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Contra: Rogue Corps release date, trailer, characters and gameplay

When E3 2019 rolled by, we all sat around with bated breath, waiting to see what goodies were in store for this holiday season and beyond. We got an early look at Halo: Infinite, along with a Breath of the Wild sequel trailer. We even saw extended gameplay of Watch Dogs: Legion. But one game announcement caught everyone by surprise: the reveal of Contra: Rogue Corps.

For one, it's a new Contra game that came out of nowhere. The last time we got a Contra game was in 2011. Furthermore, Rogue Corps deviates from the old-school formula, radically changing the gameplay. With its wacky characters and twin-stick shooter mechanics, this game makes an unexpected statement from Konami. Considering the last time the company released a game with guns, Metal Gear: Survive, you'd think they would stick to the mobile games and Pro Evolution Soccer.

If you don't know anything about Contra: Rogue Corps, we're here to help. The game's existence is a real head-scratcher, after all. So let's sort out everything you'll need to know before the game's release.

Contra: Rogue Corps's trailer

In a move no one saw coming, Nintendo's E3 showcase included a trailer for Contra: Rogue Corps. Konami dropped one of its own set to the edgy '80s anthem "We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister, which you can see above. The trailer showcases the four main characters, introducing them with an over-the-top voice over by Aero Captain.

Each character gets their moment in the spotlight, with Aero Captain comically explaining their shticks. Then we get a montage of the alien-killing action that the game promises. The trailer literally says in bold words, "Battle Aliens," followed by "Kill Everything." The game proudly wears its irreverent humor on its sleeve, and it doesn't pretend to be any more complex than what it is.

Old-school Contra fans might get a kick out of the jumping animations featured in the trailer. Every character jumps while doing comically fast forward flips, mimicking the animations from the classic games of old. Even the bulky panda tumbles forward in midair.

Contra: Rogue Corps's release date

The newest installment in the Contra series is set to drop on Sept. 24, and it'll deploy on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. This puts Rogue Corps in a pretty contentious spot, all things considered. September is a pretty stacked month for big games. If you're looking for shooting action, The Coalition Studios has you covered with Gears 5 on Sept. 10. If you want even more, look no further than Borderlands 3, which launches on Sept. 13.

The Switch will be busy in the last few weeks of September, with Link's Awakening launching on Sept. 20 and Dragon Quest 11 landing a week later. And for the Soulsborne fans, Code Vein releases on Sept. 27. Long story short, September is a pretty busy month, with all sorts of games vying for your attention. Whether Rogue Corps is worth your time is up to you to decide.

The history of Contra

If you've never heard of Contra before, you might be out of the loop with the 1980s. Back in the day, Konami had a good foothold in the arcades and on the NES. In 1985, they launched the arcade shoot-em-up Gradius, and just a year later, they published Castlevania on the NES, kickstarting a legacy that still remains today. Then in 1987, a new game hit arcades everywhere called Contra.

The two-player co-op was still a novel feature at the time, and the run-and-gun game maintained its popularity beyond its 1988 release on the NES. After all, what could go wrong with two buff action movie heroes with big guns hunting down evil aliens? It's a simple concept that's easy to get behind.

Since Contra's launch, seven other mainline titles have come out, one as recently as 2011 on the PlayStation 3. The franchise didn't remain as popular as it did in the 1980s, but its legacy can't be denied. It popularized the Konami Code after all, despite the cheat actually debuting in 1985 on Gradius.

Contra's story so far

The story starts, of course, at the beginning, with the original Contra. Set in the year 2633, a pair of elite commandos, called Contras, have to stop a terrorist organization called Red Falcon from taking over the world. Bill and Lance — who bear resemblances to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone — have to get rid of the threat. Oh, and let's not forget that Red Falcon invaded the planet by emerging from a meteorite and brainwashing human soldiers.

The sequel, Super Contra, largely follows a similar plotline. A year after the first game, Red Falcon has returned and taken over a human military base. And this time, the aliens are more mutated, making the threat more worthy of a sequel.

In Contra 3: The Alien Wars, Red Falcon has grown tired of Bill and Lance's antics. Now, the alien force has instigated a full-on war with the Earth. Contra: Rogue Corps takes place after Contra 3, after the dust of war has settled.

The city of madness

After the Alien Wars in Contra 3, the bloodshed wasn't over. The Damned City came out from the ground, seemingly out of nowhere. It's situated atop the battlefields where the final few fights of the Alien Wars took place. This urban jungle is teeming with evil aliens, some of which look oddly like zombies. Nonetheless, this is a city you wouldn't want to be caught dead in — or alive, for that matter. To make things worse, any sane person who stays in the city eventually loses their grasp on reality, slowly turning into crazy, mad creatures.

The four main characters, along with their handler Aero Captain, are somehow immune to the Damned City's insanity-inducing atmosphere. The game alludes to the possibility that they're already crazy to begin with, but regardless, they can survive in the alien-infested environment. It's up to them to save the helpless people who have found themselves in the city, and along the way, they'll definitely shoot up more than a handful of alien enemies.

Contra: Rogue Corps's characters

In Contra: Rogue Corps, you get four playable characters to choose from. All four of them are wacky in their own ways, clearly leaning into the "random but lovable" vibe. In a way, it's reminiscent of Borderlands.

Kaiser plays the typical, gruff action hero in this game. He was a former soldier, and at some point, he lost his arm. So he did what any sane person would do and replaced it with a cybernetic arm that transforms into a drill.

Ms. Harakiri is a deadly assassin, who goes in for the kill with lightning speed. There's one thing you might notice about her character design though: the big alien mouth on her midriff.

