Monday, February 21, 2011

R-Type (Master System)

Checkpoints ON
1 Difficulty level
8 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed by icons
- - - - - - -
Developed by Irem
Reprogrammed and published by Sega in 1988

Blast off and strike the evil Bydo empire!

Being able to play one of the games that helped define the shmup genre must have been an exquisite pleasure for Master System owners, even if they were not aware of its importance back in 1988 (well, we were all kids back then). After all, at home R-Type was exclusive to Sega’s 8-bit system while the PC Engine version didn't hit the market, and worked as a kind of compensation for the NES having Gradius (later on an unlicensed R-Type hack would appear for the NES under the name Magic Dragon, but that doesn’t count).

Revisiting the game after being exposed to a few more advanced versions has some advantages, such as realizing how good a port it actually is, as well as being able to properly assess its lower difficulty level. The most impressive feat of the Master System version is how faithful it is to the original arcade game, down to every single important gameplay aspect. Practically nothing got lost in translation. Of course graphics and music had to be downgraded to 8-bit standards, but they are certainly of great quality given the hardware limitations. And they successfully play their role of materializing one of the most fulfilling and influential classic shoot’em up experiences.

The last Bydo master!

The classic R-Type gameplay is here in all its glory. You pilot an initially sluggish spaceship, the R9 "Arrowhead", that’s propelled into the screen as if it’s just come out of a warp drive. The pea shooter can be charged into a more powerful beam, and items are brought by these small drones that jump and bounce around the screen. The “force” is the most important item – it’s created after you get the first colored icon and can be docked both on the front or the back of the ship, acting as a shield and a special weapon generator after you get a 2nd colored item. The third one will max out this special weapon according to its color: blue gives you a set of bouncing lasers, red gives you a wave shot and yellow provides a pair of wall-crawling energy "snakes". The force can be tossed away, upon which it starts firing single shots instead of the special weapon. Other items include guided missiles (M), speed-ups (S) and orbs that appear above (1st icon) and below the ship (2nd icon).

R-Type’s excitement and rush come from the process of mastering each one of its stages and sections, in what most people call a “memorizer” shmup. The slow pacing is a trademark here, and speed-ups are a must for the game to become manageable. On the Master System, R-Type still poses a nice challenge due to these features and also the dreaded checkpoint system. However, unlike the arcade game, it doesn’t become impossible if you die in later stages, and it does run slightly slower in certain parts. It’s decidedly great fun, even more so when you consider the potential for a letdown caused by the huge amounts of flicker throughout the game, the only real glaring flaw in a port that preserves almost everything from the original. The flicker is annoying at first, but after a while you don't care about it anymore because the game just sucks you in completely.

Secret area accessed from stage 4, with some mad dodging skills at the boss!
(courtesy of YouTube user talbot1939)

What was left out in the conversion? The beam charge gauge is gone, as well as the permanent display for score and lives. You’re only allowed to see your score/lives in between stages and during the GAME OVER screen. The good news is that Sega was kind enough to add a completely new half-stage to the port, accessible through a secret passage in the last section of the 4th stage's destructible bits. If you take the passage you'll be able to play against a completely new set of enemies and a totally different boss. Don't mind trying again if you die in there, the passage only works once per loop.
Speaking of loops, there are two of them, just like in the original arcade game. Extra lives are awarded when you reach some score milestones (50.000, 150.000, 250.000, 400.000 points, etc.), which surely helps go the distance. The ending is just the same the second time around, but it doesn't take away from the fact that R-Type is a highlight of the Master System shmup library. An with an exclusive extra stage to boot!

My intention when replaying this port was to top my previous high score, but somewhere along the way I noticed it was feasible to go for the 2-ALL. Things turned out better than I expected, and I was able to complete both loops without dying. The improvement in the score was around 35%.


  1. Both loops without dying? Did you film it Ed?

    I find this game insanely frustrating. I think it's the speed thing. Feels almost like you don't have time to move out the way of bullets, even though you know they are there.

    I do own the MS version but not got round to playing it yet.

  2. I didn't have it recorded, unfortunately. I was always dying in stage 4 of the 2nd loop, but in this run I got lucky I guess. It's the trickiest part in the game IMO.
    It also helped that I had played harder versions before, they make the SMS port look quite easy in comparison.... :)

  3. I always thought this was pretty good port of this game on the SMS.

  4. I believe the passion with shmups to me started in great part with this game, I played in SMS of my cousin and after the 1992 or 1993 I never played again. R-Type is a game totally nostalgic.