Be Quick or be Dead
While observing the major events of past decades, you can detect a dialectical pattern in the way things play out. The 40’s were a time of Depression and War, with the 50’s being seen as an era of Stabilization and Growth. The 60’s could be defined as a time of Change and Progression, with the 70’s being summarized as a tumultuous time in response to a majority population coming to terms with that progress. With this in mind, what would one see when examining the Zeitgeist of the 80’s? This time of Fast Cars, Action films, and Hair Metal Bands. And, of course, Video Games.
As a newer medium of entertainment, they would naturally emulate and mirror movies such as Commando, Aliens, and Rambo. Resulting games like Contra, Ikari Warriors, and Turrican would give fans of action a more interactive experience, and proved to be incredibly ppoular. While it is true that these games fell out of style in the late 90s and after due to the proliferation of 3D Games, dialectical examinations teach us that nothing ever truly vanishes. Instead, they merely wait for a time when nostalgic yearnings enable them to return, similar yet also changed. What form would such a game take, drawing not only on the original film and game inspirations, but also on three decades worth of refinements and ideas that have been introduced collectively by an industry always in motion?
Blazing Chrome answers that question in a bombastic throwback to 80’s action sensibilities that will leave fans of the genre yearning for more. Combining ideas and gameplay from a variety of the best run-and-guns through the ages as well as bringing it’s own ideas to the table, it’s a wonderful time capsule. It also represents some of the best things about the Indie gaming scene. Namely that gamers have figured out that even if the industry is no longer interested in genres you are passionate about, that we can just do it ourselves in the space they conveniently left for us.
It’s not an exaggeration to say the Contra is my childhood. My first video game system was a used NES, coming with a box of games that included Mario/Duck Hunt, Contra, Black Bass, Defender 2, Super Pitfall, ExciteBike, Baseball, and Contra. Though my favorite game was always going to be Mario, Contra was a close 2nd. Watching my Dad playing this game and later joining in using the now famous Konami Code are memories I still hold fondly to this day.
My next systems were SEGA Genesis and SNES. Again some of my favorite games were run-and-guns. Games like Mega Turrican and Gunstar Heroes introduced me to mechanics outside of Contra, and I enjoyed both immensely. Then I played Contra 3; to this day it is one of my favorite games to just pick up and go, delivering one of the tightest arcade-style experiences you can get. Sadly by the time the next generation of consoles showed up, developer attention turned to 3D Games. With the new emphasis being of First person Shooters and 3D Platformers, and the efforts like Contra: Legacy of War being….painful, I began to move on from this style of game, forced out by a lack of viable options.
Years later, with the birth of the Indie scene, a plethora of genres forgotten by a progress-obsessed game industry began to come out of hibernation to the excitement of many gamers, myself among them. Even more hype-inducing was the prospect of these games getting physical releases thanks to the efforts of small limited-edition publishers like LimitedRunGames. Blazing Chrome was among the ones that I was most excited about, and from the moment I first heard about it I knew that if it received a physical release I would have to get it. Sure enough, not long after it’s release it was announced for $34.99. I bit immediately, and when it arrived the box went on the shelf, the cart went into the Dacckit, and it awaited it’s turn as I burned through my backlog.
That time is now; I suited up and prepared for the mission.
In Search Of The Last Action Heroes
Blazing Chrome wears it’s inspirations on it’s cutoff sleeves. Sometime in the future, the development of a supercomputer led to the decimation of the human race. As the machines became stronger and began to produce biological weapons as well as more combat robots, humanity began to fight back. You are one of two commandos on a mission to infiltrate and shut down the core of this AI in order to take the planet back for team Homo Sapiens. It’s a barebones premise to let you know the high stakes you are fighting for.
Every action epic needs a Hero, and this one has two that you can play as from the get-go. Mavra is a Human resistance fighter, and Doyle is a reprogrammed combat robot. From what I can tell they both functionally play the same, with each having the ability to jump, go prone, roll, and shoot (melee when the baddies get close). Both have access to a plethora of powerups and guns that can be found in supply drops as the stages progress. In addition to your default Machine Gun, There is an arcing Grenade Launcher, a charging single-fire Laser Rifle, and an Energy Whip what operates like a flamethrower, heaping on constant damage. There are also pickups like a Double Jump that increases maneuverability, An assault Drone that doubles your firepower, and an energy shield that allows you to eat an attack.
You’ll need all of it. Blazing Chrome is a hard game. enemies are numerous and aggressive, and on higher difficulties can make short work of even the most seasoned action star. Which is why the lessons learned from other Run-and -Guns come into play so effectively here. Each player has the ability to switch between the four guns on the fly, provided that they have collected them from a supply drop. Your default gun is now auto fire, and you can also aim in all 8 cardinal directions, with a button to anchor in Place while you do so. This means the only tricky shot is the one straight down below you. Checkpoints are also numerous, giving you an allotted number lives to reach it depending on what difficulty was chosen. It takes elements from games across the genre and distills them down to their essence for a challenging but fair excursion.
