A Pixel-Perfect Love Letter To The Contra Series
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And when it comes to Blazing Chrome, it’s plain to see that the fine folks at indie studio JoyMasher have nothing but love for the Contra series. Featuring gritty and detailed sprites, screen-filling bosses, and fast and frantic gameplay, it’s a near pixel-perfect homage to Konami’s beloved run-and-gun franchise that would look right at home on the Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo. But while Blazing Chrome most certainly nails its 16-bit presentation, does it do enough to satisfy combat-starved veterans of The Alien Wars? Well, soldier, lace up your combat boots and lock and load as we prepare to party like it’s 1995.
Blazing Chrome’s story takes place two decades after an army of AI-controlled robots has beaten humanity nearly to extinction. You control either Mavra, a human resistance fighter, or Doyle, a repurposed robotic commando as you attempt to put an end to the machine’s tyrannical, mechanical reign. Of course, the story isn’t what’s important here. The only thing that matters is kicking robot ass with extreme prejudice. Thankfully, this dynamic duo is more than up to the task.
Controlling your commando feels great in Blazing Chrome. You can aim your weapons in 8 directions, much like the aforementioned Contra. And you even have a handy combat roll that’s executed by pressing down and the jump button simultaneously that can get you out of tight situations. While you always have your trusty machine gun, as you blast your way through each stage, you’ll collect more powerful weapons. These weapons include an energy whip that functions like Simon Belmont’s whip in Super Castlevania IV, a grenade launcher that can blow waves of enemies to bits, and a slow to charge yet incredibly powerful laser beam that can reduce even the nastiest bosses to scrap metal.
After you collect a weapon, it’s added instantly to your inventory, and you can stockpile one of each type. However, if you die with any of these but the machine gun equipped you’ll lose it when you respawn. This made me frequently switch back to my default weapon type when the action got hot and heavy so that I wouldn’t lose my more powerful weapons when I died. It’s a feature that makes sense, though I have to admit it made me utilize the more exciting weapons less often than I could have because I didn’t want to lose them before tackling any of Blazing Chrome’s challenging bosses.
In addition to these weapons, you’ll find capsules throughout each stage that include options which award you various bonuses. These come in three varieties; Attack, which fires a steady stream of machine-gun fire, doubling your firepower; Speed, which allows you to run faster, roll further, and even perform a double jump which is super handy for reaching hidden extra lives; and lastly, Defense, which deploys two drones which can absorb two attacks before leaving your vulnerable. While all of these are handy, I found myself always going for the Defense drones. This is because they effectively give you two extra lives – a must when it comes to some of the game’s more punishing boss fights.
Going Down In A Blaze Of Glory
Blazing Chrome‘s campaign features five stages. Four of which can be played in any order, and completing them will unlock the game’s final area. They’re all a blast to play and feature plenty of visual variety and new mechanics to keep things interesting.
The game’s first stage is a war-ravaged city that’s teeming with mutants and murderous robots. Honestly, it looks and feels lifted straight from Contra III: The Alien Wars, and serves as the perfect introduction to Blazing Chrome’s run-and-gun action. The second stage switches things up a bit. Here, you’ll cruise atop a nimble hoverbike (seriously, what 90’s-inspired game doesn’t have hoverbikes?) as you pursue a speeding train. Honestly, it feels quite a bit like the surfing stage from Shinobi III on the Genesis, as enemies appear in the background before advancing to the foreground to ambush the player. The latter half is a frenzied fight atop the speeding locomotive before a daring battle atop the engine.
The game’s third stage takes place against the backdrop of a haunting desert. Sandworms pursue you constantly, while poor saps in the background struggle to avoid sinking to their deaths beneath the churching dunes. While the fourth and most challenging of the game’s initial four stages begins with a marathon platforming section and ends with the player raiding a command tower that’s bristling with gun emplacements and hordes of mutant monstrosities.
While five stages admittedly isn’t a lot – even by old school standards – the ones featured in Blazing Chrome are well designed and manage to keep things exciting. They even have frequent nods to other games of the 16-bit era that will surely please all of you old school gamers out there. For example, one mid-boss is a clear reference to the pyramid stage boss from Metal Slug 2 and X as it chases you through narrow shaft, firing massive beams of energy. Speaking of Metal Slug, you’ll find several mechs over the course of the game with varying abilities that you can commandeer, much like the series’ super vehicles.
My favorite of these homages is a Space Harrier style behind-the-back shooter segment. In it, you navigate through dangerous tunnels lined with turrets, narrow passages, and electric barriers. It’s an exciting stage that showcases plenty of scaling sprites and cool pseudo-3D effects which, while impressive, look like they could have been entirely possible on the Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis. Again, I absolutely love the way JoyMasher managed to make the game feel like a real remnant of the 16-bit era. Blazing Chrome is, without question, the game we all deserved to play in 1994.
Pure Blast Processing
When it comes to its presentation, Blazing Chrome is a real treat. The game features gritty and detailed character and enemy sprites that are just oozing with personality. The animations are smooth and stylish, and effects are flashy without feeling like they couldn’t have been done on real 16-bit hardware. I especially love the copious amounts of parallax scrolling in the backgrounds, and the way enemies scale from the background to the foreground to ambush the player. It’s really cool stuff, and I often had to stop and admire the little details before storming ahead to the next firefight. And, as you’d expect, the game runs without a hitch, even when dozens of enemies and bullets are on screen.
The music and sound effects are also top-notch. Each gun sounds like it packs a satisfying punch, and explosions feature plenty of bass to accompany the on-screen chaos. Each stage also features some pumping and often atmospheric music that fits the action perfectly and is sure to get your pulse pounding. To my surprise, the credits theme even features the work of retro wave sensation KRISTINE, who also lent her talents to Friday the 13th: The Game. As I said, developer JoyMasher has taken Blazing Chrome’s modern retro aesthetic very seriously. And without a doubt, the game is all the better for it.
Soothing Salve For An Itchy Trigger Finger
With only five levels to blast your way through, Blazing Chrome is a pretty quick burn. However, once you beat the game, you do unlock a handful of bonuses. And they do manage to add some meat to the overall package. These extras include two new playable characters. One is a badass shinobi who handles a bit like Strider. He fights with a sword and can charge it up to unleash a deadly wave of energy. The other unlockable character is a tough-as-nails female marine who uses bare-knuckle tactics and a sonic boom-like attack to pummel her foes. Neither of these two characters can pick up new weapons, which makes them a bit better suited for advanced players. But man, they sure are fun to play as and bring their own unique and powerful tricks to the table.
In addition to these new characters, beating the game also unlocks a thrilling Boss Rush Mode. Here, you’re thrown into an arena and forced to tackle each of the game’s mid-bosses and big baddies consecutively. If that’s not enough, beating the game also unlocks a mirror mode which tasks you with playing through each of the game’s stages backward. Add to this a gut-punching Hardcore Mode, which pares down your lives and credits to the bare minimum while removing support capsules and saves and you have a mode that should keep you coming back for more long after your initial playthrough.
Without question, modern retro-style games have been a bit of a fad over the past few years. However, few studios have managed to do what JoyMasher has done with Blazing Chrome. That said, if you’re a fan of the run-and-gun genre, then there’s no excuse. You need this modern-day masterpiece in your life. Just buy it. You’ll thank me later.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One; Publisher: Arcade Crew; Developer: JoyMasher; Players: 1-2; Released: July 11, 2019; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $16.99
Full disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher.