Publisher: Southend Interactive
Developer: Tozai Games
Release Date: February 4, 2009
Back in the arcade heyday, after the big game crash and before the rise of the fighting game, shooters were a big thing. Whether it was a top-down shooter or a side-scrolling one, if the game had you moving all over the screen and blasting down wave after wave of enemy craft, you could guarantee that someone was playing it. Among one of the well-known and well-loved titles of this genre was R-Type, a title remembered for its awesome weaponry, memorable first boss, and tougher-than-nails difficulty.
More than a decade after the Bydo Empire was first introduced to the gaming masses, Tozai Games and Southend Interactive are bringing back the classic game series to the Xbox Live Arcade with R-Type Dimensions, a package that contains both R-Type and R-Type 2, complete with a big graphical makeover. Classic shooting fans will be very pleased with the title, while new fans will wonder how anyone could ever beat such a difficult game in the first place.
Though there are two games in the package, the story for both titles is pretty much the same. The universe is being overrun by the evil Bydo Empire, which is taking over planets left and right. As an inhabitant of one of the last free planets in the solar system, your job in the first game is to eliminate the Bydo Empire. In the second game, you discover that they've returned, and you set out to eradicate them once and for all.
The game is a standard side-scrolling shooter through and through. You can still move from any direction, and enemies do the same. Your arsenal of weaponry consists of speed boosts, missiles, fireballs and several different lasers, including curved lasers and reflective ones. The most iconic weapon of the series, however, is the satellite. Players can choose to attach it to the front or back of the ship, where it acts like a shield for that section. It's a formidable weapon because it can be launched out, acting like both a battering ram and an extra set of guns. As a result, even the standard guns become formidable once the satellite has been obtained.
While all of this firepower is great, you'll definitely need more than that in order to get far in this title. Both R-Type and R-Type 2 were known for being notoriously difficult back in the day, and that reputation still carries over today. Unlike more modern shooters, which rely on using blankets of bullets to provide the player with a challenge, the old-school shooters relied on memorizing enemy and stage patterns in order to get the best possible score with little margin of error.
The R-Type series, however, takes things to extremes by giving you no real margin of error. Players have to learn the hard way which enemy types would appear where and, in some cases, where a level dead-end would be placed. Whereas death in some games means starting immediately where you perished, death in the R-Type universe means starting at a checkpoint, which is usually placed just before a really difficult area. It's this brutal design that gives the series its difficult reputation, and while old-school players will relish in it, new players might find the gameplay system too archaic, which could possibly scare them away.
The compilation features two single-player modes for each provided game. Classic mode is a perfect emulation of the arcade versions of the titles, including the notorious difficulty and checkpoint system. For arcade purists, this is the way to go, but for all other gamers, the Infinite mode makes the game much easier in a few different ways. As the name implies, you have an infinite amount of lives with which to tackle the game. At the end of each level, you are shown how many lives it took for you to pass it, and you're encouraged to try and die less the next time around.
Beyond the single-player, R-Type Dimensions features multiplayer modes for the first time. The two-player co-op mode can be played in either Infinite or Classic mode. While Infinite mode is exactly like the single-player mode, Classic mode gives you the ability to revive a fallen player by picking up a power-up, easing the difficulty a bit more. You can also choose to have collision between players on or off, though with a game this difficult, this option is really for masochists. Co-op is lots of fun when played locally. The same can't really be said for Xbox Live, where the number of people playing this title online is scarce. The few matches that were there had a mild amount of lag that, while not atrocious, doesn't make the game any easier.
The controls handle themselves very well. The thumbstick or d-pad can be used for ship movement, while the A button fires your weapons. Holding down the A button gives you a chance to charge up the regular shot and make it a more powerful blast. The right trigger performs a rapid-fire shot, and the X button sends out your satellite and calls it back. To perfectly emulate the arcade controls, the game also features ship movement with the right thumbstick for left-handed players or those who want to play the game one-handed. With a game this demanding with precision, it's good to see that the controls are as tight as expected. No one will have any real complaints with the controls here.
The graphics have received the biggest buzz surrounding R-Type Dimensions, and with good reason. Instead of simply cleaning up the sprites for a better display on an HDTV, the development team went back and redid everything in 3-D. While it still maintains 2-D movement, anything drawn on the screen, from the ship and enemies to the gunfire and explosions, are all done in 3-D. This is all stunning to look at and makes you feel like you're looking at a brand-new downloadable shooter instead of a remake of an old one.
If the team had simply stopped there, the graphics would've been considered a big feat, especially since the graphical upgrade provides no flaws or slowdown. However, with the press of the Y button, the user can do a switch between 2-D and 3-D graphics on the fly. This is a very cool feature that one doesn't really get tired of doing, especially since the transition is seamless and doesn't require constant pausing of the game to accomplish. Speaking of 2-D, the original graphics still hold up very well now, especially the 16-bit look of R-Type 2. Players who have never seen the arcade originals of either title will be surprised to see just how much detail was put in both the characters and backgrounds, a real testament to the talent of the original programming team.
Adding even more to the graphical package, the programmers decided to include camera options as well. For both 2-D and 3-D graphics schemes, you have the ability to show the game in standard 4:3 mode or in widescreen. The standard 4:3 mode will be good for purists, and the border shown around the screen isn't bad. Widescreen simply stretches out the image instead of giving you more real estate to work with. Unlike other old arcade ports, the widescreen version actually looks pretty good, and nothing suffers in the process. These sound like the expected camera options for the title, but things really start to get interesting when you look at camera options for specific graphic modes.
For 2-D, there's an Arcade mode where you look at the game through the eyes of someone playing in an arcade cabinet. All of the movements you make are also reflected in the movements of an on-screen joystick. The mode isn't exactly very useful, however, since the camera moves whenever you move, making the game screen go off-center almost all of the time. Couple that with the fact that the game screen is small enough so that details are missed, and this becomes a mode that few gamers will even bother trying more than once. For 3-D, a Crazy camera option is available that is much more useful than the name implies. Here, the game camera tilts for a more 3-D view, where the right side of the screen goes in a bit and the left side goes out. In this view, you can see that the programmers put plenty of detail in their 3-D models and, for some, the view makes the game feel a bit fresher graphically. Because of the uniqueness of this viewpoint, you can expect to play both R-Type titles in this mode just to see the old levels in a new light.
Unlike the graphics, the sound in R-Type Dimensions hasn't changed at all from the original. The classic 8- and 16-bit sounds heard from the original arcade versions are intact and faithfully reproduced here. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since the sound is actually very well done. The synthesizer-based music fits very well with the space theme and also holds up well, considering how much time has passed. The same goes for the sound effects, which complement the 3-D graphics as well as they did the 2-D graphics. Overall, the decision to keep the original sounds and music intact was a very wise one.
For all of the accolades and good things that R-Type Dimensions brings to the Xbox 360, the price point will stop some people from ever trying it out. At $15, the price is pretty expensive for two arcade titles that end up being a bit on the short side. Considering that other $15 titles on the service provide more gameplay length than this title, some people will be very hesitant to give this one a shot. While this is understandable, especially considering the other options out there for shooter fans on the Xbox 360, gamers who are willing to take the plunge and get this title will not be disappointed at what they receive. Despite the relatively high difficulty level, this is a prime example of old-school gaming at its best.