Gentleman, despite his terrifying design, is a posh, prim, and proper Brain Bug. He represents the classic trope of subverting expectations, and in keeping true to his character, he finds all the bloodshed to be beneath him.

Finally, we have Hungry Beast. You can probably guess his primary goal in life based on his name. But underneath the cuddly panda exterior lies the brain of a human scientist. Oh, and also, it's a cybernetic panda, not a natural, organic one.

The gameplay in Contra: Rogue Corps

Whenever someone mentions Contra, you probably think of the classic games. They featured side-scrolling run-and-gun action, coupled with unforgiving difficulty. Even with a friend, these games were brutal, and many employed the Konami code to make them manageable.

Rogue Corps takes a different approach. The upcoming game drops the side-scrolling in favor of twin-stick shooter mechanics. The camera pulls up, giving players an overhead view. Every character gets two weapons, both of which can overheat. This forces you to switch between the two. Furthermore, every player gets a special ability that powers up your character. All in all, if you've played a twin-stick shooter, you have a good idea of what this game feels like.

Game director Nobuya Nakazato, who was in charge of Contra 3, wanted to do something different with the formula this time around. In a way, Rogue Corps is meant to be a breath of fresh air in the franchise's long, storied history. "The old games are still good today but I really wanted to add more new things into the game and not just rehash the old ones," Nakazato said in an interview with Metro.

Contra: Rogue Corps sends you on a quest for bigger numbers

Every time you complete a mission, you earn resources. Back at the Operation Room, these resources can be invested back into your characters and their weapons, making them stronger. Every character has cybernetic enhancements that can be further bolstered; this allows for individualized customization. In other words, your Kaiser can stand out among your friends' Kaisers depending on your augments.

Furthermore, the weapons can also be modified. While we don't have the details on how these changes affect the weapons, keep in mind that you can equip any two weapons to your characters. This doubles the range of possibilities.

In essence, Contra: Rogue Corps is meant to have a lot of replayability. You can grind to make your characters and guns better, so they can produce bigger numbers when they hit enemies. When you get bored of that, switch to a different character or different set of guns and try again. If you're in the market for a game that offers the opportunity for character progression and power scaling, this might be one to keep an eye on.

Fun with friends in Contra: Rogue Corps

The decision to have four characters was a deliberate design choice. Beyond giving players different flavors of wacky, these options mirror the fact that four players can play the game together. You and your friends can play Contra: Rogue Corps on the couch on the same console. Alternatively, if meeting up isn't possible, you can always play the game cooperatively online, with strangers or friends.

All the PvE content can be tackled with up to three other players, but that's not all the multiplayer that Konami is promising with this game. Rogue Corps will also feature PvP options, where players can create private rooms and invite their friends (or enemies) to play with them. According to a press release from Konami, this PvP mode will support 2v2, 3v3, 4v4, and 1v4 matches. We're still waiting on more details, especially for the 1v4 option. Asymmetrical multiplayer is a rare feature in the industry, so who knows how Konami will do it.

Contra Anniversary Collection

To celebrate the announcement of Contra: Rogue Corps, Konami released the Contra Anniversary Collection. Ringing up for $20, this collection released on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC (via Steam) on June 11. It features ten classic Contra games, including two Probotector games. Additionally, after launch, Konami released a patch that added the Japanese versions of many of the Contra games. For the most part, these involve changes in soundtrack or difficulty. Nonetheless, it's a great option for those who want to play the games in their most original form.

The Contra Anniversary Collection includes Contra, Super Contra, and Contra 3: The Alien Wars. So if you want to catch up on the story before the release of Rogue Corps, this might be your best bet. For the super fans, the collection also includes an ebook that dives into the history of the franchise, including interviews and concept art.

Previews for Contra: Rogue Corps look mixed

After the surprise reveal during the E3 2019 conferences, Contra: Rogue Corps was playable at the event. Overall, the best way to describe these early impressions would be "mixed."

IGN's Mitchell Saltzman was, like most of us, surprised at the new direction Konami was taking Contra. However, by the time he was done playing, he found it somewhat fun: "While I'm not totally sold that this is the path I want to see Contra pushed down, I at least saw a glimpse of a fun twin-stick shooter."

Destructoid's Peter Glagowski gave a harsher opinion of Konami's newest game. He struggled to divorce Rogue Corps from its roots, but even when he could, he found the game lacking: "It honestly isn't so bad, but it does nothing to capture the style and essence of what Contra used to be about. Worse, it doesn't even do its own ideas all that well. That's the real problem here."

Tanner Pierce of DualShockers never played a Contra game before Rogue Corps, but after playing it at E3, he's looking forward to the new title, despite the graphical hiccups.

The state of Konami

Konami hasn't made the best impression on the game industry of late. Ever since the company parted ways with game producer Hideo Kojima, things have been rocky. Kojima was torn away from Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, and P.T. became the martyr for the anti-Konami cause.

Needless to say, Konami hasn't been a fan favorite for some time now. However, despite the low approval rating, the company has been doing well for itself thanks to mobile game sales, esports, and Pro Evolution Soccer. Konami seemingly doesn't need Castlevania or Silent Hill to stay afloat. When it tried to make a major game aside from PES, it tanked horribly while besmirching the Metal Gear name.

Rogue Corps marks the first time in a while that Konami has returned to making major games that don't involve a soccer ball. Could this be a turning point in Konami's mission statement? If director Nakazato has anything to say about it, maybe so: "All the developers at Konami have a gaming heart! And I wanted to bring back the Contra franchise with a game that is aimed squarely at gamers and people who love games."