release of Blazing Chrome, a title that will look familiar to those who owned a Super Nintendo back in the day, or poured a few hours in the SNES Classic. Developer Joymasher has looked to Konami's Contra 3: The Alien Wars for inspiration. My roommate, while witnessing my playing the game outright said, "Is this Contra 3? It looks odd." Blazing Chrome takes on the general aesthetic of the Super Nintendo run-and-gun shooter, while adding just enough to say, "We know what we're doing here."
The basic controls are roughly the same as Contra 3, allowing players to shoot in eight directions, jump, and shoot without moving by holding the R bumper. You'll shoot robots and mutated aliens; you hold onto floating rails and ride on speeder bikes, just like Contra 3. There's also flavor pulled from other classic titles. Players can hold up to four different weapons at any one point, much like Contra: Hard Corps. You'll find mechs to commandeer, which feel a bit like Mega Man X. There are into-the-screen shooting sequences like Axelay, and even parts of certain vehicle sections ape the speeder bike levels of Battletoads. There's even shades of the slower Metal Slug in here, like the power-ups that fall down on parachutes.
But there's a little original Joymasher flavor too, like a dodge roll activated by holding down and jump, or the shoot button switching to a powerful punch in melee range. There are additional power-ups like a speed boost or damage shield, with the former being a wonderful boon in terms of playability. (Gotta go fast!) There's also two unlockable characters that operate completely in melee range, shifting the game's style toward something like Ninja Gaiden or Hudson Soft's Hagane.
Blazing Chrome is a quick game, with only five levels in the main playthrough-you can rock through the whole thing in about an hour-but finishing those opens up a mirror mode and boss rush to test your skills. (There's also two CRT filters for classic folks and a 5xBR shader for weird emulator folks.)
Playing Blazing Chrome is just a reminder of how much I love these old run-and-gun shooters. It's been some time since we've gotten a proper Contra game or anything like it; Atrus Games' Super Cyborg was the last I can remember, releasing in 2015. The last official entry in the Contra franchise was Hard Corps: Uprising in 2011. This year, we're getting Blazing Chrome and the Contra Anniversary Collection. It feels like we've lucked out.
Well, mostly. We're also getting Contra: Rogue Corps, an official entry from Contra series director and senior producer Nobuya Nakazato which is headed to Switch, PC, PS4, and Xbox One in September. I had a chance to play Contra: Rogue Corps at E3 2019, and what I found didn't really feel like Contra anymore.
Instead of the side-scrolling action, Contra: Rogue Corps is a twin-stick shooter, presented from a semi-top-down viewpoint. Konami has added a dodge mechanic, environmental kills, and more exploration to the Contra experience. Rogue Corps has character progression and loot, weapon overheating, and even multiplayer PvP. It carries forth some concepts from Contra, like doors to shoot with a big red orb target in the center or that distinctly inhuman ball-shaped jump pose. But it doesn't feel like "Contra."
Konami has the right to do what it wants with its franchise. Contra Anniversary Collection was enough of a boon from the publisher. But if it was going to update and modernize Contra, I would prefer something closer to Arc System Works' fast and smooth Hard Corps: Uprising. Alas, that title remains trapped on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, as it wasn't even included in the Anniversary Collection. Contra: Rogue Corps might be fun when it releases, but it's not what I'm looking for from the series.
Blazing Chrome hews closer to that mental ideal. It feels like an update of what Contra was. Contra: Rogue Corps might carry forward the name, and I hope it does well enough that Konami pursues more Contra in the future, but Blazing Chrome clutches the spirit of Contra close to its chest. If you're looking for some excellent run-and-gun, pick up Blazing Chrome on Switch, PC, PS4, and Xbox One.