Publisher: Tozai Games
Players: 1-2 (Local)
Reviewer: Philip Smith
Overall: 8 = Excellent
R-Type Dimensions is a repackaging of the 2009 Xbox Live collection that included re-releases of Irem’s popular side-scrolling shooters R-Type and R-Type II. Based off the arcade versions, both titles feature several graphical and gameplay enhancements as well as new modes and features. For newer players who weren’t weaned on the 1980’s variety of shooters, this seemingly simple set will be a crash course in the pain of failure and the virtue of persistence.
R-Type is one of the genre’s most influential titles and has inspired countless developers. However, today’s shooter fan will most likely be more familiar with the output of Cave and similar bullet-hell-style shooters, which have dominated the genre for several years. Going back to or playing R-Type for the first time will take some getting used to, and likewise with R-Type II, largely because of the game’s more methodical pace. Instead of having waves upon waves of increasingly elaborate bullet patterns filling the screen, enemies slowly progress across either side, targeting the player’s ship with projectiles as well as their own bodies. Many of the situations require foreknowledge of what’s coming up because it’s entirely possible to react to an incoming projectile within a few seconds and still not be able to avoid it in time. The speed boost upgrade helps immensely, but being that it is lost at death, which seems to happen every few minutes, the general pace is much slower than more recent titles, such as Akai Katana or Deathsmiles. For PS3-only releases, think Under Defeat or Sine Mora. Regardless of the player’s experience, it’s a safe bet that R-Type I and II are not only less frenzied than what they’re used to but also much harder.
The original R-Type is a continue crusher. Its eight stages are filled with bio-organic man-made living weapons of the Bydo Empire that assault players with bullets, claws, tails, mouths, and whatever else the insect- and Xenomorph-like creatures have at their disposal. The player’s craft, the R-9A Arrowhead, makes for an easy target with its husky design, but its chargeable beam weapon will make it a match for most of what the enemy can throw at it, due to its ability to fire small bullets repeatedly or larger concentrated bursts. The addition of a rapid-fire button helps to make it even more useful, but sometimes a little extra is needed to get the job done, and that’s where the many upgrades come in.
Alongside the speed upgrade are weapon add-ons and the Force satellite orb that extends the ship’s capabilities by allowing for split shots, wider firing arcs, new projectiles, and more powerful blasts. The Force pod can also be shot forward to help clear a path and called back to be reattached to the rear or front of the ship, where it can also take damage, absorb enemy fire, and destroy enemies upon contact. As with the speed and standard weapon upgrades, the Force is also lost when the ship is destroyed. It’s not uncommon for shooters to cause players to lose everything upon death, but as with Gradius, the level design and enemy attack patterns make defeat in R-Type especially difficult. Levels are not only crammed but enemies often shoot out from the walls as they attack from all directions, further restricting movement, and the loss of any upgrade, especially speed, bogs down progress so significantly that the realization sets in that this is a game designed around failure. The distribution of power-ups is both sparse and particularly timed, and missing any will make success all the more difficult. New players will need to get comfortable with defeat because it’s only through attrition that they will see the level through to the boss, while they memorize ambush locations, projectile patterns, and power-up placements. As frustrating as that can be, it is especially rewarding once the optimal path has been worked out, which often involves sussing out the proper use of the Force, a facet that adds an almost puzzle-like element.
R-Type II is tougher than the original, but I found it less of a trial because I found it more enjoyable all around. The levels now sport more of an industrial theme and less of a biomechanical one—more metal, less flesh and goo—but they are better designed and feature a greater variety, with moving sections that require careful timing to navigate, massive ships, and more environmental effects. Power-ups are spaced out better as well, and the enemy attacks don’t feel as frequently confining as in R-Type. Most of the gameplay is similar to its predecessor, with the return of Force orbs, enhancements, and a heavy reliance on memorization for progression. Some of the enemy attacks can be especially tricky to dodge, however, which can make some portions very taxing, but as with the original, it’s all down to perseverance and coming to terms with the fact that Irem is a malevolent entity that feeds off suffering.
The compilation helps ease the difficulty in several respects. The Classic Mode features the standard three-lives-and-continue system, while Infinite Mode allows for endless credits and instant respawning. Levels unlocked in Infinite also carry over to Classic, which will be how most players make it to the end. Even more useful is a slowdown feature that reduces the game’s speed to a crawl and slowly increases it back up to default once players release the button. Some additions are more novel than functional, such as a cinematic camera angle and another that reduces the game’s screen size in order to insert it into an arcade cabinet that can be made to pivot as players move their ship. One of the nicer features that is both stylish and helpful is the ability to instantly switch between the 2D graphics and original soundtrack to a new, polygonal 3D engine and remixed music at the touch of a button. The 3D version is useful for spotting projectiles, as foreground objects stand out better from the background; there is a downside, however, which is that the Force can get stuck into objects, unlike in 2D mode where it will return when the player closes in. Online is supported with a leaderboard, befitting an arcade shooter, while two players can team up on the same machine for local co-op play, though the extra firepower comes at the cost of some pretty cramped game sessions. Still, if there’s ever a game where a friend was needed, it’s R-Type.
R-Type Dimensions includes two tough-as-nails side-scrolling shooters that are equal parts exciting, perplexing, and frustrating. The maze-like designs that form as a result of the enemy attack patterns in combination with the levels give the game the feel similar to that of a puzzler. The inclusion of an Infinite Mode, rapid fire functionality, co-op, and a slow-motion feature help to alleviate some of the stress, but even with the additional aides, this is definitely one collection that will tax the nerves.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)