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Looking Back to 1987 with R-Type

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In all honesty my memory of playing R-Type is spotty at best. If I recall correctly, I had a copy of the game for the original PlayStation which was also bundled with the sequel, and spent several stressful but happy hours blasting the alien menace known as the Bydo. These pesky hostiles were intent on wiping out humanity and came in all shapes and sizes. In fact, whether you look at the beautiful arcade art from the time or the game visuals themselves, it’s clear the legendary Alien films provided inspiration here.

You could argue that R-Type defined the traditional side-scrolling arcade shooter. Although taking some inspiration from Gradius before it, the game cruised into arcades and was an instant hit with gamers, picking up rave reviews across the board along with a few accolades. Interestingly, in North America it was Nintendo who distributed the arcade version of the game. This was their last cabinet they shipped.

At the forefront of the battle against the enemy was the R-9 “Arrowhead”, the player controlled ship that in one form or another features throughout the entire franchise. Your craft had a pretty weak main weapon, alongside a more powerful wave cannon which needed charging before firing. When you were in the heat of battle, these seconds felt like a lifetime.

As well as whizzing from side to side, trying to avoid numerous enemies and their different firing patterns, the Arrowhead could pair up with the “Force”. This glowing orb-like attachment had various uses, such as enabling an additional weapon and crucially acting as a shield. That wasn’t all though, as it could detach and act as an extra pair of guns to support you, akin to a friendly little drone.  

It’s a good job too, because R-Type was hard. Really hard. I remember being grateful for all the help I could muster, as the Bydo pulled every trick in the book to try and take me down. They would rush you en masse, sneak in from the edges of the screen and ambush you, as well as just generally suppress you into a corner which required precision shooting and often a little luck to escape. There was a slim to non-existent margin for error in R-Type.

You’d do well to make it through all of that, and as a result may have expected to be rewarded. Wrong. Instead each stage would usually end in a boss fight, and these encounters would be a further test of your reflexes. With no health bar to be seen, repeatedly shooting the weak parts as they scarcely revealed themselves whilst frantically weaving in and out of enemy fire was the only way to survive. 

Despite all this, R-Type was utterly addictive. It definitely had the “one more go” factor going for it, tempting players back in as they tried to conquer a game which almost taunted them that they weren’t skilled enough. Short, sharp bursts of high octane gameplay made it the perfect arcade shooter.

As you can imagine, a bonafide hit like R-Type went on to spawn many sequels as well as remakes for nearly every console over the years. It was perfectly suited to the online market, making an appearance on the Wii and 3DS virtual consoles as well as mobile platforms.

If you want something of the same flavour that is a little more up to date, then R-Type Final 2 is the latest release in the franchise. Ironically, it’s a sequel to the game which was originally meant to be the last voyage for the main series. However, the next instalment is reportedly coming as a free update to those who own it, so we may be treated to fresh R-Type action for a little while yet.

If, like me, you are a huge fan of where it all began or simply want to experience the birth of an arcade legend, you can pick up R-Type Dimensions from the Xbox Store. It may be a native Xbox 360 game, but you can play it on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S too. 

There have been countless games which have taken inspiration from R-Type, but for me not a single one has managed to top it just yet. 

What about you? The comments section is below.

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