Joymasher's Blazing Chrome is a retraux action game which seeks to woo Contra aficionados with its challenging run-and-gun pixelated gameplay.
It walks like a duck and talks like a duck, and even sits squarely on modern hardware like a proud retro duck in glowing 16-bit pixels. Blazing Chrome is a clear example of SNES-level-tech run-and-guns done fairly, but how far does it push the genre past a straightforward representation of it? It may not be a classic upgraded past the breaking point into something new, but there’s little that so flagrantly evokes a time and genre and era, other than, perhaps, the Nintendo DS sleeper-hit Contra 4.
This game releases a good 12 years since that lesser-played sequel, bereft of franchise allegiances while carrying a kind of infectious devotion to its hard-as-nails, precision-based ethos. While neither whittled down to its essential parts nor excelling past its forebearers, Blazing Chrome is a worthwhile throwback action game that will please some diehard fans, though the complete package can’t help but feel somewhat slight and ornery by the time you’re finished with it.
Meet Mavra and Doyle — a human and robot soldier, respectively, both of whom perform identically in play—and attempt a run through four immediately available missions. Each of these missions consist of several discreet stages, with many ending in a type of protracted mini-boss encounter, along with a final-exam-like, formal boss at the end. Successfully completing all four missions (which includes a traumatic Battletoads-like racing portion) reveals a fifth, after which a final sixth mission stands between you and victory.
The basic starter characters echo the Contra games which Blazing Chrome obviously admires, though it’s arguably the SNES run-and-gun masterpiece Contra III: The Alien Wars is the one most fiercely captured with adoration. That means that the first mission includes jumping on wrecked cars, grappling across rails, and a perpetually burning city fallen prey to a techno-alien menace’s onslaught continuously stirring in the parallax-scrolling background. The narrative is pleasantly disposable, never getting in the way of the real action, with visuals that draw from memorable 80s classics like The Terminator and The Last Starfighter for a kitschy, theatrically-posturing nostalgic appeal, along with a satisfyingly crunchy and constant low-bit soundtrack. All the pieces are there, and screenshots of the game seem tailor-made to tickle the desires of anyone old enough to remember smoke-filled dimly-lit arcades.
Blazing Chrome doesn’t choke the landing by failing to hit the checklists of the games it clearly loves; rather, in 2019, it’s somewhat discomfiting to imagine that any younger gamers will draw as much satisfaction and compliance to its dated standard. Retro-allegiances aside, the game never quite reaches the heights of something like Contra III, or even the enjoyable follow-up Contra ReBirth, ten years old at the time of this writing. It’s hardly fair to simply rub the game’s nose in its classics or passionate sequels but, in 2019, a rank-and-file experience with little in the way of bells and whistles can’t help but feel lesser than that older hardware and software, unless it brings something vibrant to the fold that enlivens this rare genre. Koji Igarashi tried to outdo the standard he established decades ago, while Blazing Chrome never gets close to the highest watermarks of a once-ubiquitous genre.
Playing the original Contra — either in its original arcade manifestation or NES adaptation — certainly brings its stumbles to the forefront. Now, though, players might want something more exciting than bite-size levels with funneling enemies, most of which are happy to kill you immediately with one stray hit. The basic mechanics of running, jumping, shooting, and melee-ing enemies never feels completely precise, with slight delays encountered upon landing from a jump that can completely upend a given playthrough. That’s because special weapons and droid pickups get removed upon death, adding what feels like an unintentional “snowballing” effect that can ruthlessly render a run a success or failure. Overpowered weapons that require skill to aim like the grenade launcher feel satisfying enough to use, but losing one moments before a boss might determine whether a mission will be completed or not. Modern conveniences like an instant level-restart are nowhere to be found, and later missions punish clumsiness in this respect; it’s not uncommon to just sit at a later stage mission checkpoint, letting enemies slaughter your remaining lives to effectively start over. In practice, elements like this are no less than an outright shame.
Completing all six missions unlocks new male and female character types for selection, and they’re definitely good ones. Raijin and Suhaila are clear references to another arcade classic, Strider, and add a mechanically-worthy reason to return to the game for another go-round. Shifting the priority of distance-based projectile weapons to a satisfying wavy melee works out in the game’s favor, though it’s disappointing that the same weapon pickups don’t affect these characters’ offensive capabilities at all. This can’t help but feel like a cut corner in a game that, although it would be easily heralded as a classic 30 years ago, struggles to feel vital and warts-free within the current gaming era.
It all amounts to Blazing Chrome being a decent follow-up to a bygone genre. Its pixel art and animation will satisfy retro-enthusiasts looking out for this lesser-served type of experience, and there’s minimal investment required to jump right in and experience some accessible arcade action. What’s troubling is that it pales in comparison to decades-old titles, and it’s frustrating that areas where it might have excelled, given the potential lessons learned — aspects like weapon selection, characters, gameplay, and combat variety — it simply results in passing marks instead of straight As. It’s an absorbing diversion for a rarely-made style of game these days, but Blazing Chrome should’ve shot for the stars instead of just meeting its inspirations head-on.
Blazing Chrome is out now for $16.99 on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Steam. A digital copy for Nintendo Switch was provided to Screen Rant for purposes of review.