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I heard of Blazing Chrome a little while back and after watching a trailer and seeing screen shots, I added it to my Steam wishlist. About a week ago, we received an email from The Arcade Crew with a review code for the game and, well, that was a nice surprise. Just by looking at it, you can tell it’s a love letter to the Contra series, specifically the 16-bit games. And Contra is fucking awesome. Developed by JoyMasher and published by The Arcade Crew, Blazing Chrome was released for PC and current gen consoles in July, 2019. It’s a side-scrolling run and gun shooter that has you playing as a resistance fighter in a war against robots.
The story is set in the future, in the middle of a war between humans and robots. After decades of fighting, the humans are struggling to stay alive. A resistance team is sent on a mission behind enemy lines and this mission is humanity’s last hope. That’s all there really is in terms of plot, it’s awesome enough to get us interested, and it’s clearly just a setup for the non-stop run and gun action.
There’s three difficulty modes; Easy, Normal, and Hardcore which needs to be unlocked. You can choose to play as one of multiple characters. At the start, you can only play as Mavra or Doyle, a converted robot with a mohawk because why not. You can unlock two other characters after beating the game, although that didn’t happen for us despite the game telling us otherwise. Jeremy and I beat it cooperatively on Normal and then on Easy, but unlocked nothing. I beat it solo on Easy and I’m still working my way through the game on Normal. We reached out to The Arcade Crew and they told us we’re supposed to unlock content after beating the game solo or cooperatively on Normal. However, the game does tell you that you unlock stuff after beating it on both difficulties so it sounds like a bug. When choosing your character, you can select from different outfit colors and both Mavra and Doyle can run, jump, go prone, roll, shoot, shoot without moving, and perform a melee attack when you’re close enough to an enemy and it can also deflect missiles and grenades. To roll, you need to press down and jump and we think it should be a separate button. Pressing down and jump should let you move down a platform which isn’t an option at all. Those our only gripes with the controls.
The game plays out in missions and you can play through most of them in any order. You’ll be running, gunning, dodging projectiles, and trying not to die. Support capsules can be found in the environments and breaking them will reveal a weapon or what we call support bots. You can store four weapons and switch between them on the fly. When you die, you lose a life and whatever weapon or bot you currently have equipped, minus your machine gun. In addition to the machine gun, there’s a grenade launcher, a plasma beam that can be charged up, and what I’ll call a wave beam. We were able to grab a 1-UP with the wave beam but after that one time, we haven’t been able to do it again. The game does show you the basic controls before you start playing but we would love to see a full blown manual or guide. All of the weapons do prove to be useful and some are better against certain enemies. Now the support bots can be very beneficial. The speed bot lets you move faster and allows you to double jump. The attack bot will shoot at enemies along with you. Our favorite is the defense bot. It creates a shield around you, protecting you from a couple of hits.
Enemies will attack you from all directions. They’ll come from the skies, off-screen, and underground. Many of them fire projectiles, some fly around, and it’s not unusual to be surrounded or get overwhelmed. Luckily, you can play with a buddy which does alleviate much of the challenge, but the game will kick your ass regardless. Memorization is required. You need to memorize the enemy placements, enemy attacks, and boss attack patterns. One hit is all it takes to die but long as you have some lives left, you will respawn in the vicinity. There is a checkpoint system, at least on Easy and Normal, and when you lose all your lives, you’ll respawn at the last checkpoint. The game does save your progress so you can exit and come back any time and continue where you left off. If you’re a Contra veteran, the save system and checkpoints are going to make Blazing Chrome feel more forgiving. It’s not a bad thing. Most of the checkpoints are never placed before end bosses so getting a game over does have a penalty. You’ll have to trek to get back to where you were. There’s plenty of mini-bosses to take down and each mission ends with a big bad boss that usually took us multiple tries to bring down. Bosses have multiple attack phases and we found that their attack patterns are easy to memorize. However, their can attacks can speed up which can make things trickier.
The game is short but the high difficulty should keep you coming back. And if we could unlock all the content, there’s more characters to play as and extra game modes to play through. You have to like dying repeatedly, otherwise you’ll just get frustrated. The missions are diverse and each one is set in a different location. You’ll blast your way through a city, bio weapons facility, intercept an enemy supply train, and fight your way to a communications tower. Some missions put you on what look like hover bikes and every now and then you can jump into a mech and use it to obliterate foes and gain access to specific areas which usually house goodies. One mission has you flying around in a jet pack. It’s pretty cool. You’ll have to watch out for plenty of environmental hazards like quick sand, crushers, lasers, and spikes, among other dangers. The action is fast-paced and hectic and each mission will throw something new at you.
The visuals in Blazing Chrome certainly reflect the classic 16-bit Contra titles. It’s a great-looking game. The backgrounds look amazing, there’s some fantastic parallax scrolling going on in several missions, the game is filled with plenty of color, enemies and objects are well detailed, and there’s a lot of neat little effects. Muzzle flashes look awesome. Damaged bosses not only blink but emit smoke. Enemies can explode in a shower of blood and gibs, making kills feel satisfying. And explosions look great and are very chunky. Some sequences are extremely hectic and action packed and if you’re playing with a friend and there’s a lot going on, you can easily lose track of your character, enemy, or projectile which can be frustrating. Reading through the credits, the music was composed by multiple artists, including Dominic Ninmark, the same guy who composed the excellent soundtrack for Bot Vice. There’s a lot of memorable rocking tunes in Blazing Chrome and they do drown out most of the sound effects on the default volume. All you need to know about the story is conveyed through text but there are NPC’s that spout dialogue and we found it hard to understand what some of them were saying. On the technical side, we did encounter some frame rate dips when playing cooperatively but that could have been because of the computer we were playing on. I played through it solo on a different PC and didn’t encounter any issues.
We had a great time with Blazing Chrome. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I’m planning on buying the Switch version just so I can play it on-the-go. It’s a shame we couldn’t unlock anything because there are numerous reasons to return, including new game modes. Blazing Chrome doesn’t fuck around. You’re immediately thrown into the action and each death will and should be a learning experience. Contra fans should feel right at home. But it’s not going to be for everyone. There is no hand holding, mistakes result in death, and you need to be constantly alert. It’s difficult but never feels cheap. It will kick your ass but never feel impossible. The war against the robots doesn’t feel much different than the war against Red Falcon and his army of aliens, but the gameplay is just as fun.
If you’re still waiting for Konami or any developer to release another kick-ass side scrolling Contra title, you might be waiting a while. But Blazing Chrome should scratch that itch. The developers are obviously fans of the series and Blazing Chrome feels like their answer to the lack of a new game. If you like challenging, run and gun shooters, and fast-paced action-packed gameplay, give Blazing Chrome a shot. It’s the new Contra game we’ve all been waiting for.