Two of the best 2D shooters of all-time are re-released for Nintendo Switch and PC, and theyre perfect for players new and old.
R-Type is perfect. The original arcade game was, and is, the definitive 2D shooter and one of the most expertly crafted video games ever made. But like any retro title that doesnt mean that every subsequent re-release gets a free pass. Depending on the accuracy of the conversion, the controls, and the price the original vision can become distorted or diluted. But here all the changes are entirely on purpose.
In actual fact R-Type has a proud history of excellent home conversions, from the Spectrum to the PC Engine, and thankfully this is no different. Its a slightly enhanced version of a compilation released last gen for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, which contains the original two arcade games in both original pixel perfect flavour and a new 3D art style. You can play as one and permanently ignore the other or switch between them at will, which is exactly how these sort of updates should always be handled.
If youve never heard of R-Type before then the first thing we would say is that this is the perfect download for you. The first game was originally released in arcades in 1987 and was immediately lauded for its detailed Giger-esque graphics and slow-paced but highly technical gameplay. We still regard it as the pinnacle of retro 2D shooters and, unusually, its 1989 sequel is just as good – both then and now.
Apart from its pacing and visuals the other things R-Type is remembered for are its distinctive weapon system and its boss battles. You start the game with a chargeable cannon and can outfit yourself with a range of missiles, shields, and more elaborate main lasers. But your most essential power-up is an indestructible ball-shaped option called a Force, which can be shot out in front of you and then collected again to either sit at the back or front of your ship.
Depending on how you have the Force attached you can emphasise attack or defence, with your ordinary weapon systems shifting in accordance. All this is achieved without overcomplicating the controls and immediately adds a great deal more depth to the action than your run-of-the-mill shooter. But if that sounds like it should make things unusually easy for you, the opposite is true.
R-Type is unrelentingly difficult, even by the standards of the time, and while rote learning plays its part theres enough random elements to enemy appearances and actions that you have to rely equally on memory and reactions – which is exactly why its so great.
This is particularly true during the games giant-sized boss battles, form the iconic first encounter with Dobkeratops to a variety of other bizarre biological and mechanical menaces. In a concept that subsequently became commonplace in 2D shooters some bosses, most notably the capital ship in the first R-Type, take up the majority of a level as you slowly chip away at their armour and defences.
If the difficultly level is starting to put you off then dont worry, as the game will happily provide you with infinite lives if you need them. You can also slow down the action or speed it up (the most significant new addition since last gen), showing a clear acknowledgement of the games difficulty and as much attempt as possible to ease new players into it. Although, as you can imagine, scoring is based on how few reincarnations you use.
Theres also a new co-op mode for two players, which can have friendly fire turned on or off, and a set of well-conceived achievements which help you get the most out of the game. But the biggest new feature is that you can extrude the original 2D graphics out into 3D and, if you choose to, rotate the camera round so you can see whats coming up a little easier.
Or at least thats the theory. In practise we found the 3D camera makes it a lot harder to judge distance, particularly in terms of the backgrounds, but as with everything else you dont have to use it and it is at least a neat graphical trick. We still prefer the original pixel art graphics, which remain far more characterful, but the new ones are nowhere near as bland as the smoothing options you usually get in arcade remasters.
The only real problem is that the Switchs Joy-Cons dont have a proper D-pad, which is essential if you want to get really good at the game. Thats alleviated if youre using a Pro Controller (or playing the PC version, which is also new) but its really the only negative in what is a very respectful and well thought out remaster.
The price might seem a little high, but its 20% off at the moment, on both the Switch eShop and Steam, so if youve never played the games before – or just need another excuse to return to them – this is the perfect way to play a couple of near perfect action games.
R-Type Dimensions EX
In Short: The best 2D shooters of the retro era return once again, with a good value package that has plenty for new fans and old.
Pros: Both games are cast iron classics and still look and play great today. Wide range of difficulty options and assists, as well as a co-op mode. Remastered graphics and music are pretty decent.
Cons: The lack of D-pad on the Switch is not ideal. The 3D camera is pretty impractical.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed) and PC
Publisher: Tozai Games
Developer: ESQUADRA and Irem
Release Date: 28th November 2018
Age Rating: 7