Contra: Operation Galuga – PS5 Review

Contra: Operation Galuga is a run and gun shooter that continues the legacy of the long running Contra series, one that started in the arcades of Japan in 1987, and brings it to modern consoles.  Not that the series has ever gone that many years without a new entry.  But, anyway, this one comes to us by way of Californian coders WayForward who had a brief dalliance with the series with Contra 4 on the Nintendo DS, a reasonably well-received game in a series that definitely has its hits and misses.

The game offers up three main modes when you start it up.  The headline act is the Story Mode, which we’ll mainly be talking about here, but you also get an Arcade Mode (which, mercifully, takes out all of the story elements which is good because it’s not particularly interesting and suffers from having far too much fan service for a series that we don’t think many people are here to see because of its lore) and there’s a fun, but tricky, Challenge Mode too which gives you various short levels with specific tasks (such as time trials, weapon-based objectives and ‘no hit’ challenges).

The main story offers up eight levels of furious run and gun action and we have to say that, right from the off, it feels slick and satisfying to play.  You get to pick from the series’ original protagonists, Bill Rizer and Lance Bean (others are unlocked later on) and then you’re quickly introduced to the controls.  It’s sort of standard stuff but with some caveats.  You run with the left-stick/dpad and that also aims your gun (you can pick between 360 aiming or 8-way, we strongly recommend the former).  You jump with (which can be tapped again for a very useful double jump) and shoot with and if you need to get into some proper targeting, will hold your character in place so that you can line up your shots a little easier.

From there, it’s pretty much Contra 101 as you run towards the right, towards the alien threat doing Contra things like we’ve been doing for the last 27 years but it does feel surprisingly good.  The controls are tight, the animation silky and the gameplay feels as good as it ever has in the series (and we say that having 1CCed the original).

Of course, that other Contra staple is there too.  Weapon cannisters fly into the play area with letters on the front denoting what gun is included.  If you’ve played the series before, especially the first game, you’ll already have your favourite (and it’d better be the Spread Gun or else you’re a wrong ‘un).  We’ve not kept up on recent Contra games so we’re not sure which of these have been featured before but there are some new ones in there too including a new Homing gun which is overpowered compared to pretty much all the others.  The Flamethrower and ‘C’ weapon (not quite sure what that one stands for) are pretty bad though as their range is limited.  They’ll likely get you killed.

Still, it’s fun to play around with them all and even if you get a bad weapon, all is not lost.  Firstly, your soldier can hold two weapons (switching them with either shoulder button).  That’s great because it means you hopefully won’t be facing an angry space dragon with some sort of purple exploding bullshit gun.  But even a bad weapon will have a little bit of utility thanks to the ability to overpower a gun.  You do this by pressing to sacrifice the gun for some sort of beneficial effect.  The Flamethrower’s ability makes it create a shield, the bullshit C gun makes some sort of black hole (still pretty rubbish to be fair), the Laser can slow down time, the Machine Gun creates a shield, the Homing Gun summons some flying missile drones and so on.

There’s also a bit of additional complexity as each weapon has an additional level of power which you’ll get by picking up two of the same weapon type.  But, if you get hit by a bullet or enemy, the weapon will be downgraded to level one.

The other new wrinkle to the game is that you also have an additional ability which can be activated using either or .  These are generally dodge type moves.  We didn’t use them all that much but it was handy to use them for a quick burst of speed, which was handy during some of the obstacle-based parts of the game.

But, aside from all that, this is exactly what you’d expect from a modern Contra game (well, if you ignore Contra: Rogue Corps).  It’s not just a tight, well-constructed and cleverly thought-out re-envisioning of the original Contra.  And, of course, it varies things up now and again, just as the original game did.  The vertical stage from the original game is recreated and there’s a 3D section (albeit we would have hoped for a a few more of them).  That said, where these sections felt like a big part of the original game, that’s not the case here and that’s mainly because there is a whole lot more of the usual 2D sections.

Where the original game could be beaten in about twelve minutes,  this one will take you more like ninety (including all the cutscenes).  There are eight levels here and they definitely seem to last longer than the original game’s ones.  But that’s okay and, thankfully, the game offers up some permanent upgrades to make further plays a little easier.  These cost credits (that are earned by playing) and let you unlock some handy upgrades such as extra lives and health segments, the ability to make all weapons level 2 by default, your choice of starting weapons, the ability to upgrade your character-specific abilities and so on.  You can’t equip many at the same time, but they are useful.

So far, so good.  We’ve been pretty positive about the game so far but it’s not all good news.  Our biggest issue comes from some of the level design.  While the game starts off brilliantly and keeps that going for a while, there are a couple of very messy levels later on with awful jumping sections with respawning enemies or boss battles that are completely out of whack with the difficulty level of other ones.  It’s a shame because if the difficulty curve could have been a bit more consistent, we would have absolutely loved the game.  Still, you do have the option to either drop the difficulty or just grind out credits for extra lives.

It doesn’t completely spoil the party though and better gamers than us have managed to complete some of the trickier trophies that involve surviving the 1-hit kill mode and beating each level without dying.  So practise will make perfect here.

In terms of presentation, we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of Operation Galuga.  The visuals are nicely detailed, colourful, smooth and well-designed.  There’s enough variety in settings to keep you interested and some of the bosses look very pretty indeed.  All the lines of dialogue are voice acted as well (albeit, not brilliantly).  It’s hard to make a 2.5D game look and sound like a full price game but this is definitely pretty slick overall.  We’re not quite sure about that £35 price tag though.

And there you have it.  This is probably our favourite Contra since whatever one it was that we played on the SNES.  It feels suitably modern but keeps the classic gameplay front and centre of the whole experience.  We see A LOT of run and gunners here (PSN is absolutely rammed full of them) and this is easily one of the best ones.  We’re not sure we can fully recommend it at this price but if you do get your hands on it, you’re guaranteed to have a lot of fun.

Contra: Operation Galuga
8 Overall
+ Good improvements to classic game mechanics
+ Tight controls
+ Wide range of weapons
+ Nice visuals
- Price is a bit much
- Some difficulty spikes spoil the party a bit
- Story isn't all that interesting
All the classic Contra gameplay but with enough polish, modernisation and features to make it worthy of the grand old series. We're just not sold on that price tag.

About Richie

Rich is the editor of PlayStation Country. He likes his games lemony and low-budget with a lot of charm. This isn't his photo. That'll be Rik Mayall.

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