Contra: Hard Corps should be one of the best games on the Genesis. In 1994, only a handful of memorable games were released for the system, and the Genesis could have used the help against the Super Nintendo’s increasing market share.
Hard Corps has some of the most detailed and colorful graphics of any game on the system, along with near perfect controls, interesting level design, and a wide variety of enemies. Everything appears to be in place for this game to become a classic, until you actually play it. Contra: Hard Corps gives Turrican a run for its money as the most needlessly difficult game on the Genesis. The game is virtually unplayable, and I was forced to wonder why in the world Konami would release the game without fixing it.
Then I played the original Japanese version, which cleared things up. Originally, the player had a life bar which allowed for three hits before death, while the US and PAL versions use 1-hit deaths. To put things into perspective, this is equivalent to the Japanese version starting the player off with 9 lives per game instead of three, or 45 lives instead of 15 over the course of the allowed 5 continues. While still challenging, the life bar makes the game infinitely more playable. As it stands, the game is only really playable either by using cheat codes or by adopting a monk-like existence wherein you play this game 16 hours per day until you have mastered it. Supposedly, for a time in the 90s Japanese game companies were making games more difficult when localizing them for American audiences in order to discourage game rentals, which were illegal in Japan.
A more “hardcore” player than myself would argue that the game is just very challenging and requires more practice, but there is a fine line between being challenging and being difficult purely for its own sake. Contra: Hard Corps is unbalanced to the point of being unenjoyable.