Barely a month has passed since Konami announced Contra: Rogue Corps, yet our enthusiasm for the third-person shooter is so low that it had already faded from memory. It wasn’t until making good progress on this review that we remembered it exists, spoiling an intro in which we suggested Konami should give the developers of Blazing Chrome a call if they considered bringing Contra back.
A minor alteration, then: if Konami ever wanted to bring Contra back in a more traditional form, Brazilian outfit Joymasher should be at the top of their list.
Run ‘n gunner Blazing Chrome doesn’t just borrow from the best, with elements of Treasure’s sentimental 16-bit shooters sneaking in, but it also has a deep understanding of what makes the genre so ferociously compelling. This is a game that effortlessly trains players for challenges that lie ahead, gradually and gracefully perfecting skills while mastering the four vastly different weapons.
Even the first mission poses a stiff challenge on its first run-through. Return to it just a few hours later, and you’ll likely find it reduced to a cakewalk. Blazing Chrome is a silent educator, constantly putting you in unique situations that will teach invaluable tricks once overcome. The first boss is a perfect example, showing why you should never underestimate the usefulness of the melee attack.
Occasionally certain weapons are placed in your path, too, just to illustrate how they can prove useful in different instances. Before you know it, you’re making educated weapon choices.
Structurally Blazing Chrome is pleasingly familiar, allowing a degree of freedom. After presenting a choice of difficulty levels – easy, normal, and an unlockable hardcore mode – and two characters (with additional, melee focused, characters also unlockable), you’re then presented with four missions of varying difficulty that can be tackled freely. Once cleared, many retries and continues later, a fifth mission appears on the map which directly leads to a sixth boss-filled final mission.
Boss rush and mirror modes also unlock after the first playthrough, while speed runners are catered for in the form of a stopwatch that can be added to the HUD. If you consider yourself a Contra veteran, you may find yourself at an advantage here.
Continues are infinite, and it’s also possible to return to a previously started playthrough. The latter feature shouldn’t be overlooked, as this isn’t something you’ll fly through in an hour or two. Even on easy mode, Blazing Chrome is both challenging and demanding. Battles against hulking metal beasts not only require attack patterns to be memorised but in the absence of pre-boss checkpoints, you’ll need to perfect entire stages to reach them with a decent amount of lives left. It pushes you hard, and it’s rewarding as a result – some bosses had us leaning on the edge of our seat, praying for shots to find their target before we hit the dirt.
Not only does Blazing Chrome boast masterful game design – the art direction is fantastic too, mimicking the desolate future seen in far-flung ‘90s anime such as Cyber City Oedo 808.
It genuinely resembles a late generation 16-bit game; a glorious combination of SNES sprite scaling and enchanting chiptunes and the Mega Drive’s blistering pace, wonky speech samples, and grungy hues. Enemies explode into a shower of body parts, accompanied by screen judder, while the bosses gloriously erupt with beams of light emitting from their wrecked exterior. It might be a case of mistaken identity, or perhaps a nostalgia overload, but we’re mildly confident a handful of enemy designs pay tribute to other 16-bit shooters such as ESWAT and Cybernator.
As shooters go this is as varied as they come, featuring two suitably different vehicle (jet bike) stages, a visually appealing third-person tunnel stage – complete with a Space Harrier-style boss battle – and a trio of delightfully overpowered mechs to climb into. The mech stages are clearly intended for light relief, giving that all-important sensation of being temporarily invincible, yet hold a hidden depth – if you’re able to stay alive long enough, it’s entirely possible to take a mech into a boss battle. To do so takes a degree of skill, and thankfully, there’s a reward to be had.
Other nuances are both subtle and numerous. Initially, it seems the power-up capsules dish out items at random, but with a perfectly timed whack, it’s possible to gain a desired weapon. The electric whip, with its 360-degree range, can also be used to snatch items from afar. As for skills, the ability to fire in different directions while remaining rooted to the spot can be massively beneficial in certain instances…if you know where to stand.
On a lesser note, during the final stages the ability to roll comes more heavily into play. Not a nuance as such, but an example of how skills available from the outset don’t come into use until much later.
Blazing Chrome is a game that ticks all the right boxes while exceeding expectations, feeling like a lost 16-bit game from an esteemed developer somehow rediscovered in 2019. Every stage feels refined, right to the point where not a single enemy is out of place, and there’s no filler whatsoever. As soon as one set of obstacles are overcome, you’re whisked off to the next – every screen and stage has something new, along with some fancy faux visual effects to swoon over. It kicks your behind but never leaves you disheartened, always providing the tools and teaching the mechanics to succeed. We haven’t revelled in victory in a similar manner since Cuphead.
Without question, it’s one of the finest retro throwbacks available – an absolute masterclass from a studio that clearly loves what they do, resulting in something a hair’s breadth from perfection.