Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix is the definitive version of a classic shoot ’em up

Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix, a new Nintendo Switch version of Moss’ excellent shoot ’em up Raiden IV, combines several things that, as the saying goes, taste great together.

We’ve got the intense yet accessible shoot ’em up action that has always characterised the Raiden series, explored through a varied selection of game modes and difficulty levels. And then you’ve got the fact that a distinctly greater than average proportion of Japanese video game musicians enjoy nothing more than rocking the fuck out. The result is the definitive version of an already fantastic shoot ’em up — and an essential part of any Nintendo Switch library.

Let us consider each of these aspects in turn.

Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix

When it comes to the more technical side of Japanese games, typified by genres such as shoot ’em ups and fighting games, there’s a strong argument to be made for familiarising yourself with the fundamentals of this type of game before graduating to anything more complex. Many fighting game fans, for example, espouse the virtues of becoming thoroughly familiar with the original release of Street Fighter II before moving on to something more challenging. It makes sense; without the fundamental skills in place, any additional bells and whistles are just going to overcomplicate things — and you’ll likely end up bouncing off the game you’re trying, if not the whole genre, sooner rather than later.

The Raiden series has always fulfilled this role for the shoot ’em up genre — and Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix is no exception. At heart, none of the games in the series are especially complex, either in terms of basic mechanics or their scoring systems, but they are a great way to familiarise yourself with a skill set that will serve you well in pretty much any other shoot ’em up you’d care to mention.

You’ve got the incredibly important skill of understanding the difference between how your ship appears on screen, and the part of it that is actually vulnerable to being hit. You’ve got a variety of different types of enemies, ranging from “popcorn” enemies that take a single hit to destroy to gigantic battleships that require a concerted assault — and some nimble dodging — to dispatch. You’ve got a selection of power-ups, each of which are useful in different situations. And you’ve got the emphasis on memorisation and the learning of the “dance steps” required to succeed and excel in each stage.

Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix

For the unfamiliar, Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix’s basic mechanics see you blasting enemies with one of three main weapons and one of three missile subweapons. You begin with the “red” spread shot Vulcan Cannon, and by collecting blue or purple power-ups you can acquire either a powerful, focused laser or the series’ legendary bendy “toothpaste laser” respectively. Missiles, meanwhile, include two variants that fire straight ahead (one of which “drifts” to meet enemies, the other of which is “dumb”), and one homing version.

Collecting additional power-ups improves the power of your weapon; unlike in previous games in the series, collecting a different colour also increases the power as well as switching weapons, so if you accidentally pick up the “wrong” colour you’re not left a level down on where you think you “should” be — just perhaps armed with the “wrong” weapon!

There are a few other small tweaks to the formula, too — most notably the addition of a “charge shot” of sorts. Stop firing for a moment and your ship will flash; fire again at this point and your missile weapon will unleash a powerful barrage that also scores you bonus points. This discourages players seeking high scores from simply holding down the fire button all the time — but it’s by no means an essential mechanic to make use of while you’re learning.

Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix

Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix’s relative simplicity compared to other games in the genre absolutely is not a criticism; in fact, it’s rather refreshing to play a shoot ’em up that is so unashamedly straightforward in its execution. The core of the experience is the simple instruction “shoot things and don’t die” — and to be perfectly honest, that’s more than enough to be concerning yourself with during the various encounters you’ll be dealing with in Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix.

For those craving variety, there is a nice selection of options available in Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix, and between these options the game caters to everyone from shoot ’em up newbies (or simply those who enjoy the genre but aren’t very good at it!) to seasoned professionals. As with most games of this type, there is absolutely no shame in starting on the lowest difficulty level of the simplest mode; shoot ’em ups are rarely games you will master immediately (unless they’re GG Aleste) and so for many people it can be more gratifying and less demoralising to start exploring the game in a way that provides you with a certain amount of margin for error.

In Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix, this comes in the form of the game’s “Very Easy” mode, which purports to allow you to destroy enemy bullets by shooting them. This isn’t quite accurate; what it should say is that you can destroy some enemy bullets (which have a distinctive appearance) by shooting them, while others must still be avoided.

Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix

This strikes a good balance between allowing you to take a bit of pressure off yourself simply by continually firing, and still demanding that you make use of the fundamental skills required to succeed in the genre. This is absolutely the place to start if you want to improve your shoot ’em up skills gradually rather than throwing yourself into a trial by fire.

Besides difficulty, you can also select one of three ships to control; these were originally (somewhat controversial) DLC for the original Xbox 360 release of Raiden IV, but they’re all included here.

There’s Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix’s default ship, known as the Fighting Thunder ME-02 Kai, then there’s also the Raiden Mk. II ship from the earlier games in the series, and the iconic “Fairy”, which is better known as a power-up item. Each ship’s main difference is in the firing pattern that each of the three available weapons offers — though the Fairy also features an added difficulty factor of standing out a little less against the background, making it a little trickier to keep an eye on whether she’s staying safe against the barrage of bullets.

Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix

All game modes in Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix allow a single player to play the game as either player 1 or player 2, meaning that if you prefer the blue ship to the red ship — source of many arguments when playing two-player games in childhood — you can damn well be the blue ship and no-one will judge you for it.

Perhaps more interesting is the fact that some of the game modes allow you to play in “Double” mode, which means that using two analogue sticks and the shoulder buttons as your fire and bomb buttons, you can play as both players at once. This is obviously a mode primarily intended for experienced players to show off with — but it’s a fun challenge even if you struggle to make it off the first level.

As for those modes, there are five main ways to play. Arcade mode recreates the experience of the original Raiden IV arcade machine and Xbox 360 release with a “Flash Shot” scoring mechanic that rewards you with more points the quicker you defeat an enemy after it appears on screen. Overkill mode, introduced in a later revision of the console ports, rewards you with continuing to blast airborne enemies that you’ve already “destroyed” while they’re in the process of crashing.

Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix

Additional mode functions as an extended Arcade mode. Score Attack mode challenges you to get the best score on a single stage. And Boss Rush mode, which unlocks when you beat any of the modes other than Score Attack once, is probably self-explanatory.

Each mode in Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix has its own local leaderboard, stratified by difficulty level, so you can see how you’ve improved over time. If you want to compete online, you’ll need to play World Ranking mode, in which you can play Overkill, Arcade or Additional mode with no continues, fixed on Normal difficulty.

That’s an admirably comprehensive suite of ways to play, and caters to all types of player — whether you’re someone who wants to credit-feed through to the end, someone who wants to chase high scores, someone who wants to take aim for one-credit clears, or someone who wants to compete against worldwide opponents.

And so what of the “rocking the fuck out” aspect? Well. Well. Let’s talk about that.

The Raiden series has always had particularly good music and a very consistent sound to it, largely thanks to the same composer — Go Sato — being involved with it for every installment apart from Raiden V. It has always exemplified a common approach to shoot ’em up music — driving rhythms combined with tuneful and memorable melodies. In fact, the music is so memorable that you can actually use it as a means of helping you to learn the levels — simply associate a particularly challenging enemy wave with the musical phrase that it corresponds to and you’ll be able to better prepare yourself.

Raiden IV’s original soundtrack paid homage to some of the classics of the series as a whole, featuring modern remixes of tunes from earlier games. And what Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix does is provide a further layer of remixing atop that, featuring live performances from Go Sato’s own outfits Heavy Metal Raiden and Go Sato Band, plus electronica from COSIO (the man behind much of Groove Coaster’s soundtrack) and contributions from Cave’s Daisuke Matsumoto, Key composer Soshi Hosoi and Dariusburst soundtrack contributor Keishi Yonao.

What Go Sato’s tracks for Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix in particular demonstrate is the fact that a lot of Japanese video game composers — and arguably Japanese music artists in general — are stuck approximately 30-40 years in the past in terms of the style of music that they create — and this is absolutely a wonderful thing rather than a criticism. Loud, melodic prog rock and metal works brilliantly in the context of a shoot ’em up that tells a wordless story; music of this type is designed to be evocative and emotionally engaging, and it really adds to the drama of what is going on in the game.

Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix

Not only that, but as a result of the varied performance, compositional and arrangement styles of the artists involved, every stage in Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix has its own distinct atmosphere — and again, this helps with learning the game as well as simply being aesthetically pleasing.

Particular personal highlights of the Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix soundtrack include COSIO’s atmospheric remix of “Tragedy Flame” from Raiden II, Heavy Metal Raiden’s rockin’ version of Raiden II’s first stage theme “Repeated Tragedy” (a personal favourite from the series as a whole) and Go Sato Band’s excellent, subtle reimagining of the Raiden IV original track “Can’t Retrace”. Every track is a banger, though, so you’ll want to turn the sound up loud for this one — though on the offchance you prefer Raiden IV’s original soundtrack (or just want a change) you can switch back to that at any time.

Raiden IV was already an astonishingly good shoot ’em up, and with Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix we have what is, without a doubt, the very best version of this game. If I had one minor, minor nitpick it’s that I would have loved to see some “M2 Gadget”-style analytical features in the border of the screen display — Raiden V did this really well, even going so far as to provide real-time boss strategy guides — but this really is a very minor issue, and more a matter of taste.

Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix

Fact is, Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix is one of the finest shoot ’em ups you’ll ever play. It’s a great introduction to the fundamentals of the genre for newcomers, but provides plenty of long-term challenge for grizzled veterans. And however you choose to play, you can do so accompanied by a fine, fine soundtrack that is just begging you to crank up the volume and rock out. Just watch out for that bu– oh, you’re dead again. Never mind. Continue?

Raiden IV x MIKADO Remix is available now for Nintendo Switch in both physical and digital editions.

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Pete Davison
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