One of the most popular and enduring arcade games of the 1980s, R-Type not only revolutionised the fledgling side-scrolling shooter genre, but also spawned an entire franchise of iconic shmups that ran for several decades on countless home computers and consoles. Now, 34 years after the original and almost 17 years since the last main iteration, we are finally being treated to a new entry in the historic series, but is it worth dusting off our old space helmets for? Or is R-Type another franchise best left to the dustbin of history?
A direct sequel to 2004’s divisive Playstation 2 hit, R-Type Final, RTF2 kicks off right from where its predecessor left us with immediately familiar mechanics and visuals. The souped-up HD graphics are gloriously presented and look silky smooth with incredible texture work and attention to detail. The familiar organic-looking enemies and HR Giger-inspired monstrous extraterrestrial elements are at their hideous best here and are a treat to behold on modern hardware. Similarly, the soundtrack is a feast for the ears, mixing dark industrial synths with Europop beats for a strangely fitting retro-future vibe that pumps the action along nicely.
Gameplay is literally exactly what one would come to expect from an R-Type title, and those familiar with the series will have no problems jumping straight into the action. Several difficulty options are available (including the gloriously patronising ‘kids’ setting in place of easy mode), but even the lowest settings will present a fairly significant challenge – particularly for those unfamiliar with the rigours of old school arcade gaming! Although there are several checkpoints throughout each level, you will more than likely find these to be largely inconsequential, given that when you die, you lose all your power ups. This is probably the most punishing element of the game, as a powered-down ship during the latter parts of a stage is essentially a sitting duck, although various power ups are scattered fairly liberally throughout.
Level design, enemy placement and boss battles (three of the main staples of what a make a great shmup) are all of an extremely high standard. The main campaign is an absolute joy to play through and the presentation is superb throughout. Where RTF2 really succeeds, however, is in its vast amount of customisation options and incredible amount of replay value. There are seemingly limitless amounts of weapon, missile and defence options over countless different ships, all of which make significant differences to the gameplay. You could literally play the game hundreds of times and never have the same experience twice. While it’s undeniable that the side-scrolling arcade shooter is a niche genre and the R-Type franchise isn’t for everyone, there’s also no denying that this is both a fine return to form and about as strong an example of this type of gaming experience as one could find.