Release Date: May 6, 2008
There are certain games hat almost make you dread playing them — games that you instinctively know are going to drag on until you're forced to put down the thing before rigor mortis sets in. When I heard that R-Type Command, the fast, addictive and fluid side-scrolling shooter was transforming into a turn-based strategy, such feelings emerged. When I started playing it, I found that my usual gripes about turn-based strategies being slower than a snail with a hangover were somewhat misplaced, but the overall game dynamic suffers from the same dullness that pervades other genre offerings, ultimately limiting what is essentially a well-designed game.
The story runs on the predictable premise that you have to defeat an invading alien force known as the Bydo, who have worked their way into Earth's solar system and are mounting an attack with a number of vehicles seemingly plagiarized from every conceivable sci-fi reference. One look at the artwork in the manual revealed the core ships used by the Marine Corps to look an awful lot like the Vipers from "Battlestar Galactica," the mech suits are the same as Gundam, and the Gauper aliens look like they could have wandered in from the set of the film "Aliens." Throw in the parasitic Metroid replicas, and we have a game that presents an almost criminal lack of imagination from the design team. These were just my initial impressions, though, and as I settled into the game, the story didn't exactly take off, but it managed to keep the whole thing in motion long enough to keep me playing it for a good hours at a time.
The gameplay is standard turn-based fare, which will come as no surprise to anyone who has played other genre offerings. Each ship has a turn during which it can move, attack or perform a specific task, and once these have all been completed to the player's specifications, the turn ends, and the enemy has a turn to attack. Each turn takes longer than open heart surgery to complete, but involves a lot of forward thinking and strategizing when it comes to the choice and movement of units. It is obvious that the developers have put a lot of thought into the strategy segment, with support units being able to refuel ships for long battles, defensive and offensive units, and various abilities, such as creating decoys. Larger ships can also hold smaller ships in their hulls to save on fuel and protect them. For a side-scrolling 2-D strategy, this is very impressive, and fans of the genre will be pleasantly surprised.
The number of units and different strategies is impressive. By looking at the units and strategies, R-Type Command starts to become a much deeper game than is revealed at the first glance, although it suffers from inconsistency on a number of levels. For starters, the flow of the turns is broken up by arbitrary cut scenes where you attack, or defense movements are randomly chosen to be depicted. These are pretty enough but are repetitive in their animations and take an eternity to load; the last thing that the title needed was more slowdown and an inconsistent game speed, but the addition of the cut scenes slows the pace to a standstill. Another inconsistency with gameplay is the difficulty curve, which shoots up from the outset and challenges the player to use all of his ingenuity to progress — before becoming much easier in the third level. My own ham-handedness at this title was enough to prove that this was not progression made by me as much as it was a breakdown in the devilish learning curve.
A few other design flaws make themselves blatantly obvious within the first few levels, as the staple weaponry for most crafts is a machine gun that would probably inflict more damage if it were dismantled and thrown at the enemy. My first few volleys of this attack seemed to scratch the paint of one vessel, but they immediately retaliated with a missile attack from an enemy ship, destroying three of my units. It's only a small issue, but the balancing of the weapon damages in R-Type Command is grossly uneven, especially when you start getting the fast-reloading super weaponry. Unit upgrades and salvageable materials from battles, which can be developed into new ships, adds a whole new aspect to the title and promotes multiple playthroughs of each level to unlock new ships and build your fleet.
The multiplayer function doesn't offers anything new from the single-player game, save for a betting function where you get to bet on the outcome of the match, which could lead to a lot of thrown matches and broken friendships. However, due to the lengthy game time of most campaigns, the multiplayer function will undoubtedly be shelved for more exciting handheld experiences (where something actually happens).
The graphics are a little schizophrenic in that the main portion of R-Type Command will take place in 2-D environments with backdrops resembling the original iterations, with sections of cut scenes placed at completely random moments when an attack occurs. The cut scenes are well-rendered, colorful and fairly gripping considering they are scripted. More than this, they allow the player to see the fundamental visual differences in weapons and craft, which may not be apparent in the 2-D representations. They are a necessary, if poorly implemented, section of the game's appearance due to the aforementioned disruption to the gameplay. The 2-D scrolling environments may come across as simplistic, but due to the complex nature of strategy and proper usage of units, this thankfully makes the whole experience more accessible and doesn't overcomplicate what is essentially a very simple and easy-to-pick-up control system.
The title's audio is decent enough, with fairly stirring background music when the battle intensifies. It never really has you on the edge of your seat, though, as the overall tunes aren't very exciting. I'll admit that listening to hardcore trance music or wailing rock guitar solos while waiting 10 minutes for a round to be over would seem a bit incongruous with the gameplay. The sound effects feel ripped from the original titles, and as such, grounded Command in its R-Type roots, which is by no means a bad thing. The same can be said about the backdrops and the 2-D layout: It feels like fan service, which suits the game well and shows a bit of loyalty to the original concept.
As a reviewer, it's difficult to ignore the obvious qualities of R-Type Command: well-thought-out design, charming presentation, and the ability to challenge even the most hardcore strategy fans. As a gamer, however, I ultimately felt underwhelmed by the whole experience. This title really didn't do it for me; the prolonged turn times, irritating loading times for cut scenes, uneven weapon balancing, and the lack of ingenuity all point to a lapse in design, which ruins what is a technically decent title. More than these flaws, however, R-Type Command is simply dull. I'm not one of those people who cannot function in a game without blowing up something every two seconds, but this title will try anyone's patience. As far as the genre goes, R-Type Command is probably as good as you are going to get on a handheld, but it must be stressed that this is only for the die-hard fans of the genre.
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