Contra: Operation Galuga Review

March 16, 2024

Contra is a name that old-school game fans will fondly remember as one of the defining action series, from the challenge and fluidity of the first game on the NES, to Contra III‘s upgrades to the formula which have since become mainstays. However, for all its fame, Contra hasn’t necessarily seen all that many releases, particularly in the last decade or so, with only a prequel and an odd top-down variation. Contra: Operation Galuga is a re-imagining of sorts of the original Contra game from WayForward, returning to the side-scrolling run-and-gunning gameplay the series is known for, while still retaining many of the more successful elements of the sequels. Clearly geared towards those same older fans who can remember those original Contra titles, Operation Galuga feels like a oversized dose of 80’s nostalgia.

The set-up is more or less what you would expect from Contra – special forces operatives Lance and Bill are sent in to Galuga island to fight the terrorist Red Falcon army, after a strange meteor shower also imbues the area with gravitational anomalies. Of course, they’ll discover it’s not just soldiers they’ll have to contend with but monsters, strange genetic abominations and giant aliens, which should all be familiar to Contra stalwarts. What’s new is the very Predator/overt 80’s action movie aesthetic that’s been draped over the entire show, with even more over-muscled heroes and cheesy action lines, spread amongst the new cutscenes which explain the plot in more detail than we’ve really seen before in Contra.

The game’s story mode starts you off with Bill and Lance, but there are more characters on the roster, including Lucia, Stanley Ironside, Brad Fang and more. Each have their own unique abilities, which are more geared towards repeated playthroughs in Arcade mode, but I generally stuck with Lance as his useful dodge made some of the tricky platforming much easier (although it does have to be re-mapped to a shoulder button to make it actually useful, by default its face button mapping feels clunky).

There’s a selection of weapons that you can shoot essentially 360 degrees (provided you hold down a trigger to keep your character steady), and your character can hold two at a time, and is even able to power them up into impressively powerful forms. Weapons are frequently found and are just as frequently hazards in their own right, especially if you’ve found one you’ve been reliably using for most of the level, only to accidentally pick up a new one and drop your current gun off-screen. There’s strategy involved in knowing which weapons to keep and which to stay away from, with useful weapons including the reliable spread gun, the easy-to-use homing missiles and the black-hole generating crush gun. WayForward do attempt to encourage you to change up your weapons more frequently with a mechanic that lets you sacrifice your current weapon for a unique temporary power boost. For instance, overloading and sacrificing your current gun might give you a shield or a sudden burst of fire that can get you out of a jam. However, these brief boosts often seem too risky to rely upon, and I never really found myself using the mechanic all that often unless I was genuinely in a hopeless situation.

In accordance with its roots, Contra: Operation Galuga can be tough as nails, and while early levels are relatively breezy, the challenge soon sets in where you’ll not only need to memorise level layouts but plan your weapons accordingly. In single player, this can be a bit of a slog, particularly as you replay sections of levels over and over again, and even with a few checkpoints thrown into the Story mode levels. However, the best way to play Operation Galuga is with co-op, where you’re able to rely on your companion to tackle different areas of the screen, and bounce off them to take down different parts of a boss. In the additional Arcade mode, you can even play with 4 players, and it’s clearly where the game’s replayability is meant to lie, as even with its difficulty the main story is quite brief with only eight stages.

Contra mixes up its gameplay at times with some hoverbike levels, but otherwise doesn’t take too many risks with its oeuvre of locations. There’s a brief section where your heroes are obscured through crystals, meaning you have to estimate their positions based on a warped view, which is a cute idea, but the game is mostly concerned with presenting an authentic (if modernised) take on the Contra formula, and your mileage will vary depending on your own connection with that style.

With a mate and a few hours to kill, Operation Galuga is a welcome return to the gameplay style that gained the franchise a legion of dedicated followers, replete with a nostalgic aesthetic and a good amount of cheese. As a single player experience, it’s less compelling, and its longevity heavily relies on how much you enjoyed the main game to replay its highlights with different characters in the Arcade and Challenge modes. While this is geared as a way to bring new fans into the fold, I almost feel like the Contra Anniversary Collection might be a better (and cheaper) place to start, as it gives players a broader view of how the Contra series has evolved and whether they’ll like the tough shooting challenge. However, I’m sure plenty of those old-school Contra true believers will find an enjoyable throwback here, that hopefully serves as a platform for further advancement of the franchise in the future.

This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher for PlayStation 5.


-A blast in co-op multiplayer, where the difficulty is mitigated with teamwork
-Potential for replayability with additional characters
-Some interesting ideas, like sacrificing weapons for power-ups


-More of a difficult slog when played in single player, particularly if your Contra skills are rusty
-A relatively risk-free throwback
-Brief overall campaign

Overall Score: