Contra: Operation Galuga Review – The run-‘n’-gun is back!

Reviewed March 31, 2024 on PS5


PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X|S


March 12, 2024





I’ve been around the block and then some with games at this point. No matter the genre or the experience, as long as it provides hours of fun and the goods then I’m there. One of my big gaps of knowledge in the gaming world, however, has always been run-‘n’-gunners and, more specifically the one to start it all, Contra. With the recently released Contra: Operation Galuga, a modern remake of the very original ’87 game, what better opportunity?

A handful of hours and many, many in-game deaths later, I’ve finally conquered my first Contra game and have walked away thoroughly impressed, itching for more.

Contra: Operation Galuga was developed by Shantae creators WayForward, one of the longest-standing studios known for their 2D action experiences. This also isn’t their first rodeo with the franchise, having developed Contra 4 for the Nintendo DS back in 2007. Simply put, if you want a difficult 2D action platformer with that trademark retro-style deliberate stiff platforming, WayForward is your team. Publisher Konami did well to entrust this effort to the developer, something that has paid off exponentially because oh boy is Operation Galuga fun to play.

As you’d maybe expect, the game is a little light on story. The islands of Galuga, located off the coast of New Zealand have been taken by an evil terrorist organisation known as Red Falcon. It’s your duty as the oh-so-patriotic Contra operative to work your way across eight stages, fighting back for control. The journey, of course, becomes more complicated with allies joining your side, alien monster threats overrunning your every step and explosions. Yada yada. You get it. The story’s neither here nor there, you probably already know that.

At least the character profiles are always striking. Each individual is distinguished, whether that’s the shirtless smoke show that is Lance Bean, the blonde muscle-tee-wearing brute known as Bill or the wicked cool enigmatic agent Lucia. Cutscenes often happen above the real action in a visual novel fashion, highlighting these profiles. I only wish the hud and font of the dialogue were a little more exciting. Simple touches and flourishes would’ve livened it up a bit and maybe resulted in making me more invested in the narrative. It is about as bland as bland comes, a symptom of a lot of modern AAA games. It’s hard coming off the back of an indie game like Death of a Wish, where all visual design (even HUD) feels full of purpose and flair… to this.

I digress. Contra: Operation Galuga is an incredibly fun game. The eight stages are stacked with setpieces such as following a speeding train, working through the insides of an alien hive, and a biker chase through a science facility. As is tradition, the name of the game is all in avoiding munitions and projectiles and colliding with enemies, something that can become very hectic as your screen gets overpopulated. Sometimes, keeping a clear mind and patience isn’t even enough just because of how damn tough the thing is. Depending on your difficulty settings of choice, your lives for a given level can be very limited and you can even opt into a one-hit-kill difficulty for yourself rather than a health gauge that takes multiple hits.

It’s here that naturally Operation Galuga lends itself to replayability in several ways. You’ll die many times and replay levels many times as you do the Contra mantra of learning a level, threading gaps between projectiles and nailing that platforming just right. As someone very Souls-brained, this learning of patterns came quite naturally to me and it was super refreshing to implement it in a new fashion and new perspective. Replayability will also come in the form of grinding it all out, and working towards valuable perks in the perk shop. As you complete a level in the Story Mode, you’ll note you are unlocking credits. Though only small amounts. Where you’ll truly earn credits tenfold is in the Challenge Mode (a series of bite-sized challenge levels with preset conditions) or Arcade Mode, which is all about running through all the previously unlocked levels seamlessly in one go until you run out of lives and hit Game Over. The faster you work through this and the longer you last, the higher you’ll score, even scoring credits in the thousands in one go.

These perks you’re upgrading are incredibly valuable, adding to your maximum lives or hitpoints before you lose a life. There’s the ability to bolster each character’s preset abilities, meaning an upgraded dash with Bill will grant brief windows of invulnerability. That’s an essential perk if I do say so myself. Even if you’re a seasoned Contra pro and you won’t need these perks to get you across the line, they’re also just valuable and new means of refreshing the gameplay for the series. This is something I imagine these fans will welcome in addition to the over-familiar but warm decades-old formula.

