Shoot ’em All Up or Hack ’em to Bits?
The download market has quickly become a great avenue for developers to release side-scrolling games that hark back to a classic era in gaming. The ‘80s and ‘90s were filled with tough as nails shoot ‘em ups, punishing beat ‘em ups, and brutal hack-and-slash games. Recently, two games have launched on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network that offer up that retro dose of challenging gameplay. They may feature modernized visuals, but Hard Corps: Uprising and Moon Diver feel like old-school games, and they certainly play like old-school games. Fans of tough side-scrollers are likely to enjoy both games, but let’s discern the top title among these two retro-style downloads.
Hard Corps: Uprising
Hard Corps: Uprising may not have the word “Contra” in its title, but rest assured, this is a Contra game through and through. Linked directly to Contra: Hard Corps, this shoot ‘em up is a ridiculously tough side-scroller with a steep learning curve. If you never played the original Contra or similarly tough games a decade or two ago, then chances are you’ll have a hard time coming to grips with the difficulty in Hard Corps: Uprising. Don’t even think you’ll be able to find solace by tweaking the game’s difficulty, because such a setting is absent in Hard Corps: Uprising. That’s right, if you want to play through the game, you’re going to have to do it like everyone else: by memorizing boss patterns and relying on twitch reflexes to survive.
Hard Corps: Uprising features a traditional Arcade Mode and the brand new Rising Mode, which allows for a more streamlined way to get through levels. Killing enemies and collecting power-ups awards players with Corps Points, which can be used to purchase upgrades after each level. You can make your character stronger and faster, you can improve their weapons, and you can even give them additional lives. Purists are likely to stick with Arcade Mode, but even those individuals may have a hard time staying away from Rising Mode, as it gets really addictive racking up Corps Points and purchasing everything in the game’s shop.
Though the bulk of what you do in Hard Corps: Uprising is running and gunning, the game never gets repetitive. This is thanks to the engrossing level design, enemy variety, and impressive bosses. Even after you get through Hard Corps: Uprising, you’ll be compelled to play through it all over again. And in case you’re wondering, two-player co-op is as just as awesome as it’s ever been.
Moon Diver may not be a direct sequel to the classic hack-and-slash platformer Strider, but its gameplay is heavily influenced by it, and designer Kouichi Yotsui did work on both games, so it’s as close enough to a sequel as one can expect. Moon Diver looks great, offering a stunning visual style that lends itself particularly well to the side-scrolling gameplay. You must guide a character through several levels, climbing buildings, running up walls, and killing hundreds of enemies. Taking out foes grants you experience points, which can be used to upgrade your stats. It’s a nice addition to the standard formula that Strider brought to the table, and it makes playing for long periods of time fairly rewarding.
You can team up with up to three other players locally or online. Multiple characters on the screen at once add a degree of mayhem to Moon Diver, and it’s a lot of fun getting together with others to get through the game. Sadly, later levels practically require you to team up with players; Moon Diver gets so ridiculously difficult that it becomes nearly impossible to get through the final stages of the game unless you have some partners with you or you’ve spent a great deal of time level grinding. At a certain point, the challenge in the game just feels kind of cheap, which is a complete shame.
Hard Corps: Uprising and Moon Diver both offer distinct retro gameplay. While the former focuses extensively on twitch reflexes and concentration, the latter is largely a button mashing affair that’s fun at times but gets repetitive and feels cheap all too often. Looking at both games side by side, it’s evident that Moon Diver is just good while Uprising is flat-out great. If you’re looking for one of the most satisfying old-school-inspired side-scrollers on XBLA and PSN and you’re trying to choose between these two titles, Uprising is easily the definitive choice.