The Enemy That Defines Us
The campaign takes place across 6 missions, 4 of which are selectable from the beginning ala Gunstar Heroes. Each mission has a simple description of it’s objective and an accompanying difficulty rating. Once selected you will immediately be thrown into combat against a variety of Machines and biological mutants out to finish you for good. Enemy variety is consistent but not overwhelming, and generally fit in with the scenario at hand. expect to see Robotic Warriors in defense of the Communications Tower, Mutant Experiments at the Bioweapons facility, and a variety of berserkers and infantry robots in the City Siege.
Each mission also has a number of set-pieces and hazards that will also factor into your run. From crumbling floors and platforms to quicksand that you slowly sink into, the environment themselves also offer an obstacle to fulfilling your objectives. The game also serves as a greatest hits compilation of awesome moments from past run-and-guns. There are over the shoulder straight on gauntlets ala Contra 1, Speedbikes and Mechs from Metal Slug, and an innovative jetpack sequence that is all their own thrown in for good measure. These are conservatively interspersed between the standard fare and show up just enough to keep the pacing feeling brisk and efficient.
A modern game like this would also be lackluster without a stellar group of boss encounters, and in this instance, Blazing Chrome does not disappoint, either. Bosses are doled out several times throughout each mission, in a manner reminiscent of Alien Soldier and Contra: Hard Corps. Many of these bosses also have multiple moving parts that can be targeted to remove a dangerous weapon from it’s arsenal as well, giving the player some choice in how to engage each encounter. Each fight also has relevance to the scenario at hand. You will fight the tentacles of the Biomonster on the surface prior to going underground to fight the body itself. Units rain from the sky from the final carrier you will fight at the end of the train stage. These battles provide an explanation as to the problems you have faced and give a great sendoff to each stage.
The Art Of War
I can’t say enough about the graphical direction chosen for this game. JoyMasher nailed it, providing a 2D Graphical style with depth and shadowing that give a lot of character to this technological apocalypse. There are a lot of details in the multilayered background that gives the game a real sense of motion as you trek through these missions. The Straight-On, Over the shoulder segments are well done and provide some interesting uses of the game’s engine, in particular a late game segment that I was honestly blown away by. All in all, nothing but praise here.
It will also rock your socks off in the audio department. This is an 80’s-Style soundscape that is equal parts Mega Man and Contra, and was really impressed with how well it synergized with the pacing and mood of the game. Equal parts upbeat and desperate, it drives you forward with a sense of urgency, with my particular favorites being the Communication Tower and Train mission tracks. In terms of sound effects they do their jobs admirably, and synch well with the onscreen action. The detonation of enemy robots and sounds coming from both friendly and enemy fire do not detract from the game.
in regards to performance, the game was smooth, and I did not notice any hiccups in either 1 or 2 player mode. In fact, the only thing I can say in critique of the game is that I never really understood the utility of the roll ( In fact it actively killed me on a few occasions), and that I wanted more of it. Once you complete Blazing Chrome, there is more to do in what is certain to be at least one more playthrough. Outside the unlocking of a Hardcore difficulty, which challenges you to complete the game with less lives, limited continues, and more numerous and aggressive enemies, you’ll also gain access to 2 additional characters. These are melee-oriented, changing the way you will engage the enemy. There is also a mirror mode that flips the levels in a fun way, adding further challenge. While the replay value is high, it must also be kept in mind that at the time of writing, Blazing Chrome is an expensive package, and that at the time of this writing I could not find a copy for sale for less than $110.00. Proof of the games quality, but also of the limitations of limited physical releases.
Putting Down the (Run And) Gun
In recent years, Konami has been one of the most disappointing studios in the world, squandering the potential of their franchises or ignoring them completely. In the case of Contra, one of the legendary inspirations responsible for the existence of blazing Chrome, they chose to put the utterly Putrid Contra: Rogue Corps the same year, showing not only that they do not care about the fans or IP, but also that no amount of begging or competition will alter their behavior.
And that is fine. Konami may own Contra, but they do not own the Run-and-Gun. When a genre outgrows a particular franchise, sometimes the right thing to do is say goodbye. Konami’s lack of care can never take the memories I have of prior entries, and cannot prevent talented developers like JoyMashers from making more. As I tore through the robotic hordes in 2-player with my Dad, I can’t help but think that we are in the middle of making the second batch. Though I wanted more, If I’m being honest I can understand that Blazing Chrome is a game that respects my time, and will always be waiting for me when I come back, which I will. It’s a hell of a good time.