If you’re looking to build on top of an existing gaming classic, you have a few options. You can try to bring that formula into the future, pairing classic presentation with more modern mechanics. Or, you can try to design something from the past, giving players a chance to experience a new retro classic. Both methods have their pros and cons, but the general difference is that modern-minded games tend to be more welcoming to players of all stripes. BLAZING CHROME, the Contra/Metal Slug hybrid from JoyMasher, is staunchly the opposite of that. If you ever loaded up Contra: Hard Corps and complain that it’s too easy, you’re one of the only people who’s ready to blaze some chrome. Whatever that means.
This is nothing new from JoyMasher, the developers of Castlevania-like Odallus: The Dark Call and NES actioner Oniken. The studio’s brand’s focus is creating alternate universe games that come straight from their platform of choice. In combining two of the most hardcore action franchises around, JoyMasher has created a beautiful mash-up with Blazing Chrome. Your enjoyment will depend entirely on having endless reserves of reflexes, skill, and patience. It’s a blast from the past, you’ve just gotta be ready for it.
Blazing Chrome Review | No fate but what we remake
At the end of a future war that has claimed the vast majority of humanity, a lone soldier stands alongside a reprogrammed cyborg. They are tasked with carving a path through the robot army and blow up a vital power plant by any means necessary. So far, so retro. That theme carries into the gameplay, which has your chosen character wielding a basic machine gun to start and picking up one of three more devastating firearms as they venture forward. One hit, whether it be by bullet or an enemy’s touch, sends you to the grave and strips you of an equipped weapon. Lose all your limited lives and you can continue from one of a few checkpoints and try again.
It’s a tried and true set of mechanics, one that was comfortable with because of my familiarity with Blazing Chrome‘s forebears. It’s almost unthinkable that someone would pick this up out of the blue with no prior nostalgic base. There are three difficulty settings to choose from, but even the most forgiving choice poses a significant challenge for someone coming in fresh. In true retro fashion, the game’s tutorial is basically a video that runs through your moves. There’s nowhere to practice and enemies jump in and surround you instantaneously. You’re punished for standing still, and death is the price for even the slightest hesitation. Games usually aren’t this intense nowadays, especially on “easy.”
Blazing Chrome Review | Scanning for hostiles
Despite its arcadey nature (and its hunger for nonexistent quarters), Blazing Chrome is best described as a combat puzzle. Whether you’re a novice or a veteran, alone or with a partner, this is a campaign to master step by step over an hours-long session. Enemies always come at you in the same manner, so you can strive to perfect each encounter. Unfortunately, some of the projectiles can feel a bit unwieldy, leading to what feels like unfair deaths. If that’s another callback to the Genesis days, it’s a job well done. It feels just as frustrating and defeating as it used to.
Blazing Chrome also seems to revel in making players multitask. One boss fight has infinitely spawning goons alongside a multistage worm that shoots acid grenades. A skilled co-op pair can easily take care of these big threats. However, the required juggling for a lone player seems harsh by any measure. In single-player, it sometimes feels like the only way forward is to deposit your lives and keep moving. When the game is already this punishing, it’s not a satisfying trade-off. It genuinely feels like an arcade port gone bad, an LJN-licensed nightmare designed to torture Blockbuster customers of all ages.
Blazing Chrome Review | Living in the past
Of course, that’s all by design. The entirety of Blazing Chrome exists as both a nostalgia piece and a challenge for hardened veterans. From the booming announcer screaming the game’s title to the pair of CRT filters in the options, you feel it immediately when you hit start. The graphics are pixel-perfect, capturing the weird bio-madness and mechanized warfare of its inspirations. The soundscape is all driving chiptunes and tinny voice samples. Everything is optimized to please a very specific niche and no one else.
Even the controls feel tuned in such a fashion, a choice that’s to the game’s detriment. 2D shooters of all stripes have long embraced aiming with the right stick as the preferred method of aiming. That’s not Blazing Chrome‘s style because that’s not how the classics did it. Instead, aiming your gun and moving is all handled on one stick. If you want to precisely knock a flying foe out of the sky, you have to plant your feet and hold down a button. Like everything else, the dedication to the past is impressive, but it is faulty in this one instance. After hours of shooting these guns, it’s easy to want to jump into something a bit more controllable.
Blazing Chrome Review | Retro ramblings
Retro culture is great, but sometimes it’s hard to return to the limitations of the past. Recreations like Blazing Chrome are fun as a novelty, but it’s uncertain if they’ll ever leave a lasting impression when all’s said and done. When you stick so close to the guidelines set by the standards of yesteryear, you overlook obvious improvements from other genres and years of progress. Maybe not every game has to be a stepping stone or an innovation, but there’s another way. It’s possible to capture the early years in a better light, designing an experience that everyone can enjoy and creating the games people remember instead of the games they actually played. In my heart of hearts, that feels like a better path.
Blazing Chrome is an amazing package that does exactly what it sets out to do and is for people who know what they want from it. By the same (arcade) token, it is difficult to recommend to anyone who even begins to question whether it’s a game for them. Beating Blazing Chrome is a badge of honor, the latest test of skill tossed onto a pile of old cartridges. You can spend hours and hours grinding out this handful of stages, experiencing both intense frustration and the rush of victory. In a world where there are so many options for your free time, the thought of grinding away at a game like this just seems insane. But to all the crazy people who disagree and want a throwback like this, I raise my glass.
GameRevolution reviewed Blazing Chrome on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher.