R-Type
  • Genre:
    • Shoot 'Em Up
  • Developers:
    • Irem (ARC/TG16/TGCD/PC88/ZX/X68)
    • Compile (SMS)
    • Opera House (MSX)
    • Images Design (ST)
    • Electric Dreams (C64/CPC)
    • Factor 5 (AMI)
    • Bits Studios (GB)
  • Publishers:
    • Irem (ARC/MSX/X68/GB)
    • Hudson (TG16/TGCD/PC88)
    • NEC (PCE)
    • Sega (SMS)
    • Electric Dreams (ST/C64/ZX/CPC)
    • Activision (AMI)
  • Released:
    ARC
    • JP 07/01/1987
    • US UK 1987
    TG16
    • JP 03/25/1988
    • US 1989
    SMS
    • JP 10/01/1988
    • US UK 1988
    PC88
    • JP October 1988
    MSX
    • JP 12/09/1988
    ST/C64/ZX
    • 1988
    X68
    • JP 06/09/1989
    AMI/CPC
    • 1989
    GB
    • JP 03/19/1991
    • US May 1991
    • UK 1991
    TGCD
    • JP 12/20/1991
Score: 80%

This review was published on 02/17/2018.

R-Type is a side-scrolling shoot 'em up originally developed and published by Irem as a coin operated arcade game in 1987. Between 1987 and 1991, the game was ported to numerous other platforms, such as the TurboGrafx-16, Sega Master System, PC-88, MSX, Atari ST, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, X68000, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Game Boy, PC Engine CD, and so on. While Irem is the company that initially created R-Type and thus owns the rights to it, many of the ports were licensed out to external developers, like how Compile made the Master System version. Likewise, the ports were often published by companies other than Irem, like how Electric Dreams published the Atari ST, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, and Amstrad CPC versions. These were relatively common practices at the time, as companies that created successful games often didn't have the resources or expertise to port that game to other hardware. There's no question that R-Type was a big hit back in the day, which is obviously why it ended up on so many platforms. Why was it such a big hit, though? That's what the rest of this review will cover.

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While Space Invaders essentially invented the shoot 'em up genre in 1978, Konami revolutionized it in 1985 with the release of Gradius. Nearly every space shooter released after 1985 was a Gradius clone to some degree, making Gradius the most influential shoot 'em up in history. However, around the time things started to go stale for the genre, R-Type showed up to revolutionize the space shooter scene once again. Inspired by Gradius, R-Type then became the second most influential game in the shoot 'em up genre. There are a couple of reasons for that. For one, it's really darn good, featuring some of the best stage designs out there. Secondly, it introduced an innovative mechanic that I'll be discussing in greater detail further into the review. The only thing is that R-Type is infamous for its obscenely high difficulty level. Shoot 'em ups are already hard by default, but the R-Type games push that difficulty even further. Due to that, plenty of patience is required to appreciate these classics.

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Plots don't really matter in shoot 'em ups, and R-Type demonstrates this beautifully by not having one. It does have a premise, though. Listed right on the title screen, the point of R-Type is to "blast off and strike the evil Bydo Empire!" What's the Bydo Empire, you ask? Well, later games in the series reveal that they're an empire of alien organisms that threaten humanity. Basically, they're illegal aliens. What's more interesting than the game's story is the story behind its name. It's believed by some that R-Type is a reference to a term in biology that describes the reproductive strategy of insects, which is to have as much offspring as possible in hopes that some will survive. It's unclear as to how this definition is supposed to tie in with the actual game, but it probably has to do with the swarms of enemies you fight. They're not insect-like in design, but there sure are a lot of them.

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For the most part, you'll utilize the joystick to smoothly move your spaceship in eight directions and the primary button to fire your main gun. There is no life bar, because you die in one shot if you touch absolutely anything, including the foreground. A big new feature this game introduces to the shoot 'em up genre is the "beam" meter located at the bottom of the screen. If you hold down the fire button, the beam meter will start to fill up slowly. When you let go, you'll fire a bigger and more powerful energy bullet, the size and strength of which depends on how much of the meter was full when the button was released. Not only does this powerful shot do more damage, but it's capable of piercing through most enemies, allowing you to kill a row of foes with a single shot. It's very useful and sometimes even essential to your survival, but the action in this game is so unrelenting that you won't always have the time to charge up your gun. Ergo, you have to strategically switch between charged shots and rapid fire, using whatever's the most optimal for the current situation.

