Contra: Operation Galuga Review (PS5)

It's fun to run-and-gun

By Paul Hunter

17 years after giving us the excellent Contra 4 on Nintendo DS, developer WayForward revisits Konami's classic run-and-gun action series with Contra: Operation Galuga available on PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch and PC. It reimagines the original Contra from the arcade and on the NES with updated graphics, modernized controls, an expanded Story mode, lots of new playable characters and all-new Perks you can unlock.

Operation Galuga delivers exactly what a hardcore Contra fan like me wants: intense run-and-gun action, epic boss fights, and cool weapons to blast Red Falcon Soldiers and aliens with. This game doesn't reinvent the series; instead, it leans on the familiar Contra formula to deliver what's hopefully the first of many modernized Contra games to come.

Contra: Operation Galuga's story is set in the year 26XX when mysterious meteors start crashing down on the Galuga Archipelago off the coast of New Zealand. The Red Falcon terrorist group, led by General Varanis, invades the island and in response, the Earth Marine Corps deploys its most elite soldiers: Bill Rizer and Lance Bean of the Contra unit.

The game's Story mode lets you choose between Bill and Lance, or you can play the entire campaign with local two-player co-op. This mode takes you through eight stages, many of them remixed from the original game while some are new, and include locations like the Jungle, Lab, Ice Train and Alien Hive. There's a great amount of variety across the levels from the island village to the secret ruins to the grotesque inside of the alien hive.

The Story mode is especially fun because you get to meet the entire cast of characters including the elusive Ariana island warrior, the enigmatic agent Lucia and heavy armour-wearing Lt. Stanley Ironside. Each character is given screen time through short dialogue scenes complete with nice hand-drawn portraits showing off their character details. While I enjoyed the story, there are a bunch of mid-level dialogue sequences that break up the action. It would have been better if all cutscenes and conversations happened at the beginning or end of each stage.

As you work your way through the campaign, characters you meet will become playable, including Ariana, Lucia, Stanley Ironside and Probotector. What's cool is these characters aren't just swapped models with the same abilities, instead individual characters have their own unique moves. Stanley can use his jetpack to hover in the air, Lucia has a grapple much like Bionic Commando and Ariana slides instead of dashing, as examples.

Weapons are what you'd expect from a Contra game and they all feel just as good in this game. You've got the classic rapid-fire machine gun, the red-bubble spread gun, the flamethrower, the homing missile, the laser gun, and crush bombs. Each weapon can be powered up to Lvl2 (if you collect the same weapon twice) and the upgrades are deadly: For instance, the three-bullet spread shot because a five-spread, the laser gun blast will ricochet off enemies and the flamethrower becomes extra long.

What's neat is that new characters you unlock may have weapon variations that change up the gameplay in big ways. For example, Lucia gets a Charge Spread attack that shoots out huge, deadly energy waves. When Stanley picks up a machine gun power-up he'll shoot Rapid Discs that spin in front of him and then arc backwards. Meanwhile, picking up a laser power-up gives Stanley a powerful Ring Laser that grows in size as it fires. Finally, instead of firing Crush bombs, Ariana gets Crush grenades that arc upwards and bounce on the ground. The great thing about characters having different weapons (and abilities) is that it means greater variety and new playstyles, and ultimately greater replay value.

Contra: Operation Galuga introduces a new Overload system that enhances the gameplay in significant ways. How it works is you can choose to sacrifice a gun to unleash its special technique. Examples include the machine gun giving your player a protective barrier, the spread gun unleashing a barrage of ricocheting bullets, and the laser gun slowing down time giving you the advantage in battle. Interestingly, Overloads can change depending on which character you choose. If you play as Ariana, her Crush Overload will open a vortex in the sky that attracts all enemy bullets, but for all other characters, the Crush Overload unleashes a flurry of targeted missiles.

The campaign really does a nice job of taking advantage of its 2.5D perspective. There's a fast-paced bike segment where you'll zip around corners and change tracks, which culminates in an epic boss fight against Big Bot Gordea, a giant robot that chases you into the screen a la Crash Bandicoot boulder sequences. There are also plenty of examples of enemies that initially appear in the background before you fight them, including the recurring Gromaides alien that's as tall as a building.

Operation Galuga also features an Arcade mode that takes you through the same eight stages, only this time you can play as any character that you like. Arcade mode also allows four-player couch co-op so you can really show the terrorists and aliens who's boss. Arcade mode also foregoes all of the cutscenes and dialogue so you're always in the action.

Challenge mode is another meaty offering, this one presenting you with 30 ultra-tough missions across seven different types. There are Speedrun challenges, Obstacle Courses to complete, Pacifist (no shooting) missions, Rematches against bosses with defined conditions like limited ammo, Research challenges where you're assigned a specific weapon, and Sharpshooter missions tasking you to exterminate enemies. Beating challenge missions is satisfying given how hard they are, and they also reward you with in-game currency that you can spend in the Perk shop.

Adding even more replayability is the Perk shop offering dozens of unlockables. These vary from unlocking new characters for Arcade mode to Hero spirits that grant characters special abilities to perks like retaining your special weapons after death. What's cool is, as you may have guessed, you can enter the classic Konami code and this will add new Perks to the shop, including one that gives you 30 lives to start. I loved the addition of the Perk shop, but one complaint is how much everything costs—some perks cost several thousand credits and you only get a few hundred for completing levels, so you may need to complete 20 or 30 levels just to unlock one perk.

The Verdict

Contra: Operation Galuga is a polished experience that gave me exactly what I want when playing a Contra game: cool weapons, cool bosses and loads of eye-candy action. With three modes (plus an unlockable Speedrun mode), nine playable characters and a bunch of great perks to unlock, this is a run-and-gun action game offering a sizable amount of content. It's great to have this franchise back and it's in good hands with WayForward at the helm.

Final Score: 8/10 - Great

Contra: Operation Galuga details

Platform: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Developer: WayForward
Publisher: Konami
Genre: Run-and-Gun, Action, Platformer
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

A key was provided by the publisher.