Contra: Operation Galuga screenshot

Review: Contra: Operation Galuga (Sony PlayStation 5)

If only it knew what it wanted to be...

7 mins read

Contra: Operation Galuga was a mistake. It’s not that everyone involved didn’t try, mind you. As much as a certain kind of gamer loves to swipe at Konami, Konami did the right thing here to give this project every chance of success. The publisher recruited WayForward – veterans and legends of modern 2D platforming – to handle the remake of one of the most classic games of all time. The WayForward team, meanwhile clearly struggled monumentally and did their absolute best to simultaneously hit two conflicting briefs: do justice to a classic infamous for being retro hard, while making something playable by modern standards.

Sadly, at the end of the day, for all the effort it has proven to be simply impossible actually deliver on all of that, and I don’t see Contra: Operation Galuga impressing many people from any of the camps it is trying to appeal to.

Running through the entire list of issues with WayForward’s efforts to put sardines and ice cream together and somehow make it taste good:

A screenshot from Contra: Operation Galuga

1)     There’s a story mode, this time around. You’ve got to wait for an extended time for these levels and their cut scenes to load in on PlayStation 4 (thankfully not an issue on PS5, but nothing says “arcade classic” like any loading times at all), and then you’ve got to wait for the cut scenes to play out before you get to blow up stuff. It’s not exactly Shakespearean drama, and so the tradeoff and time spent not pressing buttons is simply not worth it. Indeed, WayForward’s team seems to have realised this, because they’ve thrown in an “Arcade Mode” that – you guessed it – gets rid of the cutscenes.

2)     There’s a shop where you can use credits earned through playing to unlock stuff that makes subsequent runs easier. I know that back in the day the Konami code existed and we all used it, but the real point of Contra was that it wasn’t meant to get easier, and the grind was meant to be the satisfaction of getting one enemy further or finally beating the boss. Not grinding your way towards being able to make progress by default.

3)     There is something very strange going on at WayForward. Perhaps the company got some new art directors in, but where it was once one of the most reliable of all for producing incredible aesthetics, across both Advance Wars 1 + 2: Re-Boot Camp, and now this, we’ve seen a turn for the worse. Contra: Operation Galuga moves nicely enough. The animation is slick and tight and you’ll have no problem tracking what’s going on, even during the most hectic moments. Aside from that, however, backgrounds are surprisingly mundane, enemies (especially the bosses) lack in any particularly noteworthy design elements and the 3D character models are just very unexciting.

A screenshot from Contra: Operation Galuga

Perhaps the most obvious thing about how little confidence the development team had in what they were doing, however, was just how much of it you can turn off. I mentioned the ability to bypass story mode above, but can also switch to classic, 8-way direction control inputs rather than the modern 360 controls. You can also throw the difficulty right up, and put one-hit deaths on, just like in the original NES game.

Yes, it’s easy to say: “Well, isn’t that a good thing that WayForward is giving something to the retro players while making sure modern players aren’t put off?” And, sure, to an extent that’s true. But there’s no actual direction in Contra: Operation Galuga. In trying so extremely hard to be something for everyone, it’s not actually standing by any creative decision. It’s just a mass of content that provides no vision for what Contra should be in 2024.

Say what you want about FromSoftware’s Souls series and Elden Ring, but the developer’s commitment to the creative vision, to the point that they’re happy for some people to find their games impenetrable, is admirable in a creative industry. Contra: Operation Galuga, meanwhile, comes across as the weak “yes man” in the office, saying whatever he thinks the other people need to hear in order to keep his job and position. It might be effective and for all I know Contra: Operation Galuga is selling bucketloads right now. But there’s no substance or value to it. There’s no artistic integrity in this game. It’s a product.

A screenshot from Contra: Operation Galuga

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Contra in the first place, but I’ve always admired the series for challenging and inspiring so many players over the decades. Likewise, I understand what WayForward’s done with this remake of the original. I appreciate the effort to try and find a broader audience. But if that was the goal they should have properly built the game around that kind of experience, rather than half-measuring it and then giving players the ability to just ignore it all. The complete lack of confidence in actually following through with whatever creative vision WayForward took into this project, unfortunately, leaves the entire experience feeling soulless.

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Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

  • Gotta disagree with you on this one, Matt. I was a college kid playing hours and hours of Contra & Super Contra on the NES, back around 1990 summer break, trying to get more and more perfect with each run. I’m having a blast with Operation Galuga. The action and variety feel just about right — not NES-perfect, but really fun. Doesn’t feel soulless to me at all, even though I’m not 100% behind their overall art choices — It’s not nearly the turn-off that the Advance Wars RE-boot was (truly boring visuals there).

    I’m especially surprised that you complain about user choice — WayForward giving us the option to play story-mode with cutscenes, or arcade mode without; giving us access to difficulty toggles. These kinds of choices are something many action game fans have been asking for since the 90s… and when we’ve gotten them (including back in the actual 90s), it very often worked out for the best and opened the game up more to different kinds of players. Who wants to sit through cut-scenes every time you play through an action game, to improve your score or 1CC progress? I thought you’d spoken out in support of accessibility features/options in other games of the not-so-distant past?

    • Glad you’re enjoying Galuga!

      I’m not complaining about user choice here, per se. I’m complaining about the lack of a creative identity. I’m still not sure I understand what the game is trying to be. Why do a story if you acknowledge that it’s so unnecessary to the thing that it can be simply dropped out without changing the experience? It’s not just a matter of giving you the ability to skip cut-scenes – here you can just ignore the narrative from the moment you open the game. I don’t think creative elements should be modular like that.

      I also think that in the effort to pander to both the “hardcore” and “casual” this game makes compromises to its design that means it doesn’t really satisfy me on either level.

      Accessibility is great and important. In fact, I think the better move with Contra here would be to shake the effort to try to appease the people that was a NES-like Contra experience and just embrace the opportunity to make a truly modern game. As it is, like I said in my review, it’s just all so muddled I never really understood the intent behind it. Why does this game exist? I just don’t know.

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