There are video games that fill your heart with happiness and fulfillment. Notwithstanding, there are others that run raging black sludge through your veins. Contra: Legacy of War, released for the PlayStation and Sega Saturn back in 1996, contorts bliss into hatred due to its unforgiving gameplay and horrific aiming controls – mirroring its predecessor, Contra: Hard Corps. Yet, in some odd way, it’s addicting. The sanity-stealing environments reel players back in because challenge is what is truly desired. Completing a level, even because of pure luck, is still an accomplishment. Contra: Legacy of War leaves you begging for an ounce of stability, as its fun aspects clash with some extremely questionable mechanics.

Contra, developed by Appaloosa Interactive, isn’t an experience with a riveting story and tear-jerking moments. Its backstory is vague but existent. A dictator (of a minuscule country) by the name of Colonel Bassad has begun to strive for world domination, resulting in the Hard Corps team shaking their pointer finger at his schemes. The team is composed of the four playable characters: Ray, Tasha, CD-288, and Bubba. Though they are diverse in their features and speed, significant differences aren’t noticeable in the gameplay. Let’s be real, you’re going to meet your demise at least a dozen times no matter what.

contra characters

Luckily, Contra offers a co-op two player mode. If you’re feeling up to replaying the first level numerous times before Lady Luck takes the reins, single player will throw you into that frenzy immediately. In all honesty, though, adding another player to the mix won’t create a much more pleasant environment. And yet, there’s something less frustrating about facing an unforgiving world with a pal. Regardless of who you choose as the playable protagonist, all four are automatically equipped with a machine gun and a flamethrower, while the other two weapons vary and can be found throughout each level. Fortunately, ammo is unlimited. This fun fact allows for the firing of a weapon in a repetitive manner. Sporadic firing increases chances of survival, though not by ­much.

If you’re facing this world of chaos with a friend, you’d best hope they don’t completely suck. If your partner in crime meets their doom, and their bodies have dispersed into thin air, they can cunningly snatch a life from you without your permission. Sure, maybe at first it isn’t so bad lending them a hand. Be careful though – their consistent deaths can also terminate you, as well as your friendship.

Lives are portrayed in Contra: Legacy of War by your health points. Every time a bullet shreds through your character’s armor, your life count decreases. Racking up a total of nine lives at the very start, the physical shape your chosen hero which completes a level then carries on to the proceeding level. To put it more bluntly, lives aren’t reset to the original nine, an number which was more comfortable for your mental state. Your true skills, as well as your sanity, are put to the test because of that slight handicap. Luckily, after a level’s completion, Contra is kind enough to permit you to save your progress. Aw, you shouldn’t have.

Memorizing enemy movements and attacks rather than relying on luck increases your chances of survival. Patterns become apparent to the keen eye and are extremely advantageous. The array of both mini and significant boss battles requires you to recognize attack patterns. It’s simple – battling through the same level and executing the same attacks will grant you with the same results. If your approach isn’t working, it’s time to try something new. Contra: Legacy of War does an excellent job at pushing players to be better.

As you duck and jump spasmodically over obstacles, you eventually stumble upon an arcade game during the second stage. Essentially, it’s an escape from the chaotic reality of life in the Hard Corps team. Approaching the arcade machine while accompanied by another player will grant access for the both of you to play cooperatively. In “Bamboo Arcade Game,” you play as a tank wandering through what closely resembles a Pac-Man stage. As the little tank engine engulfs its patterned dots, various hindrances, including enemy tanks plot against the little guy. Sadly, the arcade game is more enjoyable than the main game itself. Go ahead Colonel Bassad and rule the world; I have found my happy place.

Contra: Legacy of War will always be a PlayStation game I want to commit my time to, but in the end, my heart is broken and I’m bitter. The clunky gameplay impedes the player’s ultimate triumph. When the opportunity arises to save your progress, you’d damn well better save your progress. Blasting your way through ten very agonizing levels isn’t a walk in the park. Bullets are flying from every which angle and lives are lost by the minute. To evade the horror, all you really have to do is make it to the second stage, and fall into a fabricated world of arcade tanks for a truly gratifying experience. Someone else can save the world, right?