The nice thing about run & gun is how incredibly simple the idea is. Two words plus an ampersand to connect them, and it tells you all you need to know. It's a simple, straightforward punch-in-the-face style of game, but leaves plenty of room for brilliant creativity and bizarre screw-ups in its execution. Hard Corps: Uprising somehow manages to do both at the same time.
Despite the word “Contra” appearing nowhere in the title, Hards Corps: Uprising is a new game in the Contra series. You run left to right and shoot things while dodging heavy enemy fire, get a nice variety of guns obtained by shooting down flying power-ups, and fight ridiculous bosses who kill you stone dead until you learn their patterns. Shoot, jump, dodge, and get your face ground into a thin paste by the brutal difficulty, and you've got a Contra game in all but name.
Hard Corps: Uprising has the soul of a spectacular shooter buried under a pile of unfortunate design issues.
The problem with brutal difficulty, though, is that it needs a control scheme you don't need to think about. Geometry Wars has two sticks and a trigger (as do its millions of clones). The arcade games Uprising is a throwback to generally had a joystick and two buttons. Uprising, on the other hand, uses every single button on the 360 controller, with several actions requiring multiple buttons pressed at the same time. Jump, shoot, action, and change weapon take up the face buttons, while run (both bumpers), stand still, and lock aim are on the shoulder keys. It's not that hard to keep track of, but an advanced move like vault requires holding run and then jumping at the right time, but you'll also be shooting at something else, possibly with strafe held as well. Or you could not bother, ignoring what would be a useful and pleasantly flashy tool simply because it's a pain in the ass to use.
Ignore the advanced moves, though, and despite the feeling that you're playing it wrong, hard Corps: Uprising becomes a fairly decent 2D side-scrolling run & gun. The main characters and standard enemies have some good animation to go with the detailed sprite work, while the bosses are polygonal monsters of destruction. The stages are well-designed with loads of attention to detail, and everything moves smoothly, if a bit slowly, thanks to a walking pace only slightly faster than a brick's. Unfortunately, holding down the run button isn't much help - due to it being slightly too fast for comfort and also due to needing to re-press it after every stop. It's strange to think such a frantic shooter featuring complicated attack patterns requiring perfect coordination and instant response feels slow, but there it is.
Still, Hard Corps: Uprising offers a lot of shooting for your run & gun dollar. There are two game modes to choose from, one a standard arcade experience with a set number of abilities and lives and another that lets you spend earned points upgrading skills. There are two characters to choose from (with another two who show up in the intro anime available as paid DLC) and a paper-thin story to link them together. The levels are long and require a lot of practice, filled with creative set pieces to make sure every stage feels different from every other. Hard Corps: Uprising has the soul of a spectacular shooter buried under a pile of unfortunate design issues, and while its problems can't be completely forgotten, there's a load of good arcade action if you're willing to put in the effort to overlook them.