Tuesday, September 21, 2010

R-Type (Playstation)

Checkpoints ON
2 Difficulty levels
8 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed by icons
- - - - - - -
Developed by Irem in 1987
Published by Ascii Entertainment in 1998

I know it sounds repetitive, but one just can't write about a game like R-Type without mentioning its classic status. It is unquestionably the flagship of the shooting genre for the 80s, and it's just impossible to have a conversation about shmups and not remember the revolution introduced by this little albeit brutal spaceship adventure. Alongside Gradius, R-Type established how a horizontal shooting game should play and feel like, and for years the mold created by the guys at Irem would remain the norm for countless other companies. Just to have an idea of its influence, the gameplay in R-Type is probably one of the most cloned styles ever, ranging from somewhat poor and obscure copycats (Katakis, Rezon) to more famous and established explicit homages (Pulstar, Last Resort, Last Hope).

There are lots of reasons for why R-Type is considered to be a staple in shoot'em up history, and if you have a Playstation lying around you can check it for yourself through the R-Types compilation. Here it's possible to experience an arcade perfect port, in a package that also offers the sequel R-Type II in all its glory. To make things even better, in this version there are separated buttons for single shot and autofire, which is in fact the ideal control scheme this game truly deserves.

R-Type's 1st boss: one of the most iconic images in the shmup genre

Back to why the first game is so memorable, here are the key winning reasons in my opinion:
  • Excellent game design: graphics and music unite in order to provide one of the best atmospheres ever conceived for a shmup. If you like the genre to a minimum extent, it's almost impossible not to get impressed and totally drawn in by the time you reach halfway the first stage.
  • Variety and challenge: every single stage has an ambience of its own, ranging from pure blasting open arenas to extremely claustrophobic sections where precision and memorization must come together if you wish to succeed.
  • Trademark gameplay: after the R-9 Arrowhead spaceship blasted off to strike the evil Bydo empire and the famous "force pod" was unleashed, honed and used as the ultimate weapon/shield, nothing was ever the same in the shmup world.
From basics to a full-fledged destructive weapon: the R-9 spaceship starts out with only a pea shooter and the ability to charge its weapon for a more powerful blast. The first colored power-up released by a small flying droid causes a small energy globe to appear from behind - that's the famous "force". The force can be attached to the front or the back of the ship, working as a shield against regular bullets, damaging everything it touches and also providing a special weapon as soon as a second power-up is collected. The red icon gives a wave shot, the blue one gives a group of 3 bouncing lasers and the yellow icon gives a pair of surface crawling energy bursts. The force evolves with each power-up collected until it achieves maximum energy after the 3rd power-up. Besides being latched to the ship, it can also be detached and tossed forwards/backwards with a separate button, but then it will only fire regular shots until it gets summoned back to the ship. I wonder how fresh and groundbreaking it must have been to see such a different mechanic in a shooter back in 1987!

Additional items to be collected comprise speed-ups (at least one is mandatory in order to not die horribly due to sheer sluggishness), bits/options (maximum of two, hovering above and below the ship) and a pair of guided missiles. Even with all these power-ups collected, the R9 is still quite vulnerable due to the relentless enemy firepower and the stages themselves, which represent a tough, sometimes extremely frustrating challenge. In order to overcome this natural difficulty, docking and detaching the force is essential for both survival and scoring strategies. This is the foundation of what lots of people refer to as a "memorizer shooter", of which R-Type is the first and ultimate example. It's as much an established shooting style as an acquired taste, since it's not rare to find people who despise the checkpoint system exactly for being exposed to the gripes of playing this game. After all, it is notorious for becoming virtually impossible if you die in later stages. My limit for not giving up and restarting is the first half of level 4, where I'm still able to fully recover my firepower by the time I reach the boss.

Blast off and strike the evil Bydo empire!
(courtesy of YouTube user KobayashiBR)

As I mentioned above, the best thing about the PS1 version of R-Type, besides its faithfulness to the arcade, is the mapping of a different button for autofire in addition to the regular shot and force dock/detach commands. It just feels great to play it this way, with absolutely no slowdown or flicker, as opposed to other existing home ports (I've already tried the SMS and PCE-CD ports, as of today). The PS1 disc comes with a great animated intro, several settings for screen adjustment and a nice gallery mode with info on the history and all enemies for both games - this is where I found out that the 7th boss is worth 0 points, so no more guilt for hiding below him and focusing on the falling debris... The game also allows any previously reached stage to be played directly, so practicing is made pretty easy for everybody.

I love this game not only for its overall excellence, but also for everything it represents as one of the pillars of the horizontal shooting genre. You can't call yourself a true shmupper if you haven't played R-Type yet, it's a game all shmup fans should experience at least once in their lifetime. My outcome after several intermitent sessions in this version is the one shown below, where I was able to reach stage 2-3 playing on NORMAL.


  1. ohhh, that brings back memories!!

  2. R-type....
    i don't know how many times i played this game when i was a little boy :D
    i loved it!
    Thanks for the review Edw!!!! :D
    R-type is part of videogame history!

  3. Never played R-type on the PS1 but i do have it for the Master System and am looking for it for the Turbografx-16.

  4. I think I'll try the PCE version soon. I wonder how the 2 HuCards are handled... maybe with a password after stage 4?