Retro Rated – R-Type

Factfile
Developed by: Irem
Released: 1987
Original Format: Arcade

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Ruminations

Launched into the arcades way back in 1987, R-Type was a side-scrolling blaster that tasked players with guiding their R-9 ship though the deadly hordes of the evil Bydo Empire.

Despite being incredibly tough, it was a critical and commercial success and would go on to be converted to virtually every home computer on the market, garnering 90% plus scores across the board.

As well as influencing a host of shooters that followed, it also spawned an array of sequels with R-Type II hitting the arcade in 1989, followed by a number of further iterations across the various home formats.

Given the popularity of the game, it was inevitably converted to all the major systems of the time. It has even enjoyed a new lease of life on modern phones and tablets via the App store, as well as on the Wii via the Virtual Console.

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Second Impressions

Right from the opening scene, as your trusty R-9 blasts across the screen, we are into classic territory.

The scenery is a blend of bio-mechanics; the opening level imbued with a metallic sheen whilst later levels, as you drive right to the heart of the Bydo Empire, take a turn for the gross, enemies emerging out of pulsating, organic sinkholes. It’s a disgusting, visceral blend that leaves a lasting impression.

But as distinctive as the world is, it is the motley crew of critters that inhabit it that really stand out.

The first level introduces you to the suite of standard Bydo bugs as they come swarming across the screen. Red flappy things, yellow and green creepy crawlies, nasty little green bug men and snivelly little missile launching toads, all set on sending you to the nether world of oblivion.

But these are all just the starter, the main course awaits in the form of the end of level boss, Dobkeratops, a Giger-influenced mega bug and one of the most defining images of the R-Type franchise.

More nastiness follows; a pulsating heart that spews out a deadly snake; an entire level-filling battleship; 3-part warships. It’s a grim, deadly collection of filth to destroy.

You can send these evil spawns back from whence they came with a variety of instruments of death. Lasers, missiles, multi-coloured rings and more all help to create a spectacular visual symphony.

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Gameplay

There are eight levels of filth to blast your way through but you had better eat your spinach before setting out because this is an absolute beast of a challenge. Levels vary in style, the first a straight forward blastathon, easing you into the action but things soon take a turn with bizarre looking creatures scurrying out of walls or covering the screen with a deadly web. It may be an old fashioned, side-scrolling shooter but there is plenty of variety here with tactical use of weapon upgrades the order of the day.

Enemies come in fixed patterns, attacking from in front, behind, raining death from the skies or emerging from the ground. Most of them can be dispatched with a single shot from your repeating blaster; for those more stubborn beasts, hold down the fire button to build up your shot, unleashing it in a single beam of death.

Your quest is assisted by a series of pick-ups, all based around an add-on called the Force. It’s a flexible little sucker that can be fixed either to the front or rear of the ship, acting both as shield to all but the most devastating attacks as well as an impervious battering ram. It also acts as a weapon enhancer, the various pick ups offering angled laser fire, air to ground fire and circular death rays, each weapon serving a distinct purpose, part of the strategy of the game being the need for the player to assess which one offers the best chance of survival in any given situation. Other accoutrements include a spinning top that offers some protection above your ship, as well as a set of homing missiles, that blast away at an angle from your ship for added firepower, whilst speed boosts give your craft a bit more maneuverability.

It all adds up to a satisfying meaty experience. Your ship may be little but it certainly packs a lethal punch. But make no mistake, this is a hard game. I’ve only ever managed to reach the fourth level and that feels like an almighty achievement. By that point in the game, enemies waves are relentless, swarming at your from every angle. If it is not some all-powerful, Force penetrating deathray that gets you, it is that stray shot from an otherwise harmless turret that you drift into whilst frantically trying to evade three beasties converging on you from separate angles.

It rarely feels unfair though. Losing one of your three precious lives strips you of any weapon pick-ups amassed to that point, which can feel overwhelming as you find yourself dropped into the middle of a battle that was hard enough when armed to the teeth and now feels like taking a knife into a gun fight. But pick ups are relatively frequent, plus there is no upgrade system to them, so you soon feel like you are back in the hunt. The length of the levels is well judged whilst enemy attacks are predetermined, so it is a game that you can work out through trial and error, gradually learning the attack patterns, when to move, what weapon to use, the sweet spots you can hide in. Little victories that help you gradually claw your way just that little bit further.

It’s a challenge but one that keeps sucking the coins out of your pocket for one more go.

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Sound

This is a real audio treat, a suitable partner for the impressive visuals.

The first level is all adrenaline as your ships blasts into the action, the up-tempo electronic beat driving you on to beat back the Bydo baddies. As you move through the game, music shifts to match the scenery, taking on a darker feel in later levels as you get to the heart of the Empire.

Sound effects are satisfying too. Your repeat blaster spits out venom with a rat-a-tat-tat whilst your saved up beam of death unleashes in a meaty burst. Enemies explode around you, the scene blending into a visual and aural sensory overload.

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Conversion Capers

As may be expected, the 16-bit machines offered near flawless conversions. The Amiga version sacrificed some level of graphical detail, backgrounds looking rather sparse and colours washed out compared to the original, but the overall feel of the game is almost arcade perfect, with some nice original title music chucked in for free.

The 8-bit experience is rather more variable. The Master System port is a good effort. Graphical detail is naturally lost with sprites reduced in size and the on-screen score and beam power missing. It is noticeably slower, which can make it a harder to game to play, at least initially. Some enemy attacks are missing or slightly amended from the original but the basic gameplay is faithfully reproduced. Plus SEGA owners had a surprise of their own up their sleeve with a hidden bonus level tucked away in level four for those hardy adventurers brave enough to find it.

But the final word must go the Spectrum. Backgrounds may be barren, sprite detail limited, in-game music absent. Yet this version is an absolute technical marvel, replicating the game in full, including all weapons, enemies and boss characters.

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Bottom Line

Whichever system you opt for, R-Type remains one of the toughest, relentless, frenetic shooters ever released.

Distinct, atmospheric visuals, great sound, memorable boss encounters and satisfying weapons, this set the template for any number of side-scrolling shooters that followed and remains a top quality game in its own right.

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