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The innovative mechanic that I alluded to earlier is the Force pod. Acquired in the form of a power-up, the Force pod is a force to be reckoned with. The Force pod shoots bullets when you do, and it also acts as an invincible shield, protecting you from small bullets in addition to damaging or outright destroying any enemies it touches. You can attach the pod to the front or back of your ship, allowing you to add extra firepower to your frontal assault or shoot from your backside. On top of all that, it's possible to eject the Force pod from your ship, enabling it to fly around the screen. You have no direct control over the pod when it's detached from the ship, but your positioning does influence its movements. There's also a specific button dedicated to ejecting the pod and calling it back for reattachment. The Force pod's utility is nearly endless. May the Force pod be with you.

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Every so often, you'll spot a goofy little robot jumping around the scenery. If you blow it up, you'll discover a handy power-up that'll upgrade your ship's capabilities in some manner. Aside from the basics, like extra speed and homing missiles that fire alongside your main gun, there are also power-ups that further augment the offensive capabilities of your Force pod. These power-ups are color coded; the red one shoots powerful forward moving lasers, the blue one shoots smaller lasers in multiple directions that bounce off of walls, and the yellow one shoots waves of fire that go above and below your ship. The special shots can only be fired when the Force pod is attached to your ship, otherwise it'll shoot normal bullets. Additionally, some power-ups give you orbs that fly above or below your ship, and you can have up to two of them. They're basically like lesser versions of the Force pod, providing the same level of protection, but weaker or no firepower. Unfortunately, you lose everything when you die, including the Force pod.

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There are eight stages in R-Type, all filled to the brim with eager enemies. As with most horizontal shoot 'em ups styled after Gradius, the screen automatically scrolls forward as swarms of enemies show up in a usually successful attempt to obliterate your tiny spaceship. However, besides the Force pod, another thing that differentiates R-Type from most other side-scrolling shooters is the superb stage design. The enemies work together with the claustrophobic environments to form insane challenges that require careful thought to overcome. Thematically, most stages combine the organic flesh of aliens with the cold steel of machines. In the first stage, you begin in outer space before progressing into a massive battleship with an army's worth of robotic foes pouring in from all sides of the screen, and the whole thing concludes with an H.R. Giger inspired alien boss that uses its tantalizing tail to attack you. The second stage is set in a biological laboratory with creepy creatures charging you from the floor and ceiling. I'd go on, but I don't want to spoil everything.

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Outside of an additional boss and some extra story scenes, the PC Engine version of R-Type is nearly identical to the arcade original, but it was split into two separate releases in Japan. Thankfully, the two halves were later joined together for the game's release in North America on the TurboGrafx-16. Japan did get the better deal in the end, though, as both releases were eventually compiled onto a single disc for the PC Engine CD, complete with a remixed soundtrack and more story scenes with full narration. Then there's the Master System version, which is decent in spite of the weaker hardware, and it even has a secret extra level. With regards to the computer ports, the X68000 one is nearly arcade perfect, the Amiga one is pretty solid, and the Atari ST one is okay. However, most of the other computer ports are a hot mess. The Game Boy version is passable for a portable port, but sucks otherwise. In the late '90s, a compilation of R-Type and R-Type II, called R-Types, was released on the PlayStation. These are nearly perfect ports of the first two games, plus there's some bonus features and extra content. If you have no other way to experience the original arcade release of R-Type, then this is the ideal version to play.

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Like Gradius, R-Type is one of the most important games in the shoot 'em up genre. It's also just plain good, arguably better than Gradius in nearly every way. R-Type's main claim to fame is the Force pod, which gives incredible depth to the game's core mechanics. That alone is enough to make this game worth a look, but it also sports some of the best stage design in the genre. The only thing that may hold it back in the eyes of some is its obscene level of challenge. Even if you can't stomach its difficulty, you still have to admire its meticulous design and deep mechanics.

Word Count: 1,625

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