Any time someone complains about a modern game — usually a Souls or Souls-inspired title — being “too hard”, I just want to plonk them down in front of a good retro game so they can understand what “hard” really is.
And even among retro games, Irem’s legendary shoot ’em up series R-Type has always stood out as being particularly unforgiving and brutal. While many retro games at least provide the opportunity for you to “brute force” your way through with enough stubbornness (and continues), R-Type is having none of that.
R-Type sets you back to a checkpoint when you die rather than respawning you on the spot. R-Type costs you all your power-ups when you die, potentially putting you in a very vulnerable position right ahead of a big firefight. R-Type hates you — or at least it might seem that way at first. R-Type actually just wants you to improve; it wants you to learn its levels, memorise its attack patterns and figure out the “dance steps” required to survive the onslaught of enemies. And it won’t be satisfied until you do it perfectly.
18 years after its last mainline installment (not counting the excellent PSP R-Type Tactics spinoffs), all of the above is still true of R-Type Final 2. You might want to bring a couple of spare controllers, just in case you have any rage-related accidents.
In R-Type Final 2, you take on the role of a lone pilot who is once again blasting off to strike the evil Bydo empire. This time around you have a selection of ships with which to do so, each of which has its own distinctive design and loadout of potential power-ups, and which can be further customised by changing its colour and picking the type of missile and outrider options that will be available to you. We’ll come back to the ships in a moment, as they’re an important part of the overall R-Type Final 2 metagame.
The basic gameplay of R-Type Final 2 is that of a deliberately paced horizontally scrolling shoot ’em up. This isn’t a frantic bullet-hell sort of affair; this is a game where enemy and bullet patterns are fixed and memorisable, and where, as previously noted, a single mistake can be costly. Not only that, because of the game’s deliberate pacing, any time you do make a mistake it’s abundantly clear that it’s entirely your fault — and the fact that the game freeze-frames on your ship exploding then gives you a few seconds of silent respite and reflection before respawning only makes things all the more delightfully infuriating.
It’s not at all uncommon to alternate between foul-mouthed apoplectic rage and giggling like an idiot at the absurdity of it all while playing R-Type Final 2, at least if my play sessions are anything to go by. There’s an undeniably compelling quality to it; the sense that if you try just once more, you might be able to get past the challenge that is standing in your way. Fifteen credits later, you’re still on the same part of the same level and gradually losing your grip on reality.
R-Type Final 2 distinguishes itself from other shooters with more than just its pacing, though. A central feature of the R-Type series as a whole has always been the “Force”, a semi-autonomous orb made from Bydo tissue that, once acquired, can be used in a number of ways. Firstly, it can be attached to either the front or rear of your ship and used as a battering ram that can defeat enemies and block bullets from reaching you. Doing this adds to a “Dose” meter which, when full, provides you with a score and attack power bonus — but which can also be consumed in order to set off a screen-clearing “Dose Break” attack that can get you out of a pinch.
Secondly, the Force can be fired out in front of you, at which point it will shoot independently of your main craft — this is great for keeping pressure on bosses while you dodge attack patterns — or, in a couple of cases, fending off popcorn enemies while you concentrate on a boss’ weak point. The Force will fly at the opposite side of the screen to you, roughly following your Y coordinate, and can be recalled at any time — or you can simply fly into it to re-attach it.
Thirdly and perhaps most significantly, collecting coloured orbs allows the Force, while attached to the front or rear of your ship, to fire out one of several different types of weapons. The exact form of these varies according to your chosen ship and its companion Force, but usually red weapons fire a powerful shot directly in front and behind. blue weapons fire weapons with a “spread” to them — the most well-known is the default bouncing blue laser — while yellow weapons can be used to fire weapons that hug the terrain and which are thus great for taking out ground targets.
Generally speaking, the levels tend to be designed in such a way that a suitable weapon power-up tends to appear right before a challenge in which it will be particularly useful — but you’re free to follow your own weapon preferences if you wish. In a slight nod to accessibility from a modern perspective, checkpoints immediately prior to bosses tend to provide you with at the very least a Force to help you out, and perhaps even a helpful weapon power-up partway through the battle.
On top of the Force, each ship also has a “Wave Cannon”, which can be charged by holding down the fire button instead of rapid-firing — though those with “fire button finger” will be pleased to know that there are two dedicated “rapid fire” buttons that can be held down to continuously shoot without charging.
