Shooters: The Final Frontier.
As gaming evolves, it is only natural that some genres will go the way of the dodo. The industry is, after all, about money and progress, and game companies often stay away from things that are no longer profitable or fail to push technological boundaries. But despite these trends, a company will occasionally return to the classics for a little slice of retro heaven.
At the moment that company is Eidos, and the classic we get to revisit is a little side-scrolling shooter called R-Type. The R-Type series first hit the scene back in 1988 (here in the U.S., at least) on the Sega Master System and was last seen in 1999 on the Playstation. But while the glory days of side-scrolling shooters may be long gone, R-Type: Final gives us one last chance to strap into a state of the art fighter plane and save the world from the evil Bydo.
When it comes to gameplay, R-Type: Final stays true to its roots and vets of the series won't have any trouble getting started. Just acquaint your finger with the fire button and unleash a torrent of projectiles against a seemingly endless horde of enemies. Power-ups still appear from time to time on the field of battle to give you the edge and giant boss fights are still commonplace. But that doesn't mean that there's nothing new going on here.
R-Type: Final employs approximately 100 different ships, each with its own characteristics and payload. Not happy with the way your ship is set up? Then change it! You can choose from a list of primary and secondary weapons or just give your ship a new paint job. It's all up to you. You'll start off with a mere three fighters in your hangar, but the stream of unlockable ships will start almost immediately. From Albatross to Hades, War Head to Sleipnir, you'll find a plethora of interesting and oddly named ships with unique capabilities. The variety and customizability is great and adds life to the game.
To deal with the Bydo threat, all of the ships in R-Type: Final are decked out with several firepower options. Each of the ships carries its own type of chargeable Wave Cannon, ranging from your average one shot deal to the rapid fire Hyper Wave Cannon. Then there are the Force attachments - and I'm not talking about no stinkin' Jedi midichlorians. Force weapon attachments can be docked at the front or the rear of your ship, and picking up one of three color-coded power-ups will enhance the Force with an array of powerful lasers or special devastating effects depending on the fighter.
The munitions continue with the Dose gauge - collect enough power and you'll be able to unleash it all in a brutal knockout punch. And last but not least, the helpful Bits make a return to provide a little extra firepower support above and below your ship. Taken together, the Wave Cannon, Force attachments, Dose gauge and Bits present plenty of ways to deal out punishment.
The level design, however, is less interesting. Some are completely uneventful and boring; just set lasers to "kill' and fire away, while others at least have you flying around huge ships, dodging enemy fire and avoiding obstacles. To spice things up, your performance on each level can lead to the discovery of tweaked new versions of the next level, which gives the game some added replay value.
While the gameplay itself is all about action, a good strategy is key to success. Besides learning the enemy patterns, you'll have a much smoother go if you select the appropriate fighter for the task at hand. You can naturally pass each level with any ship you want, but using the best one suited for the job makes things immensely easier.
Speaking of which, it's a good thing R-Type: Final allows you to select a difficulty setting or a lot of controllers would be smashed out of frustration. Five difficulty levels are available, from Baby to R-Typer, but even the default setting will prove to be a challenge for most gamers.
The visual effects have come a long way from the original 2D days. The game moves smoothly and looks fine with lots of colorful backgrounds and pretty explosions. The weapon effects and background music are equally adequate.
In addition to the standard single player game, there's a weird AI Versus mode that pits your ship against one controlled by the computer. Oddly, you don't actually control your own ship. All you do is set the behaviors for it (i.e. aggressive, defensive, pick up red power-ups, etc.) and watch it go. It's about as much fun as watching a computer controlled demo; a two player co-op would have been much cooler.
R-Type: Final may be the swan song for this classic shooter franchise, but at least it's a solid finish. The simplistic nature of the game doesn't leave a ton of staying power, but with an MSRP of $29.99, it's a great way to go out.