R-Type is a side scrolling shooter originally produced by Irem in 1987, making the game twenty seven years old this year. Set in the 22nd century, you control an R-9a Arrowhead space craft and must blast your way across levels packed full of the evil alien race called Bydo.
What set R-Type apart from other games back in the 80’s was the addition of a force pod, an indestructible ball that could be attached to either the front or the rear of your ship, or detached and sent in to the swarm of enemies. It also had a number of unique weapons including lasers that bounce off walls and quite possibly the first ever use of giant red rings of death, also known as Double Transverse Neon Waves.
R-Type is also famous for one other attribute – it was ridiculously hard. Although the enemies appear in set patterns, they frequently block off huge areas of the screen and in later levels there are maze structures with just one safe path through. The only way you can learn the correct path is by trial and error which, back in 1987, mean pumping huge amounts of ten pence coins in to the cabinet.
The PS3 version created by Tozai and released on Xbox 360 back in 2009 contains two versions of the game which can be swapped between on the fly by pressing the triangle button. The first is a recreation of the original arcade game, complete with pixel graphics and chip tune music, but a quick press of triangle and the game morphs in to an updated version for 2014. This has pseudo 3D effect, much like LittleBigPlanet, with completely new graphics and a wonderfully lush remix of the original sound track.
I must mention the graphics for one of the mid-level bosses, which in 2D is a large sphere which appears to be connected via a number of vertical organic segments. These move up and down, raising and lowering the sphere, and it looks quite innocent in 2D, but swap to 3D and there is no other way to describe what is on screen other than a very large, pink penis. The graphics in R-Type have obviously been influenced by the recently departed H.R. Gieger, where the first end of level boss is essentially an Alien with it’s own chestburster, so the occasional organic flange or throbbing member is to be expected and will certainly raise a titter or two.
There are two game modes, Classic and Infinite. Classic is an exact replica of the arcade version whilst Infinite gives you unlimited lives but turns up the difficulty to eleven, and as R-Type is an insanely difficult game in the first place you will die a lot.
To describe hard R-Type Infinite is, on level one I used 9 lives, then just one on the second level, obviously I had got the hang of the game by then. Then I lost 8 lives on third level, and after than 17, 16, 13, 19 and finally 22 lives on the last level. That is a total of 105 lives lost in just over 24 minutes.
To counter the ridiculous difficulty the developers have added an extra feature; pressing L2 will slow the action down to about half speed which helps you plan your way through the mazes and enemies. It’s a good idea but I found myself to be using it almost all the time on later levels which feels rather wrong. It’s just not how the game was meant to be played.
However, Classic mode R-Type is one of the best side scrolling shooters that has ever been created and that still holds true almost three decades after it’s initial release. It’s as much a puzzle game as a shooter, as you have to choose the best weapons for the situation and learn the path through the levels. It is stupidly hard in the later levels but there is immense satisfaction in progressing through the levels, with that addictive “just one more go” factor that was essential for money gobbling arcade games in the 80s.
R-Type II is slightly easier than the original game and both come with local co-op which adds to the fun. There are also online leaderboards to compare you score (or tally of lives) against your mates.
How much you will enjoy R-type will, rather like the game, depend on your age. If you grew up with shooters like Gradius and Xenon II then this is an almost essential purchase. However this is a relic of a bygone age and I don’t think younger gamers will enjoy the R-Type Dimensions half as much.