This generation of gaming has been full of plenty of ‘Oh my God’ moments. It’s to be expected now that we’ve got consoles full of dual processors and super-duper graphics chips. Be it a particularly big boss in Gears of War 2 or a nice vista in Assassin’s Creed, gamers today are a tad spoiled which means that a lot of really great work ends up being instantly forgotten once the next grenade is lobbed at you.
Back in 1988 things were different. Hardware was limited and 3D hadn’t really happened. Sprites had to be drawn and animated with old-fashioned hard work and artistic skill and levels were designed by specialists rather than getting your online community to do the work for you. So, if you wanted to drop someone’s jaw it’d take both artistic vision and programming ability to make things really come to life. If you were lucky, they’d throw in some inventive game design as well.
R-Type was released that year as an arcade title by the Japanese manufacturer Irem. It was a horizontally-scrolling powerhouse of a game that combined stunning 2D visuals, fiendish level design and excellent game mechanics to make a bonifide classic title. For the uninitiated, the game sees your solitary R9 fighter going up against the biomechanical beasties of the Bydo Empire. An intergalactic race of bastards who want to destroy the Earth.
Amongst their ranks are fighter ships, turrent cannons, organic aliens and huuuuge bosses all thrown at you in sufficient numbers to make the game one of the most challenging shooters of all time. Thankfully, the R9 can be pepped up a bit by collecting a power-up known as ‘The Force’. The Force is a detachable orb that can be used as a shield, an eight-way firing drone or as a weapon enhancer that allows you to fire hugely powered-up laser weapons. It’s one of the best power-ups in the genre and adds a strategic depth to the gameplay as often your placement and use of The Force is the difference between life and death.
R-Type Generations is a near-perfect Xbox Live Arcade port of the original game and its 1989 sequel R-Type 2 which increased your arsenal whilst also ramping up the difficulty. Both games can be played in the, lovingly-recreated, original 2D (which still looks mint, especially in high definition) or can be switched (on the fly, impressively) to modern 3D versions. There are also a couple of novelty options, one surrounds the 2D version with a virtual arcade cabinet (useless) and the other tilts the 3D mode by fifteen degrees so that you are flying slightly into the screen (not at all helpful). A bit pointless but switchoffable.
New inclusions aren’t just limited to the visuals though as the game’s classic mode is also accompanied by a new ‘Infinite’ mode. This mode feeds you with infinite lives and doesn’t send you back to a checkpoint when you die. The emphasis is on getting big scores and not dying too many times. It’s a nice inclusion, especially as most mortals won’t see the latter halves of either R-Type title.
Also new is the online co-op mode. They’ve thought this mode out very nicely as you can play either game in classic or infinite mode and players can revive each other, Aegis Wing style, by picking up powerups. It’s not too confusing and is a welcome addition. Unfortunately it’s rendered useless most of the time due to lag and disconnections. A shame really as you get the feeling that it’s more a Microsoft issue than that of the devs.
Staying with the annoyances for a while, the game could have used an option to redefine the controls. X for detaching the Force? Ugh. Also the ‘rapid fire’ (mapped to the B button) is anything but, coming in a lot slower than the maximum manual repeat speed for the normal fire button. This is made even more annoying as there is an achievement for solely using that button for an achievement.
By far the worst oversight of the game is the lack of difficulty options combined with the fact that the game’s difficulty seems to be set a little higher than the already savagely difficult arcade original. A mean trick for sure. Fair enough, the Infinte Mode is a concession to the less Japanese amongst us but even so, it does tend to discourage attempts to master the game. Especially when you get deeper into the game and are expected to combine the memory of chess computer with the dexterity and skill of Billy Mitchell.
That said, it’s still R-Type and therefore still a great example of the genre. If they can sort out the net-code a bit and maybe tweak the difficulty down a notch, this could be one of the leading lights of the XBLA scene but, for now, it’s less impressive, less clever, less varied and less fun than Omega Five. At 1200 M$P (£10.20) it’s also less cheap. Know what I mean?