Konami calls Hard Corps: Uprising the "imaginary prequel" to the 1994 Genesis game Contra: Hard Corps, but that's not to say that this downloadable shoot-'em-up is the product of anyone's runaway imagination. The harsh reality is that bullets will rain down on you, you will die, and you will repeat that process several times over. There's nothing fictitious about any of that. Instead, that description is more of a wink-and-a-nod reference to some of the connections that link Uprising and Contra: Hard Corps (like the mutual protagonist and shared gameplay elements) while avoiding the constraints that go along with releasing a "true" Contra game.
Most notably, there's a new feature called Rising mode. Anyone familiar with the Contra series knows these games are synonymous with a tough-as-nails level of difficulty. Call it retro or call it antiquated, that's just what the genre is known for. Uprising is no different. The core gameplay offers little in the way of mercy, as twitch reflexes are required to withstand the near constant barrage of enemy bullets, traps, and powerful bosses. What Rising mode does, however, is give the less hardcore among us a reason to keep trying in the face of defeat. You're constantly rewarded though a progression system that lets you gradually upgrade your character and weapons, gaining new health slots and abilities as you go along.
Basically, it's a system that makes sure that even if you die against a vicious boss, you're at least being rewarded for the journey up to that point and given the ingredients to make sure that your next four or five attempts at killing the boss give you that much more optimism with every subsequent attempt. On the flip side, if you fancy yourself a hardcore player through and through, you can simply play through Arcade mode. This option offers the exact same game--including levels and enemies--but without any of those upgrades. You are who you are from start to finish.
The other area where Uprising takes a step forward from Contra is its visual design. The game is being developed by Arc System Works, known for its work on Blaz Blue and the Guilty Gear series. Those games featured elaborate hand-drawn animation, and that penchant for stylishness and eccentric characters is visible in Uprising. The level we played was set in the jungle and featured dense vegetation, robotic crocodiles, and--because why not?--giant machine gun enemies apparently wearing clown makeup.
The whole game can be played in either single-player or two-person co-op, both online and local. Whether you want to share in the madness or not is a decision you can make when the game is released on Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network at the tail end of this year.