Saturday, February 7, 2015

R-Type III - The Third Lightning (SNES)

Checkpoints ON
1 Difficulty level
6 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed by icons
- - - - - - -
Developed by Irem
Published by Jaleco in 1994

Of all chapters of the neverending battle against the evil Bydo empire, R-Type III - The Third Lightning holds a special place in the hearts of many gamers, especially those who lived through the 16-bit era. A dedicated console entry that followed the arcade-exclusive R-Type Leo, it fully realized the potential of Nintendo’s home platform in a great outer space adventure that honed and further fleshed out the ideas of the previous chapters into an exciting brand-new experience. Difficulty is spot-on and a tiny bit above Super R-Type and its full stage checkpoints, since the game fares better at the claustrophobic, otherworldly stage design pioneered by the classic R-Type. Nonetheless it’s fairly manageable depending on how you're able to use the resources available to the R-90 spaceship.

Besides the flair inherited from its noble arcade origins, R-Type III also brings something new to the table by allowing the pilot to choose from three different force units/pods. If you still haven’t played an R-Type game yet, know that force units are those invincible droids that attach to the ship and give it the ability to employ its firepower in the benefit of mankind. They’re the heart and the soul of this particular series, so having three force units to choose from must have been the bee’s knees back in 1994. Add to that the more detailed and brighter graphics, the great music and an actually decent use of mode 7 effects and you’ll understand why this is one of the best regarded shmups in the SNES library.

Space junk adrift between planets in stage 1
(courtesy of YouTube user Battlespaz)

Getting comfortable with the SNES controller is very easy in this game, given that you can configure all inputs as you wish. My favorite layout is Y for auto shot, B for shot, X/A for force unit control and L/R for charge shot selection. On dealing with the bare ship’s capabilities, the shot command is mostly employed to activate the charge blast by being held and subsequently released according to the charge gauge status. The second charge level is obviously the most powerful one, but in R-Type III you’re also entitled to select between two charge attacks. Beam is the primordial firepower boost from the first game, here upgraded with a second level that makes the charge shot pierce through walls. Hyper is the new charge variation that, when used on max level, bursts into a close range spread and then fires a bulkier straight shot for a while before overheating. As a result the ship needs to cool down, during which time you’re not allowed to use any charge attack.

And then there are the force units, each with a specific behavior when detached or attached to the ship. Just approach it from whatever side you want it to dock, and use the correct button to detach or call it back. Force units first appearance and upgrades happen by collecting the colored items: the first one generates it, the second one gives it the color’s primary power, the third one maxes it out and further ones are merely shot type switches. Since each color endows the ship with different shot types according to the selected force unit, here’s a brief summary of their capabilities:
  1. Round force (type 1): classic pod and the one most people are used to. Weapons: chain/wave laser (red), mirror/bouncing laser (blue) and sweep/crawling laser (yellow); a detached unit fires in spread-out five directions.
  2. Shadow force (type 2): new addition that has the advantage of moving faster when called back to the ship and creating little "shadow" pods as part of its core capability. Weapons: reverse laser (red), shadow/straight laser (blue), strafe/wide laser (yellow); a detached unit fires three straight shot streams.
  3. Cyclone force (type 3): new addition that has a liquid look, as if a blue energy glob was trapped inside the pod's outer structure. Weapons: pierce laser (red), ring/spread laser (blue), capsule/seed laser (yellow); a detached unit acts as a shield with good vertical coverage.
The item gallery is completed by speed-ups, missiles (take two for max power) and bits. Missiles are of one type only and have a mild homing nature, whereas bits hover above and below the ship, acting as extensions of the force unit itself. One of the selling points for many people here is the default speed of the ship, which unlike previous chapters is actually quite decent. I daresay you don't even need to take a speed-up during most of the game.

A wall-crawling mechanical spider at the end of stage 3

It's hard not to enjoy the results when a shmup has a design that's built around the strengths and weaknesses of the ship's weapons so exquisitely as R-Type III does. All stages are somehow conceived according to the styles presented in previous games in the series, yet they're perfectly capable to stand on their own. There are outer space stations clashing against each other in the first level, an acid dripping organic environment in the second level and as you reach the third stage you must navigate vertical shafts inside what appears to be a large enemy base. Then you must weave through thick lava streams in a maze-like corridor and face a boss rush (probably inspired by Gradius) before entering the lair that takes you to the creepy final boss. Note how mode 7 is used to good effect throughout the game, as enemies and scenery rotate and zoom in and out of the screen with delightful elegance. A little slowdown should be expected, thankfully not to the same level seen in Super R-Type. Flicker is rare and often associated with explosion sprites over busy weapon animation.

Pacewise the first stage drags a little because there are many dead spaces, but the rest of the game easily compensates for that. Other highlights include the cool introduction of the ship as the first stage starts and the way the song for the first level in R-Type is remixed as the theme for the first level of R-Type III. It's pretty epic, especially if you're a fan of the series. However, I felt a little sorry for the game when I found out the scoring system is broken: you can milk enemies forever in the chamber prior to the last boss if you so wish... Of course that doesn't take away from the value of the journey, since survival play is still lots of fun for shmuppers of all backgrounds. The first score extend is granted with 20.000 points, the second with 70.000 points and further ones with each 70.000 points afterwards.