Otherwise, Contra: Operation Galuga is all about your skill and using the devices at hand. As you go along, you’re shooting down air drops in the sky that contain new weapons to pick up. Pick up two of the same type of weapon and you’ll get an upgraded version of said weapon. Suddenly the laser gun I’m firing has bullets that bounce between enemies close to one another. While in possession of one of these special weapons, players can hold down the left trigger on a controller to ‘Overload’ their weapons which will often let out a powerful attack or buffs. For instance, the laser gun’s overload slows time so you get more breathing room, and the flamethrower offers a small shield you place in front of where you’re aiming. Meanwhile, the shotgun just lets out a large blast that fills the screen with projectiles to hit any and all enemies. Extremely overpowered, this one.

These sets of weapons are both new and old and, with the addition of the overload ability, this will reinvent the game in good ways and heavily be part of your playstyle. What will also be part of the way you shape how you play is the cast’s different abilities. If you find yourself more inclined to go the higher lane of enemy traffic in combat, often sticking to the ceiling, then you’ll want to main Lucia. She has a grapple hook to pull herself up to directly above platforms will be a good go for getting out of hairy situations in a pinch.

“…Operation Galuga lends itself to replayability in a number of ways.”

Even with all this considered, Contra is, of course, a tough franchise. I got through with small obstacles to overcome up until about the sixth or seventh level, where I hit this hard roadblock in difficulty. I’ll admit that I resorted to entering the good old Konami Code on the main menu, unlocking the ability to go into a level with 30 lives once you purchase this perk from the shop. This took some work grinding the credits to get, which got slightly tiresome, though it was worth it. With this, I saw through my first Contra game and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Yes, there are thrilling boss fights, whether it is a mutant giant that is barreling towards you, or a ginormous centipede-like alien following you along some train tracks. These are good tests in skill but what feels like the final boss of Operation Galuga are these challenge levels. They truly require intimate knowledge of a given character’s animations and abilities and how to bend those to your will, as well as the use of great skill and accuracy. There are speedrunning missions that request you reach the end goal within a time limit without getting hit, requiring a lot of precise dodging and jumping. Boss fights in this challenge mode give you limited ammunition, meaning you need to make sure every. Bullet. Counts. If you want to prove your Contra skills and be put through the wringer, I cannot emphasise enough how superb these sets of levels are for that.

Though my campaign runtime was a little shy of 3 hours as per the saved time for each level, my time with the entirety of Contra: Operation Galuga was probably closer to five. This is due to the trial-and-error process of learning the game intimately and grinding out for credits and unlockables. Already I would do similar feats in games like roguelikes or Souls games, grinding out to just be that little bit more powerful and knowledgeable, however, those hours required run into the dozens count. To get all of that in a smaller experience that still feels very complete… I’m a little in awe. Contra: Operation Galuga feels well worth the investment and you get out just as much as you put in.




  • Contra as you know and love it, but refined
  • Endlessly replayable
  • Overload and perk shop mechanics are very useful and a good saving grace
  • Challenge levels are incredible gauntlets of abilitity testing


  • Story is neither here nor there
  • HUD is a little dull

I’m so glad Konami are in the business of publishing good video games again. Entrusting the Contra franchise to WayForward for Operation Galuga was an incredibly smart decision, resulting in a thoroughly replayable and enriching return to the grandfather of the run-‘n’-gun franchise. There is so much fun to be had learning levels, dying and grinding it out as you become familiar with level design patterns and weapon skills. Challenge levels are also fantastic gauntlets that’ll make any seasoned Contra player sweat. Though the story is neither here nor there and the HUD driving it is a bit barebones, none of that gets in the way of the romping and stomping good time you’ll have fighting for liberty and taking it to the alien threat once more. Contra is back.