The Wave Cannon is a powerful, piercing shot that does a large amount of damage and cuts through enemies on its path across the screen. Successful use of it is essential to progress through certain stages efficiently — though obviously you’ll need to be careful while charging, as you won’t be firing. Some of the available ships in the game also feature the ability to “overcharge” the Wave Cannon to a second level in order to unleash an even more devastating or wider-range blast; again, though, you need to remember that you leave yourself very vulnerable while charging!
So let’s talk about those available ships, because this side of things was a real strength of the original R-Type Final on PlayStation 2, and likewise it’s an important part of R-Type Final 2’s overall structure and sense of longevity.
In R-Type Final 2, you initially have access to three variants of the R-9 fighter, each of which has its own fixed loadout of Wave Cannon, Force and Dose Break, plus the aforementioned ability to customise the missiles and “Bit” outriders as you see fit. But that’s just the beginning; as you clear stages in the game, you’ll acquire currency and resources that can be used in the “R Museum” to unlock new ships in a sort of evolution tree; each ship offers a variation on its predecessors, usually through how the Force weapons work — and in most cases using a different ship causes the game to unfold with a markedly different feel, providing plenty of replay value.
Series veterans will be pleased to see the return of a wide variety of iconic craft from the entire series — including the R-Type Command games — plus the inclusion of a first-person mode that allows you to walk around your hangar and admire your collection. There’s also a photo mode where you can customise your pilot model with different suits, helmets and medals according to your in-game achievements, and pose them in front of a favourite ship of your choice. It really is a love letter to the series as a whole.
That said, there are a few rough edges here and there — plus the fact that the game has been released with the promise of new content coming as updates and DLC, rather than as a complete, self-contained affair, is a little disappointing.
The visual side of things arguably suffers the most. It’s not a bad-looking game by any means, but its use of Unreal Engine provides a distinct sheen to the visuals that may not to be everyone’s taste. The models used throughout the game also vary quite a bit in terms of consistency; while the player ships all look fantastic, as you’d hope, scenes such as the giant battleship confrontations in the third stage make use of rather simplistic-looking models with blurry textures rather than being quite as spectacular as they could be.
To be honest, while you’re concentrating on the action you don’t really notice this inconsistency in quality all that much, but R-Type games have always been designed with a certain sense of ebb and flow in pacing, providing brief moments of downtime throughout the course of their levels rather than constantly bombarding you with a constant sense of panic. It’s during these quieter moments that you might find yourself looking at the backgrounds and thinking “hmm”.
All this is kind of interesting and a little unsurprising. Back in the 8- and 16-bit era when R-Type first hit the scene, shoot ’em ups were inevitably the “showcase” titles for new gaming hardware; they were an opportunity for game developers to show off all their latest and greatest graphical techniques. Parallax scrolling? Giant sprites? Scaling and rotation? Distortion effects? If it was an effect that was possible to do on the hardware of the time — and which would wow the audience — you’d find it in a shoot ’em up, and that played a major role in making shoot ’em ups such a dominant force in these earlier days of gaming.
Today, though, shoot ’em ups are very much a niche interest affair that don’t get the same prominence that they once did. Indeed, developer Granzella had to take to Kickstarter to fund R-Type Final 2 in the first place; between Kickstarter and a subsequent round of PayPal-based crowdfunding, they raised a total of ¥130,371,928 (about £848,558) — which might sound like a lot of money, but which is a tiny fraction of your average triple-A game’s budget these days.
With that in mind, it’s impressive that we ended up with as substantial a game as we did, with such an admirably varied lineup of stages and ships. And while it’s a shame R-Type Final 2 is following the “roadmap” model of post-launch support rather than simply releasing complete and self-contained, the prospect of new ships, stages and features provides incentive to continually return to the game over the long term, which is a good thing. Plus, you know, after the last year and a bit of worldwide chaos, I think we can forgive developers for big projects perhaps not going entirely as planned.
Let’s make no mistake here, though; what we have at the time of writing is good. It’s a great R-Type game with some well-designed stages, the series’ iconic brutal but fair sense of difficulty, lots of unlockables and customisation and an absolutely banging soundtrack. It’s an excellent investment for any shoot ’em up fan — particularly if you’re a longstanding fan of R-Type — and it’s worth your time. It will be interesting to see how it develops from hereon, for sure.
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