Monday, July 29, 2019

Blazing Chrome Review

There’s no shortage of indie Metroidvanias out there, but there aren't a lot of indies making run and gun shooters in the style of Contra, Metal Slug, and Gunstar Heroes. In comes Blazing Chrome to fill that Contra-shaped hole in your heart. Blazing Chrome is a run and gun shooter from Joymasher, the developers of Oniken and Odallus. It might look like a straight up Contra: Hard Corps clone at a glance, but it does enough of its own thing to set it apart from Konami's classic series. I played the Steam version (with a Switch controller) for this review, but it's also available on XBO, PS4, and NS for $16.99.

If Contra is Terminator x Aliens, then Blazing Chrome is Terminator x sci-fi Anime. As far as I can tell, Judgement Day happened here and there’s no John Connor around to save the day. The year is 21XX AD, decades after some great war. You play as Mavra and Doyle. Mavra kind of looks like Sheena from Contra HC wearing some Probotector inspired armor. She is part of the resistance against the machines, or "Toasters" as she calls them. Doyle is a Toaster with a red mohawk who has been reprogrammed for good. Basically the T-800. Mavra and Doyle are on a mission to destroy the machines' power supply. Yeah, sure. It’s just an excuse to blaze some chrome.

Blazing Chrome is structured more like Gunstar Heroes than any Contra or arcade game. There are 6 missions in the game, but you don't have to play them in order. When you first start a game, you can choose between any of the first 4 missions, and when you beat all 4, the 5th one opens up. When you beat the 5th one, you automatically go to the last one. You get 5 lives on Normal difficulty, but you don't have to make it through the whole mission with just those 5. There are frequent checkpoints and infinite continues, so when you get a Game Over, you just go back to the last checkpoint and not to the beginning of the mission. It has 2 player local co-op, but you can play it just fine by yourself. And just like most Contra games, Blazing Chrome has 1 hit deaths with instant respawns, so you can go through those 5 lives pretty quickly if you're not careful. I like how the game lets you continue from checkpoints. It allows the game to be really hard without feeling impossible. I might not have stuck with it if it was set up like the Genesis version of Contra HC because there’s no 30 lives code here either.

Blazing Chrome plays like a mix of many classic run and gun games. You can run left and right, jump, duck, hang on pipes, shoot in 8 directions, post yourself and aim by holding R, and do a Metal Slug-like "get off me" melee attack to enemies that get too close. You can also roll left or right by pressing down and jump, which is basically the slide from Contra HC with a different animation. I think this roll move is more annoying than it is useful, though. If you're more used to playing every other Contra besides HC, you'll probably be accidentally rolling to your death when trying to jump while shooting downwards diagonally or trying to fall through a platform, which you can't do in this game.

Mavra and Doyle's default weapon is your run of the mill sci-fi assault rifle, and there's also 3 special weapons you can collect; the grenade launcher, flamethrower, and laser. The grenade launcher fires off a grenade that explodes on contact with enemies or when you release the attack button. The longer you hold the button, the farther the grenade will fly before exploding. It's a tricky weapon to use in a game in which you want to constantly be shooting everything as quickly as possible, but it does a lot of damage. The flamethrower fires a constant stream of flames while you hold down the attack button. It's just like the flamethrower in Contra III, except it's pink. It has a short range, but it does a lot of damage. The laser can be fired rapidly for weak attacks or be charged up for more powerful longer lasting beams. It's technically the most powerful weapon, but also the hardest to use because charging means you're not shooting enemies. You can carry all of these special weapons around after you find them in capsules and switch between them with ZR (R2), just like in Contra HC. You lose a weapon if you die while using it, but you get to keep the rest, so you can just switch to your regular gun and save these for a boss if you want.

I'm not a big fan of the special weapons. Their usefulness feels very situational. They're good for bosses because they do a lot of damage and you actually have time to charge them and stuff, but they're not great for the regular run and gun gameplay because they either take too long to use or have bad range. There's a few other item drops that I like a lot more; the speed boost, shield, and attack drone. These don't count as special weapons; though, so you can't switch off them and save them for bosses. You also can't use 2 of these at the same time. If you pick one up while you already have one active, you'll drop the one you have. The speed boost increases your speed and gives you a double jump, the shield lets you take a few extra hits, and the attack drone follows you around like a Gradius option power-up and fires a second stream of bullets like your normal gun.

Most of Blazing Chrome is just regular run and gun obstacle courses and bosses, but there are a few sections in other styles to break things up. The ones you spend the most time playing are the hoverbike sections. They're very similar to the ones in Contra III, Hard Corps, and Uprising. You ride a hoverbike through an auto-scrolling area and shoot down enemies. Blazing Chrome adds a little Battletoads to the mix by throwing in some pits and roadblocks sometimes, too. There's also sections where you can hop in a Mega Man X-like mech suit with a machine gun, laser, or drill arm. One of these mech sections also gives you the option to hang off a helicopter while shooting everything below. There’s also a very Space Harrier-like sprite-based 3D tunnel section that’s really well done. It’s much better than those After Burner levels in the Bayonetta games. This stuff is not as good as the regular run and gun stuff, but it's still fun.

Blazing Chrome looks and sounds too good to be an actual Genesis game, but it nails the Genesis style like Shovel Knight nails the look and sound of an NES game. Blazing Chrome uses few colors with rough gradients to closely capture the gritty look of games like Contra HC and Castlevania Bloodlines. It also has tons of little details everywhere. You can see animated heat waves, clouds, and lightning in the backgrounds, bullet casings flying off your gun, reflections on glass, and smoke, explosions, and robot guts flying all over the place. The Steam version ran super smooth locked at 60fps at 1080p for me, too. It's a great looking game. It doesn't sound as crunchy and distorted as a Genesis game, but the chiptune hard rock is very reminiscent of 90s video game music from games like Mega Man X, and the low quality voice samples sound like something out of Streets of Rage, which got a laugh out of me.

Blazing Chrome is a lot of fun. It's not as good as the best Contra games, but it's close enough. If you're a run and gun fan and like challenging games, I think you'll enjoy it. If you’re trying to decide between this and the Contra Anniversary Collection; though, I say go with the Contra Collection first and then buy this if you’re still looking for more run and gun action.