Contra: Operation Galuga Review

Contra: Operation Galuga header artwork

Contra has had a rough time of it over the last few years. Once heralded as the greatest of all the run ‘n’ guns, the series started to fall apart in the noughties and hit rock bottom with the critically panned Contra: Rogue Corps in 2019. Now, in the safe hands of the side-scroller maestros at WayForward, can Contra: Operation Galuga reclaim the battered franchise’s once-adoring fanbase?

Play only the first few levels of Contra: Operation Galuga and you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was the most fantabulous Contra of all time. A deliriously ridiculous plot and deliciously hammy voice-overs set up a thinly veiled excuse for running your muscle-bound avatar from left to right – and occasionally right to left, down to up, and up to down – blasting everything in your path. Visuals are chunky and the right amount of cartoony, whilst the weapons are delightfully over-the-top. At the same time, the multitude of henchmen die with style, while screen-filling bosses recall the finest end-of-level monstrosities from Contra’s yesteryear.

Acton is smooth, controls are responsive, and, even better, local multiplayer options are generous. The entirety of the story mode is available to play through with a pal, whilst the arcade mode allows up to four friends to run ‘n’ gun in harmony. If the first level is fun, the second is even better, placing players atop lightning-fast jet bikes, zooming around a sinister factory, spraying lasers, flames, and homing missiles everywhere they go.

Contra: Operation Galuga co-op gameplay

The difficulty, as one would expect from the genre, is rock-hard. Enemies come thick and fast and the screen soon fills with bullets. Each character on the roster, which goes far beyond series stalwarts Bill Rizer and Lance Bean, has a dodge to aid in avoiding the bullet swarms. Unfortunately, despite customisable controls, the dodge input never seemed accessible whilst both running and aiming. As such, despite the dash having its intended uses, I found myself relying on the handy double jump for the majority of my play-through.

A more successful tactic to alleviate the inherent difficulty of the run ‘n’ gun genre is through the simple but effective introduction of a health bar, though don’t worry, if you are a glutton for punishment you can opt for old-school instant death on contact with an enemy or bullet instead. The other major addition is the overdrive function, allowing a weapon to unleash its special power to impressive effect, though the weapon is destroyed in the process. It’s a neat mechanic, adding an extra layer of risk and reward to proceedings.

Unfortunately, the quality of the game teeters and then falls off a cliff in later levels. WayForward throws so many ideas at a stage but little of it successfully sticks, resulting in a confusing mess. Some sections are over-laden with pace-deadening traps, the naff dashing doing nothing but heighten frustrations. It’s also unexpectedly easy to get lost in some of the up-to-down levels; the game makes it thoroughly mysterious as to where the player should go next. B

osses become a chore too, as it’s not made clear which part of their form will hurt the player on contact, nor where the player should be blasting them to cause damage. Meanwhile, a level in which the player must control their avatar through the reflection of a large green crystal is a sadomasochistic chore. It’s unlikely that a game could begin so strong, so tight, and yet ultimately fall apart into a self-indulgent mess. Yet, somehow, Contra: Operation Galuga manages it.

For a brief moment of brilliance, Contra: Operation Galuga is the modern interpretation of a 2D run ‘n’ gun that we always wanted. But it's a fleeting moment, and what comes after is a deeply onerous experience that proves a trudge to see through to completion.
  • Silly plot and characterisation is spot on
  • The opening levels are brilliant
  • Punchy visual style
  • Local multiplayer is a blast
  • Latter levels are a chore with loathsome design decisions
  • Dodging is ineffective
  • You can get lost