R-Type Dimensions Xbox Live Review
I’m not sure what started the trend, but arcade shooters have found a good home on Xbox Live Arcade. With Microsoft’s box playing host to shooters of the top-down, side-scrolling, and bullet-hell variety, the number of thumb-twitching shooter games continues to grow, and so does Japan’s audience. It’s a good fit, overall.
It was only a matter of time before one of the most celebrated shooters would make its way to XBLA, and that day has come courtesy of Irem, Tozai, and Southend Interactive with the release of R-Type Dimensions, a high definition redux of the first two games in the classic arcade series.
The R-Type series isn’t quite as well known as Konami’s Gradius series, but the following of Irem’s arcade classic is still strong, and this newest high-def reimagining is the perfect introduction for newcomers looking to experience classic levels of frustration.
Set in the 22nd century, R-Type centers around a war between humans and an evil alien force called the Bydo Empire. It’s your standard shoot-em-up plotline, but at least it was detailed enough at the time. The short of it is that you are piloting the “Arrowhead”, a lone combat ship sent out to take down the entire race of phallic-shaped monstrosities on its own (or with a friend, it has co-op!). Players will start on the left side of the universe and blast their way to the right, with a number of obstacles (both predatory and immovable, respectively) standing in their way across six stages.
For being such an old shoot ‘em up, R-Type brought forth some notable innovations to the genre, most notably with its “Force” power-up. By collecting the power-up from a specific enemy, an extra flying pod will appear that can attach to the front and back of the Arrowhead like a shield. And just like a shield, the Force can repel standard enemy attacks, and even enemies themselves by making contact with them. Like Skywalker in the trench, mastering the Force is key to surviving the onslaught of enemies and their big colourful laser beams, and collecting additional power-ups to upgrade your arsenal as well as your shield’s helps balance the difficulty from impossible to difficult.
Did I mention the game is hard as all hell out? Another famous landmark of the series, R-Type games may not have invented the term “bullet hell”, but it certainly deserves coining the phrase “environment hell”; even if you can keep track of the swarm of pests blasting away at you, the many walls, nooks, and crannies that make up the areas (both organic and science fiction in nature) could result in an immediate crash. One especially annoying level in R-Type 2 has the environment constantly changing shape, with walls stretching in and out for maximum controller tossing.
But for shooter fans, they wouldn’t have it any other way, yet the game also caters to the casual crowd with an “Infinite Mode”. In addition to the standard “Classic Mode”, Infinite Mode is so named for giving players an unlimited amount of lives as well as the ability to immediately respawn at the spot that they died. For pro gamers, it gives them a new challenge to see how few ships they can sacrifice per stage, while casuals can get a quick tour through both games as well as nabbing the achievements for completion. The trade off, though, is that starting over in certain, more hectic areas without any power-ups or shield can result in rapid deaths, especially the final boss and its unavoidable homing lasers.
While both R-Type games can be played in their original iterations, Southend has gone the extra mile to deliver a number of visual additions for both high def and retro enthusiasts; The remixed version of the graphics feature fully 3D polygons of the classic stages and enemies, and as a neat bonus players can instantly switch from the original and remade graphics with the push of a button. Additional visual effects include an “insane” camera mode that tilts the HD graphics in an angle, in order to create some bizarre hologram card effect (you know, the ones from the ’90s), as well as the ability to play the classic visuals on a virtual arcade cabinet. It might prove distracting from the swarm of enemies, but it is neat in a retro sort of way. And speaking of retro, you can also apply various filters to give the visuals an 8-bit feel, among other combinations.
The only disappointment is that the soundtrack hasn’t received a similar treatment; only the original chiptunes are available, although they are still quite charming in their own right. At least there’s always the option of custom soundtracks.
In closing, R-Type Dimensions is a worthy attempt in catering to series fans, shooter fans, and retro fans at the same time. It’s easy to get into, but quite hard to master. Let’s hope they soon adapt the rest of the R-Type games with the same care they brought with Dimensions.