Contra: Operation Galuga (PS5) Review: Blast From the Past

Our review of Contra: Operation Galuga, developed by WayForward. Available now for PS5 (reviewed), PS4, Xbox X/S, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.

Contra: Operation Galuga (PS5) Review: Blast From the Past


A remake/remix of the original NES/arcade run-and-gun game Contra (with a few surprises thrown in).


It is fantastic, though far from perfect.


Anyone looking for a real challenge after all those Soulslikes.

Contra: Operation Galuga (PS5) Review: Blast From the Past


There was a period during undergrad when I could get through the first stage of Contra III: The Alien Wars without looking at the screen.

I honed this skill during endless hours of half-listening to recorded lectures, my facility with the SNES classic inversely correlated with my retention of basic info from Poli. Sci. 101 and Intro to English Lit. I passed those classes, sure, but damn if I didn’t get really really good at Contra.

All these years later, I’d argue The Alien Wars is still the best game in this notoriously difficult series. The first two games, Contra and Super C, were both designed for arcades, and it shows: artificially difficult, they were clearly built to chew through quarters. Contra III, the first console-exclusive entry, was the first in the series to make the challenge fair – you needed to memorize enemy patterns, yes, but once you did, you could get through anything, and feel like a badass while doing so. Subsequent titles did their best to capture the Contra III magic – Contra: Shattered Soldier (2002) and Hard Corps: Uprising (2011) probably coming closest – but none ever quite found that perfect balance of wild action, intense but fair challenge, and lovely graphics.

With that in mind, I approached this year’s Contra: Operation Galuga with some trepidation. Would it live up to the standard of its forebears? Would it be too easy, softened for the Gen-Z masses? Would it be too difficult, trying to capitalize on the popularity of the sadistically tough Souls games like Elden Ring? Would they change the name again to Probotector to appease European censors? (Okay, probably not that last one.)

Happily, my concerns were mostly allayed after only a few hours with the game. After getting over the shock of realizing this is more of a remake than a full-blown sequel, I was pleasantly surprised by just how good, nay, damn good, this game really is. Combining all the bells and whistles of modern gaming with the retro-hardcore flare that comes with the name, Contra: Operation Galuga is one of my favourite games of this very good year for video games so far.

Contra: Operation Galuga (PS5) Review: Blast From the Past


Contra: Operation Galuga (technically, Contra 15) gets a lot of things right straight out of the gate. The gameplay is flawless: whether playing as A̶r̶n̶o̶l̶d̶ S̶c̶h̶w̶a̶r̶z̶e̶n̶e̶g̶g̶e̶r̶ Bill Rizer or S̶y̶l̶v̶e̶s̶t̶e̶r̶ S̶t̶a̶l̶l̶o̶n̶e̶ Lance Bean – or, eventually, some additional unlockable characters – you have immediate access to a bevy of weapons, including the fabled Spread Gun, with which to take on the relentless, screen-filling army of the “Red Falcon” organization.

Levels run the gamut from traditional side-scrollers to epic hoverbike chases and beyond, with much of the level design and enemies borrowed and remixed from earlier games. Some nice innovations, like the ability to double-jump and dash, or upgrade your weapon if you grab two of the same powerup, make it easily the smoothest playing Contra to date.

Conceding, understandably, to modern game design, Contra: OG also includes a host of difficulty modifiers, including the option to switch from the traditional one-hit-kill (as it should be played!) to a longer lasting health meter. The Game Over screen is also less ominous than before, sending you only to the beginning of the current stage, rather than the start of the game.

More importantly, Contra: OG includes “in-universe” perks that can be unlocked by accumulating points during your playthrough. I’ve written before about how much I love in-game difficulty modifiers, which make for a more plausible, guilt-free approach to adjusting the challenge in lieu of the traditional “Easy” toggle. In this case, Contra: OG eventually lets you do things like start a level with your favourite weapon (Spread Gun) equipped, or retain special weapons after you die. And you’re going to need the help: Contra: OG is a beast of a game.

Contra: Operation Galuga (PS5) Review: Blast From the Past


Contra: Operation Galuga is not without its problems. Some are negligible – abysmal voice acting in a game where the plot is irrelevant – while others are intrusive, like the unskippable dialogue sequences which interrupt gameplay, and which you’ll wind up watching dozens if not hundreds of times. (This being the game that basically defined the live. die. repeat. template.)

The enemy design is uniformly great, but what is not great is the way some enemies “enter” from the background or foreground, making it tough to tell what’s a threat, and what’s just background noise. Eventually, you’ll learn through trial-and-error what to fear/ignore, but it’s a degree of visual clutter unwelcome in a game that’s already so tough.

Levels in Contra: OG are also waaaaay too long. In most games, that wouldn’t be a criticism, but Contra is supposed to be short and sweet by design: difficult at first or tenth attempt, but possible to overcome through a combination of memorization and sheer determination. With some of the longest levels I’ve ever encountered in a Contra game (and I’ve played a lot of Contra), it becomes frustratingly common to fail at the last minute, whether due to some unexpected obstacle or a sweaty trigger finger after a too-long sequence.

Oddly, Contra: OG is less visually impressive than several of its predecessors, including the breathtakingly beautiful Xbox 360 title Hard Corps: Uprising and the lovely PS2 entry Shattered Soldier. It’s not ugly, but it’s disappointing that the game fails to take advantage of all the next-gen hardware underpinning it.

All that said, Contra: Operation Galuga is simply a blast to play. Whether it’s cruising down the future superhighway in a Contra III-inspired hoverbike level, or taking down yet another of the series’ enormous multi-stage bosses, the game is top-to-bottom fun.

With optional two-player co-op in Story Mode – and a whopping four players in Arcade Mode – it’s also a game just begging to be played with friends. Get to the chopper!

Final score: 9/10 U,U,D,D,L,R,L,R,B,A,START

Visit the official website for Contra: Operation Galuga here.