Contra: Operation Galuga Review – A Return to the Run’n’Gun

Contra: Operation Galuga Review - A Return to the Run'n'Gun

The long-dormant run ’n gun genre has been one of those lucky to get an injection of love in recent years, fuelled by the likes of Cuphead and Blazing Chrome. Both have done a great job in reigniting the torch for the series which basically defined the formula: Konami’s Contra (aka Gryzor or Probotector depending on how you may have first experienced it). This isn’t the first time Konami has tried to bring Contra back though, but after a few missteps, they’ve turned to Wayforward (responsible for Contra 4 on the Nintendo DS) to give us Contra: Operation Galuga, which manages to turn out to be a damn solid effort.

The story is a reworking of the original’s – the Contra team is deployed to Galuga to stop the hostile Red Falcon forces and stop a potential threat to the planet in what seems to be a Gravity Bomb. 

I love how from the very beginning, you’ve got the choice to play in either Story Mode or Arcade Mode. The main difference between them is that Arcade Mode skips out the cutscenes triggered both during levels and in between them to keep the action flowing. 

Once you get started though, that’s where the layers of Contra: Operation Galuga come to shine for me. Mainly from its options to tune the experience. Not just by the difficulty levels and their starting life counts, but also by whether you want one-hit kills (like the older games), or use hit-points instead. I won’t lie: I found these a genuine saving grace because as much as I appreciate the challenge it offers, I liked enjoying a little mercy from it. 

You’ve also got the ability to choose which member of the team to take into battle – initially, this is the OG team of Bill and Lance, but as you work your way through, more characters will be unlocked, each offering their own twist on the gameplay.

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They’re all a joy to control, being incredibly responsive, while offering unique tricks and moves – some can not just double jump, but hover in the air, while others have a grappling hook to make it easier to climb up vertical platforms. There’s also a dash, though I found the control for this to be fiddly for a while. 

Firepower is where things truly shine, with a selection of weapons new and old to wreak havoc with. I’ll admit, my favourite happens to be the Homing Missiles, even if that goes against series wisdom. You can also carry two weapons, giving you a chance to use different attacks for differing enemies. 

Being able to upgrade them to a second power level offers a nice risk/reward deal as well, as being hit will downgrade them. Something that I didn’t find useful was the Overload, a unique once-off attack from each weapon, which costs you said weapon in the process. 

It makes for a great foundation for the action as you work your way through each of its eight stages, where you’ll encounter mini-bosses alongside some increasingly grotesque monstrosities as you get deeper and deeper into the mess Red Falcon is causing.

When you’ve mastered Story or Arcade Modes, there’s one final mode on offer: Challenge Mode. This is truly for the masters, as the challenges it throws your way I found to be damn tough to beat. I’m sure long-time fans will be salivating to be tested with what it has to offer based on that tidbit. 

The main modes are challenging but in a fairer way. Though if they’re too much for you, sadly the Konami Code doesn’t work. To even things up, instead, you’ve got the Perk Shop. 

There’s a variety of options to buy here – starting a new life with certain weapons, increasing your lives, or hit points amongst others. Several of the available characters can also be unlocked in this way. As you start a level, you can assign two of them to your character, and they can go a long way to helping even out the challenge as you take to Galuga. 

The downside though is that accumulating credits is slow. Punishingly slow in fact, which means you’ll be grinding your way through the stages to earn enough before you can nab some of the pricier ones. I can’t help but ponder how the challenge was tuned for this – and that does feel a bit off-putting to me. Thankfully this is all earned in-game, with no external micro-transaction nonsense to wreck the balance further.

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The big factor that will make or break Contra: Operation Galuga is how you feel about the game structure. Eight stages might not sound like much, but this is a game all about replaying – something which is no doubt a tradition for the series. Not only you do have those Challenge Mode stages to work through, but also so much to unlock from the Perk Shop as you work out what your optimal playing style is. 

I generally enjoyed Contra: Operation Galuga – on PS5 it was solid from a technical angle, and while I wished the credit earning rate was higher, it wasn’t enough to turn me off it. There are some nice tricks to level presentation – though played on a 2D plane, the levels manage to twist about which gives some depth to the proceedings which adds plenty of life to them that might not have been present in a purely 2D game.

Contra: Operation Galuga was reviewed on PS5 with code kindly supplied by the publisher

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