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The Original Arcade Shooter Makes a Raucous Return

Sometimes, all you want to do is shoot bad guys with increasingly absurd sci-fi weapons.

Contra Operation Galuga
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Here’s the situation: You, a white guy built by protein powder, are good. You're good, but violence is necessary. See all those metal-encased soldiers forcing you to stare down their barrels, targeting you, wishing you were dead? They are pure evil. They're putting your life at risk. And without any add-on abilities, which you choose before beginning a stage, you only have three lives. Despite your worldly biceps, you can only take about nine total hits until it's GAME OVER.

Konami says that it's “reimagined” the iconic ‘80s run-and-gun arcade series Contra with the 2.5D action game Operation Galuga, but after playing its free demo on Switch, I feel like Operation Galuga keeps things blissfully the same. Sometimes, sameness equates to peace — the serenity of a still lake, the hundred-year-old oak tree providing reliable shade in the park — but, in this case, sameness means Galuga showers your retinas in rainbow gunfire, and you get to soak up a caffeine high the series has been providing for decades via your console of choice. You can save your quarters for later.

With its simple controls (all you do is run and shoot, or sometimes slide, if you feel like it) and undemanding graphics (though they are updated and potato-chip crisp), Operation Galuga feels like an ideal Nintendo Switch game. It'll especially appeal to Switch Online subscribers like me, who love the service's late '80s arcade and NES titles like Balloon Fight and the first Donkey Kong but are hungry for a bigger dinner — more stages, a bigger co-op multiplayer, maybe a campaign option, and so on. Operation Galuga, which is available now on Switch, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and Steam, has enough gristly meat on its bones to satisfy this craving and more.

The title functions as both a remake of 1987's Contra (the first in the series) and as a greatest hits compilation. To this second point, Operation Galuga features memorable mechanics from past games, like the Homing Gun from 1991’s Game Boy title Operation C (which ejects victim-seeking silver missiles) and the wall-scaling ability introduced in 1992’s Contra III: The Alien Wars. It also offers a muscly arcade option that allows up to four co-op players to relive campaign stages. In this game mode, which has an adjustable difficulty level and "danger level" (aka, dying after one shot or many), your goal is to wreak havoc and rack up the most points.

Then again, you're rewarded for both of those things while playing Operation Galuga's main campaign anyway. It's a shooter — toppling over anyone who gets in your way is part of the appeal.

The story specifics aren't as important as the absurd action.


Like the original, Contra Operation Galuga tasks up to two players with saving humanity from aliens with explosives. The mysterious Red Falcon network is posted up on the blue sky, blue water Galuga Archipelago, cooking up gravity weapons. As with other high-stakes arcade games (like Missile Command, for example, in which cities are decimated by neverending bombs) the story specifics aren't as important as the absurd action.

You could use power-ups to turn your heavy metal weapon into a laser gun, or a crackling flamethrower. Or you can "overload" and stress your weapon to release additional effects, like an ability to slow time down into a lazy, dripping faucet. Logic demands skulls. Don't think about it too hard.

The original Contra (1987) still has its charms.


So, yeah, even with its new voice acting and dialogue, is Contra: Operation Galuga the best game for inspiring nuanced morality? Absolutely not. The only female character available to play in the demo, the indigenous "island warrior" Ariana, has nearly half the health of her male counterparts — she can take only two hits per life instead of three. But you're not playing Operation Galuga to find faith in humanity. You're playing it because you want to win.

At least Operation Galuga makes sure that winning takes teamwork and dedication, both virtuous. Some of its levels rely on successful platforming, and it's easier to handle the armored enemies hiding both above and below you with a nice friend. These enemies also make your puny three lives feel as fragile as air, and, though Galuga has a relatively generous checkpoint system, you'll be forced to try, try again before working your way up to an incendiary boss fight.

You're not playing Operation Galuga to find faith in humanity. You're playing it because you want to win.


These are the pleasures of the arcade. The unbelievable, extreme stakes, the eye-roll-worthy storyline, and the endlessly entertaining bullet hell — they're all ridiculous and the product of black-and-white thinking. But they also create an environment where, as bad and bloody as things can get, you feel safe to indulge. It feels so separate from reality. You and your friends can laugh when you die because you both know it isn't permanent. It's just another tropical mountain to climb.

With this in mind, Contra: Operation Galuga seems like a successful reinvention and ode to the arcade. It doesn't challenge the time-honored pleasure of succeeding alongside your friends. It just makes it easy to feel it.

Contra Operation Galuga Is Available For Nintendo Switch, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows.

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