More than almost any other game from its era, Contra made its name on being brutally difficult: a legacy with an impact that can still be felt today. Even cultural touchstones like the Konami Code owe at least some of their fame to the Contra series–after all, half the reason we memorized that particular sequence of button presses was to get extra lives for our battle against the alien hordes. With Contra: Operation Galuga, WayForward had a peculiar challenge: Sand off the rough edges of the original Contra to make it tolerable to modern audiences without losing the mystique that owes so much to its absurd difficulty. Thanks to some smart improvements, it’s found an enjoyable balance, although it’s not enough to elevate Galuga to greatness.

This is a retelling of the first game, which means that once again you’re Contra operatives Bill and Lance dispatched to the island of Galuga to get to the bottom of strange goings-on there. After a slightly too-wordy introduction in Story mode, you’re dropped right into the run-and-gun action, and despite looking and feeling very similar to the first game, the differences will quickly become apparent to series veterans. To start, you have a double jump by default, as well as a dash maneuver that can be used on the ground or in mid-air. Together, these make you much more nimble at dodging enemy fire, allow more room for error when crossing chasms, and turn combat into a quicker, more acrobatic experience.

Despite borrowing the most iconic weapons from the first three games–the Machine Gun, Spread, Laser, Flame Thrower, Homing, and Crush weapons–your arsenal has gotten an upgrade, too. Each signifies a considerable power boost from your default gun by itself, but each can also be upgraded by stacking another weapon pick-up on top of it. Picking up another Homing power-up when you already have Homing equipped makes it a Homing Lv 2, for example. Sometimes this extends the range or breadth of the weapon, like in the case of the Spread and Flame Thrower, while other times it can change a weapon’s behavior more significantly. An upgraded Laser will ricochet off targets, while the upgraded Crush changes the weapon from an explosive missile to a firearm that opens small black holes that do continuous damage. And in a welcome quality-of-life tweak, picking up a new weapon will automatically replace a blank weapon slot if you have one. I spent half the game manually switching out of habit before I realized that little nice-to-have.

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