Monday, 6 January 2014

R-Type



Continuing with the theme of shooters, from last review, this time I thought I'd carry on with the scrolling shoot-em-ups and tackle something a little more recognised in the gaming world. Let's see if you can guess it before I finish this para-RTYPE-graph, no? You failed and I never said I was going to play fairly either.

R-Type was released in arcades back in July 1987, and eventually ported to almost every possible platform imaginable ranging from the ZX Spectrum up to modern day remakes on the Xbox Live Arcade delivery platform, R-Type was a different model of game compared to the 1985 release of Gradius (another side scrolling shooty space shippy game, which will be reviewed later).

Taking the rather simple idea of Spaceship on the left, moving right, shoot everything that moves and some things that don't move, kill boss, cheer and look embarrassed when the bigger people look over at you playing the arcade, rinse and repeat method. R-Type added a few things that most games up to that point hadn't really done, the most iconic of which were the charge shot and the "force" pod. The charge shot being where you held the fire button, charged up a large shot and released a big blast of sprite-damage towards your enemies and often took out most of them, and some of the bigger ones as well, in one go. While the Force pod was the indestructible (not always impenetrable) shield/weapon add-on that could be affixed to the front of the ship, the rear of the ship to shoot backwards, or launched off to cause remote damage to enemies.

This alone led to many different ways of playing the game and forcing people to play the game. Weapons themselves could be from bouncing lasers, spiralling helix-style lasers, floor and ceiling sweeping flame throwers and additional pods for protection and firepower that would hover above and below the player's craft, to the missiles and bombs that would drop automatically when firing. The dynamics meant that there's multiple ways to attack the enemies and some of course would be better than others, depending upon the level and the deviousness of the designers.

Yes you will die. Yes you will have to learn and pumping in credits is NO cure as you're moved back to various start/checkpoints rather than just going straight back in where you died. Oh and all your power ups are GONE. Which is a real bitch as the first weapon power up gives you the Force pod with no powers, regardless of the situation and subsequent pods deliver the build up of firepower for the respective different weapon types.

And you're as slow as a snail on dope, again.

Game mechanics aside, the game itself is a tough one, often unrelenting in its aggressive nature and brutally punishing when under-powered or incorrectly powered for the level. Flame walls might be a great attack for those enemies on the ceiling and floors, but it's not going to do shit against the airborne enemies flying towards you. While the Helix laser will brutally slaughter airborne enemies, strafing runs against the ceiling and floor enemies will be a task. The bounce laser might be the middle-ground here but it's woefully lacking in power compared to either of the other 2 main weapons.

The other key issue with the mechanics as far as a game play issue goes, is that while firing rapidly, you cannot charge your blast-shot and while charging your blast-shot, you might have to release it early in order to fire the rapid shots again. So another faux-difficulty/dynamic of the game presented to you early on, with just the right amount of insufficient time to get used to it fully before you bite the big one and start over.

But we can't ignore that these things made cash and money, and making your game easy wasn't the way to winning the coinage back then. Or these days either. Though the idea does come to mind to make all arcades free play and give people time limits within the arcades. £10 gives you an hour... coloured wristbands for players just like in swimming pools that allocate time limits... Might be an idea there...

Music wise, the game has its catchy moments, particular for the boss battles (assuming you survive long enough) where you get to hear the same few bars of composition repeated until you either kill the boss or it kills you/disappears. Take too long on a boss and it'll either sod off or will leave the arena, usually by going through you slowly. But it's catchy enough to be memorable which is more than can be said for quite a LOT of arcade game bosses and such, certainly putting on a slightly higher level than most arcades which are often forgettable even after years of playing them.

Having said that, the game does look impressive for 1987 (same year as double dragon, operation wolf, actually a rather good year for arcades), each level fitting a theme from space-industrial, natural caves, biomechanical and such, all done extremely well given the graphical limitations of the time and the enemies themed and crafted with such detail that it feels like playing levels from various games. Which in a way isn't great as the levels have no real cohesion aside from "These things are trying to kill you, go fuck them up" with your potentially adequately powered spaceship. Or at least your amazing skills of getting-the-fuck-out-of-the-way.

It's a fun game if you've the time and patience, but that often comes with a steady learning curve at the cost of cash. Or a good emulator.