Contra: Operation Galuga review

Contra: Operation Galuga review

A legendary action classic comes back to life with a brand new remake, and both Dali and J.J. seem to think it does the machine gun loaded job well enough.

It’s been a while since a true sequel to one of our favorite series from the late 80s and early 90s really kind of made itself known. There have been a few here and there, but now there’s a big push to bring back Contra.

And this is Contra. The first Contra. Remade.

Which I didn’t even realize until I started getting into it and then playing it and thinking, “oh, yeah, I remember this part — I kind of know this part.” And then it’s super funny for me because it’s a remake of Contra 1, but it cuts out some Contra 1 content, like all of the weird hallway crawler levels (the in-between levels where we’re walking down the hallways and stuff).

This game is developed by WayForward, and I love WayForward. WayForward, though, has to sort of stay in their lane sometime. And this ain’t their lane, because they’ve done this before in a way better form: Contra 4 on the DS is virtually a remake of the original Contra. It shares a lot of the same levels and stuff and is such a better feeling game than this game is. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this is a bad game, but it doesn’t feel right. None of it feels right.

I mean, I beat this thing and that’s a lot for a Contra game, especially considering the first levels are always super easy and we’re thinking, “oh man, if this whole game is like that, this is a great arcade experience.” Then we get to the second level and we’re just like, “what the fuck is going on? Why do I keep dying in the same key response?” It feels like it took me weeks to power through the motorbike level.

When we initially saw this game revealed, we started thinking, “oh, man, I don’t know what they’re doing with the visual style.” But it actually works really well when we’re playing it. It helps that they’ve really leaned into the camp. But the one thing I think that doesn’t quite match, I guess maybe throws me off a little bit, is that the scale of certain things. Now that it’s in HD, I kind of feel like things are a bit.. small? Like when we’re grabbing on to the handles and kind of bouncing up the waterfall they feel absolutely minuscule. And the same goes with things like the power ups and platforms. It’s easy to miss them because they feel smaller. The shift to 16×9 widescreen has affected the proportion enough that certain aspects should have been resized to match.

Galuga also kind of changes up the enemy formula, which alters the speed at which we play the game. Here the enemies keep coming. It doesn’t matter if we defeat everything on a screen because they’ll continue to spawn. It’s not wave based. When we’re so used to the stop and camp of classic arcade games this change forces us to keep moving, and moving fast. We don’t want to stop, we have to go forward. Run and gun. And I think that once we get into the mode of just constantly moving and moving forward, things definitely fall into place and become manageable.

There are several unlockable characters in Operation Galuga and they all bring something interesting to the game. Each of them uses the weapons in unique ways, and they have different abilities than can greatly affect how we push through a level. One has a sort of dive kick, and another has a grappling hook. Some can do a sort of speed rush, a dash, a slide. There’s enough variety that makes trying them all out feel like fresh experiences. There’s even an upgrade system built into the game, in which we earn Contra points to spend on individual characters’ and weapon abilities or on the global side giving us more health or power. It kind of replaces what we know of the old cheat codes in games, making them more official.

It’s every bit as long as the original Contra, so upgrading the hell out of our characters can really help us actually beat the game as opposed to the original, where we either have to cheat or be really, really, REALLY good.

Contra: Operation Galuga is an honorable effort. At times it’s a little talky and scaled weirdly, and at times it makes us move really fast and forward, but the essence of Contra is there. And even though it has that classic, unloving difficulty spike it has enough content to bring us back for a few extra runs.

This review was based on a Steam code sent to SideQuesting by the publisher. It first appeared on The SideQuest LIVE on May 19, 2024. Images and video courtesy Konami and Wayforward.