I’d like you to take a second out of your busy day to think about something- when was the last time you were truly challenged by a video game. I mean truly and completely challenged by a game on it’s default setting, to the point where you were so frustrated you were ready to smash your controller into a few dozen shards of shapeless plastic? I’m sure you’ve been pissed when somebody just won’t stop camping in Bad Company 2, or when you decided to crank the difficulty of God of War up as far as it could go and found out that just being looked at by an enemy was enough to make you have to reload a save, but when was the last time you put a game into your system of choice and were brutally assaulted by the developers intentions on it’s default setting?

It’s probably been a while.

Difficulty has become a characteristic of an era we no longer live in. When a game has above normal difficulty, people generally refer to it as ‘old school’ or ‘classic.’ That is, if they don’t outwardly dismiss it for being ‘unbalanced’ or having ‘too steep of a learning curve.’ Now, if I were a progressive leftist with anarchist leanings, I’m sure I could extrapolate this as a representation of what our culture has become. I would say something like, in the everybody-is-a-winner mentality that has begun to wrap it’s soggy tendrils around our world, a world where majestic and misunderstood beasts like the Dickwolves are persecuted, we seem to have lost focus on how rewarding it is to accomplish nearly impossible things. Luckily I’m not, so I won’t say anything like that.

The point I’m trying to make is that it’s probably been a while since you felt the same kind of consistent challenge that you felt from 90% of the games you played when most of your wardrobe consisted of matching GI Joe pajamas.

Enter “Hard Corps: Uprising.” This game isn’t just hard, it’s a total fucking asshole. Oh, and feel free to use that as a blurb in your marketing campaign Konami. Hard Corps starts at a difficulty setting somewhere around “screw you” and ends somewhere around “razordicks.” It is not for the weak of willed, as whatever ability you think you have with video games will be ripped apart and shown to you as it bleeds to death, all while it laughs at you and continues to shoot impossible to dodge lasers from mechanical desert snake monsters. You can’t necessarily accuse Hard Corps of being cheap, but it certainly does take a sadistic joy in throwing so many things at you that your death is all but guaranteed.

Note, however, that I say that as an entirely positive thing. Hard Corps: Uprising is the prequel to Contra: Hard Corps on the Sega Genesis, so what would you expect other than unrelenting sprite murder? Arc System Works was tasked with giving the Contra series a modern shine and has done an amazing job of capturing what made that series so enduring- it’s balls to the wall challenge.

This isn’t to say that they were content with just making an outrageously hard game, they decided to make it outrageously entertaining as well. The gameplay is exactly what you expect from a Contra game- you run around slaughtering your foes, collecting powerups, and trying not to die. You can do this in two different modes, “Rising” and “Arcade.” In the new to the series Rising Mode, you go through the eight stages gaining credits that can be used to purchase permanent character upgrades that make things slightly easier on you. Only slightly though, as even a maxed out character doesn’t make Hard Corps: Uprising a walk in the park.

Arcade Mode is for people so masochistic that I feel obligated to give them a number to a good dominatrix. In Arcade, you start off with preset powers and abilities. Without upgrades, there are parts of this game that are so face smashingly hard that you’ll have ‘Nam flashbacks to that weekend you tried to beat Ghosts N Goblins. The one that nearly got you committed, that one.

Arc System Works didn’t pull any punches with the games inherent difficulty, but the addition of the RPG like Rising Mode was pretty brilliant, and was a much better idea than putting in some sort of easy mode or varying levels of difficulty. It gives people a chance to see things to the end, an improbable task without being able to bestow yourself with some extra lives.

They also didn’t hold back with the aesthetics. One of the reasons I’ve always loved Arc System Works so much is their fantastic grasp on making anime-styled games. They don’t just get the graphics and music right, which they do entirely in Hard Corps: Uprising, but they get the over-the-top atmosphere, plot, and character development right as well. Hard Corps features beautiful backgrounds, colorful characters, and even a cool story that I’m sure Arc System Work’s and Konami are looking forward to developing further at this series continues.

That isn’t to say that Hard Corps: Uprising doesn’t have a few negatives, although those negatives have nothing to do with the core game itself. Playing through the game with a partner makes things twice as fun, and the co-op is probably going to be what will really give it staying power, but the lack of a matchmaking service hurts things. As it is, you can only invite friends and party members to join in with your constant failures. More robust options for playing online would be quite welcome.

More frustrating than every boss battle combined though is the DLC. Hard Corps: Uprising starts you off with two characters who are basically the same, which makes sense considering the co-op focus, but in the (super awesome) intro and the character bio screen, they show you two more characters. Where are they you ask? Why, they are Day 1 DLC of course. There is literally nothing in this world that drives me more crazy than Day 1 DLC, and I won’t be proselytizing on my beliefs on it here (Spoiler Alert: I think it’s the worst thing to happen to gaming since developers decided the only color palettes you can make a FPS in is brown and browner) but to feature both these characters so heavily and make them so clearly integral to the plot, then hold them hostage, is a pretty big kick in the jimmy.

Still, capitalism in all it’s disgusting glory aside, this is a must have for anybody who misses waking up on a Saturday morning, pouring themselves a big bowl of Nintendo Cereal System, and having their childhood devoured by unrelentingly difficult games. Even with the new art direction for the series, Hard Corps: Uprising just feels like a Contra game through and through.

What are you doing still reading this? Go download this and yell curse words at your television until your neighbor calls the fuzz. Aren’t you ‘hard corps’ enough?

Ugh. Did I really just type that?

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Beating each level feels like a real accomplishment.
+ Ark System Work’s anime update of the series is fantastic.
+ It’s a new Contra game.

– I’d vote Republican if it meant companies started including day 1 DLC in the game.
– A more robust system for putting together co-op games would be nice.
– It might drive you to the point of insanity.

Hard Corps: Uprising was developed by Arc System Works, a company I would totally bang if it was one singular human being, and published by Konami. It was released on February 16th, 2011 on the Xbox Live Arcade for 1200MSP or $15 in real money. Or as real as our money actually is considering that all money is inherently valueless and is only given value by our plutocratic overlords and their manipulations to keep us subservient to their materialistic desires. What was I talking about? Oh, that’s right, it will also be released on the PlayStation Network at some point. The game was played to completion in Uprising mode on the difficulty setting of razordick, and took about nine hours with about three hours put into co-op. I haven’t beaten it on Arcade yet since I don’t get off on self flagellation. RipTen’s copy of the game was provided to us by either Konami or Arc System Works, Dave isn’t answering his e-mail yet to tell me which because he is too busy flexing and making sure his muscles glisten in the afternoon sun.