My favorite of the new force units is type 2, mainly because the shadow laser is incredibly strong and effective. What kills the cyclone force for me is the way the yellow weapon works. I chose type 2, looped the game and ended my credit on the 2nd encounter against the second boss. The second loop comes with faster, stronger and sometimes new enemies, all firing faster bullets at a higher rate. There are no extra difficulty settings in R-Type III, which is odd for a 16-bit console game that's part of such a famous franchise.


  1. Ah, finally. I see you started the opening paragraph with a lot of love.

    Yes, I love the 3 force balls idea. It's like R-Type finally has the choice of 3 different ships. So more replay and fun messing around through the same levels with different tactics.

    So you prefer Y button to be autofire. Don't remember if I used it too, but for me I prefer autofire to either Y or X. Only thing I wouldn't do is keep the L & R shoulder buttons. Especially on SNES since it makes me hold the gamepad in a much less comfortable position & grip. And I recall R-Type 3 allowing full button customization. So for me at least the L button (most annoying button) would be scrapped, as always. With R & a face button for charge shot selection. Gamepad comfort I've always been very picky about... think my setup was X=auto, A=shot, B=charge, & Y=force? Or something close to this.

    Cyclone was my fave when I played.

    I'll say that first stage tune is very epic. Always pumps me up and set the mood so perfectly.

    Again not playing with the classic setup as usually seems the norm for you? Wind of change, I guess. And I will now remember to mess with the shadow force more next time I fire this game up. Highlight of Cyclone Force for me is the yo-yo affect. Something I at one point thought all R-Types did, but it was a memory lie. So was very excited when this Force granted my wishes. And main reason I loved Cyclone.

    Was the pacing of the first stage improved with loop 2? I never made it past the boss rush for this game yet because my main drive was to see if I could beat the lava stage after hearing a guy named Ace (yep, same Ace) on Gradius forum saying he could never pass that stage. Strange motive, I know. Guess I got some masochist in me. That, And I'm not too fond of boss rushes. Still really great game in a great series that I need to get back to. Why I so much enjoyed reading what you had to say.

    - Sinful

    1. One of the best things in R-Type III is the ability to map all buttons. I'm not fond of the SNES controller at all, so that's a nice plus. I wouldn't like having to fire with A or X at all.

      In the second loop everything moves a lot faster in stage 1, so yeah, the pacing picks up a good notch. And you need to know where to stand in advance, as in the rotating laser part that traps you if you stay in the lower half of the screen.

  2. Blimey, is there no end to your talents? I have this for my SNES but I've never gotten very far - it's tough even for an R-Type game! Just out of interest, are there any shmups you've not been able to 1CC?

    1. End to my talents? I hope not!
      Anyway, flattering jokes aside, it's just a matter of persistence and practice. In the case of R-Type III, I don't think it's harder than, let's say, the first or the second arcade R-Types.

      As for shmups I haven't been able to 1CC... Hmmm... From all the ones I tried to clear so far I gave up on stuff like Star Force and Raystorm. Evil, evil games! But I'll get back to them, oh yes I will. :)

    2. Haha, I look forward to reading about your efforts. One of the hardest shmups I've played lately is Galmedes (Arcade) - ever played that one? I can't even finish the first stage on one credit and I had to use about a million save states to get far enough to grab the screenshots in my review :P

    3. I haven't tried Galmedes yet, but hopefully will in the future.
      Probably in one of those tourneys... RGF or some other Facebook community.

  3. Battle Squadron for Genesis is the hardest STG I've ever played and one that feels like I'll never beat. The difficulty of this game is very alien to me too... E u r o alien. As in I've played very hard games and made much progress in other very hard 1cc quests STGs as Darius II AC & Gradius III AC. But in Darius and Gradius the Japanese difficulty game design mentality keeps pulling me back more and more to go the distance. But Euro Battle Squadron hits me with a truck to never get up again, kinda vibe...

    - Sinful

  4. Noted!
    I'll see if I can squeeze Battle Squadron in my MD schedule for 2015.

    1. Oh... I finally caught your curiosity for this game. :P

      - Sinful

  5. I'm amazed you found this harder than Super R-Type. This game has checkpoints but Super kicks you back to the beginning of the stage even if you got to the boss. Also, some bosses have so much health and rather tricky patterns that it more or less demands that you kill them with a single well-timed charge. I'd also argue that Super requires more memorization (stages 3, 5, and 6) whereas only the lava flows of the factory stage of III force you to really learn the stage. I actually think this is the easiest R-Type game (outside of toned-down ports like the Game Boy version.)

    1. Well, I did mention "a tiny bit", so yeah, there's probably a fine line between both games in regards to diifficulty.

      I could also have been *a little* biased by having previously beaten R-Type II prior to tackling Super R-Type, or it's just the fact that having to deal with a different type of force pod naturally demands more effort to learn the game.

      My pick for easiest R-Type would be the SMS port. :P