Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Great Moments In Gaming History #2: R-Type

The answer to the above question is "no". R-Type is one of the most nun-punchingly hard games ever released for any system, ever. Not only will you not survive, but you'll be pathetically grateful just to outlast the first level.

R-Type swaggered into arcades in 1987 and immediately began to savagely molest the previous genre kings, Gradius (1985) and Darius (1986). I love Gradius in the way that a Catholic priest loves his altar boy, but there is no question that R-Type is the better game. The opening screen challenges you to "Blast off and attack the evil Bydo empire!" and by golly that's exactly what you do.

It's R-Type that's responsible for introducing or popularising nearly everything that we expect today from shoot-em-ups. Customisable weapons, a semi-controllable option pod known as the "Force", and a chargeable beam shot are all core elements of the R-Type experience. For the first time gamers were called upon to not just epileptically flail around the screen dodging bullets (although there's plenty of that) but also to consider the placement of their Force pod and develop a long-term strategy.

The graphics are attractive even by today's standards, stuffed full of chibi mecha and Giger-esque monstrosities. Environments are colourful and bosses are appropriately intimidating. The game's a pleasure to watch, although you'll likely be watching the same section again and again as you struggly manfully to not solve the ridicuously hard level design with a hammer and blowtorch.

Eventually most home consoles saw ports of R-Type; the TurboGrafx-16 version is available today through the Wii Virtual Console. Despite the game only being eight levels long, the original TurboGrafx release was split across two cartridges which were sold separately at full price. The Japanese Virtual Console shop preserves this format, requiring two downloads, but luckily Western gamers can get the whole thing as a single reasonably-priced purchase.

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