Blazing Chrome was not just inspired by Contra and Metal Slug. It is Contra and Metal Slug. It is a near-perfect recreation and continuation of the best old-school 2D run-and-guns. It looks like it could've come out in 1995, and if it had, it probably would've been a hit. I suspected as much when it cropped up in our Indie GIF Showcase (opens in new tab) last year, and after playing it for myself at GDC, I'm convinced it's a rip-snorting beauty that feels more authentic than homage.
I played as "super badass human resistance soldier" Mavra, who teams up with Doyle, a robot soldier who defected from the militant AI regime that now rules the Earth, to kick some shiny metal ass. Like the rest of Blazing Chrome's pleasantly pixelated world, both characters look great. The art is faithful to the 16-bit era and looks fantastic in motion, and Mavra and Doyle benefit from some new-age flair. Their animations are incredibly detailed, from the way they recoil when firing while hanging from a railing to the casings their massive machine guns gleefully spit out. And you've just got to love the way Mavra's long blonde hair sashays in the wind even as she pumps hot lead into the umpteenth DeathMachine 9000.
In other words, the style is unmistakably Contra 3, but the animation is pure Metal Slug.
More importantly, both characters control well. On top of the usual left-right-shoot-jump formula, you can hang from and climb railings, dodge roll to avoid or skillfully i-frame attacks, and adjust the angle of your shots. Trust me when I say Blazing Chrome's level design and enemy placement force you to use every move in your repertoire. It's a tough, fast-paced game, and I learned the hard way that just jumping and shooting isn't good enough. But after getting to know the controls for a few minutes, rolling under an airship's missiles, vaulting up two platforms and firing straight up its tail pipe felt second nature, and felt good.
The railings, in particular, give levels more verticality and variety than older Contra. You do a lot of climbing in Blazing Chrome, and apart from the fact that shooting hordes of robots while nonchalantly hanging by one hand is somehow leaps and bounds more epic, this really opens up exploration. I played Blazing Chrome in co-op with one of the developers, who said they're targeting a Contra-like loot system. In other words, power-ups are powerful and worth searching for, and leap-frogging around railings in a missile silo makes for way better sleuthing than walking slightly to the left.
Most levels also benefit from vehicle sections, which is where Metal Slug's influence shines through. Partway through the level I played, I hopped into some power armor to escort a friendly helicopter, and from what I've seen, there are also promising hoverbike sections. These sections are even better in co-op because you either get two vehicles or another resource to divvy up with the selflessness that only tough-as-nails run-and-guns can inspire. You've got fewer lives left, so you take the power armor. I got the last power-up so you can have this one. I'll take the right, you take the left.
Games like Contra are better with friends because they encourage you to work together or die, and Blazing Chrome does just that.
The boss fights were the high points of my demo. I lost a few lives to a missile drone mini-boss, but my true nemesis was a brass knuckle-brandishing robot cyclops chock-full of bombs. After losing a few runs to him, finally taking him down and watching him explode was a fist-bump-worthy thrill.
I had more fun with Blazing Chrome than most of the games at GDC, and I can't wait to play more. Which will hopefully be soon, assuming JoyMasher can meet the 2018 release date they've set for themselves.