We’ve been quite excited about R-Type Final 2 ever since it was announced a couple of years ago (as a Kickstarter project) and it’s finally arrived. If you don’t know, R-Type is shoot ’em up royalty. A series that goes back to the golden age of the arcades with the first game hitting the streets back in 1987 with new instalments hitting the coin-op and home console scenes pretty regularly. Well, that was until R-Type Final shut the door on the main line of the series back in 2003. Sure, we had a few curios after that with remasters and a couple of unexpected strategy games based on the series but to all intents and purposes, the series was done.
But as with horror films, nothing’s ever really final in this business and so NIS America have pulled a Friday The 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter and brought R-Type back from the dead. Developers Granzella were brought onboard and while their limited softography only has Disaster Report 4 as a highlight, it turns out they’ve got some former Irem bods on board. Notably, the Lead Designer, Kazuma Kujo, who worked on R-Type Delta, R-Type Final and R-Type Tactics.
If you’re new to the series, then what you need to know is that this is a horizontally-scrolling shoot ’em up. You play as a solo pilot who has to infiltrate the Bydo empire, an invading alien force who seem like they’ve watched a few too many Alien movies. While they are a formidable force with plenty of enemies for you to kill, bullets to dodge and giant bosses to figure out you are at least equipped with a ship which is packed with formidable firepower and clever strategic add-ons.
Famously, the first game in the series had you flying the R-9 “Arrowhead” which at the time was the best ship anyone had ever used in a shoot ’em up with its three weapon types, additional missiles, defensive ‘bits’ and, most notably, the “Force” which was a detachable pod that could be used to augment your firepower or just as a shield or battering ram. It added so many great options to the gameplay that it kind of made us all realise that after level three (or four if we’re being kind) the game rather stops being fun and instead becomes like a cross between a memory test and being punched in the head while being waterboarded. Yes, R-Type was no joke when it came to its difficulty.
While the sequels would add more ships from the R range, the 2003 game, R-Type Final, featured 101 playable ships and so that’s where we’re at with R-Type Final 2. Well, there appears to be 99 but while three are available at the start, some are locked behind passwords for Kickstarter backers and the rest are behind a grindy progression system where you spend in-game currency to unlock them via various trees in the ‘R-Museum.’
But before we get into that, the main thing is the gameplay. So, after you register your pilot and pick a ship, it’s time to blast off. From first impressions, this is exactly what you expect R-Type to be. The game’s levels were developed around the basic R9 ship and that plays the same it always has. The same weapons, the same add-ons and the Force unit is just as it has been since day one (albeit with the additional tier of charging power). As you fly through the level, it very much feels like R-Type with popcorn enemies to dominate, larger ones to give you a quick scare, power-ups to snag and, of course, a boss to fight. Level one’s boss is Dobkeratops, the super-memorable guardian from the opening level of the original R-Type. She’s frozen for some reason though but still puts up a fight. Interestingly, she’s not frozen on the game’s harder difficulties though and uses the extra freedom to make your life hell.
As you progress, the game continues to follow certain cues from the first game. Level two has the interesting and deadly flora and fauna theme that R-Type had for its second stage, level three sees a return of the iconic mothership from the first game’s third stage and level four has the weird, organic cells that block your way forward. So far, so R-Type. Level five mixes it up by being underwater (apparently, more on that later) and then you have branching routes with levels 6 and 7 (the game’s final stage) all having three variants which are chosen by picking up certain items at the end of the fifth stage. Much like DARIUSBURST Chronicle Saviours, the game explains none of this and seems happy to be quite obtuse about some of the details which is odd given the amount of data it throws at you between stages and off of the main menu.
The seven stages of the game, regardless of which route you pick, offer a pretty stiff challenge as you might expect. Thankfully, the game gives you an initial five difficulty settings with Normal being really bloody hard, ‘Kids’ having its moments and ‘Practice’ offering you the easiest route but still requiring you to mind your Ps and Qs as well as develop a bit of a spidey-sense as death can come from anywhere including locations that we’d classify as ‘absolute bullshit.’
In the other direction ‘Bydo’ and ‘R-Typer’ are the two higher difficulties and these really separate the men from the boys, with us barely qualifying as foetuses. R-Typer 2 and 3 are unlockable extra circles of Hell for those of you with the stomach and fingers to take on the sort of ridiculous challenge that the series has been known for (especially for those of you who played R-Type 2 back in the day).
So, it’s been over 17 years. How is it? Well… we can’t help be a little disappointed. Level one had us excited (excited enough to purchase the game physically just based on the demo) but then it kind of tails off. Partially for predictably R-Type reasons but also for some new ones. We’re not surprised that the game is happy to throw a cheap death at us, but some times they are absolute bullshit. An enemy blazing at you from below, a boss crashing into you from behind with no warning, a jet blasting you from the background, bullets going all JFK and curving around the place. Sure, you learn lessons and hope to do better next time but it can be galling to see a great run curtailed by a peasant’s death. Especially when you lose your weapons and are left to fend for yourself with the equivalent of a peashooter. Indeed on higher levels, a single death may as well be a game over because it is so hard to recover from. Even on Normal there were situations where we were just too vulnerable to continue and in certain situations the game had us swearing under our breath and wondering why we weren’t just playing Returnal instead.
We know. The answer is ‘git gud’ but our reply is ‘Go F yourself, buddy.’
Then you’ve got the enemies which are just lacking when compared to some of the great games from this series. We remember being blown away by the biomechanical horrors of R-Type, R-Type III and R-Type Delta but everything is a bit flat and generic here. This is especially true on level 2 where there are these big stupid flower things that look ridiculous or on level 5 where the biggest danger comes from these rubbish bouncy watermelon things.
The bosses, such a staple of the great creature design the series is known for, are also a bit disappointing. Dobkeratops looks like she’s having a bit of a laid back, lazy Sunday, the bosses on levels two, five, six and the final boss are just instantly forgettable. Most disappointing though is the Warship on level three which lacks the sheer awesomeness from the first game and is just a bit rubbish. The boss on level four is pretty clever though and is really the one highlight in this area.
And sure, 99 ships sounds great but this just leads to more problems. Firstly, there’s a lot of similarity between large numbers of them. The entire R9 range is just variations on the same theme for example. And it’d be nice to know what you’re about to spend your resources on before you unlock a ship. There are certain types that are seemingly pretty useless. Get a ship with a ‘Tentacle Force’ and it’ll melt bosses with ease but other types will turn even the easiest boss battles into drawn out affairs where you chip away at them while hoping a stray bullet doesn’t take you out and leave you with far less firepower. It’s amazing how much of a difference this makes and while we’ll be the first to hold our hands up if we’re wrong but we’re pretty sure ships with the ‘Drill Force’ have absolutely no merit.
We’ve unlocked twenty ships so far but most of them don’t hold a candle to our current favourite and so we’ll keep hoping for a ship that can best it but it’s a shame we have to literally gamble with our time to find out. And while it’s great that this game exists thanks to Kickstarter, it’s not very nice seeing content locked out. I mean this game cost us £40 which is a lot for a shoot ’em up, especially when it has the temerity to offer day one DLC and a season pass. And whilst we’re whining, the inclusion of an artbook and soundtrack CD is nice, but the flimsy card sleeve (that doesn’t even wrap fully around the packaging) is as useful as chocolate Drill Force at Dobkeratop’s family reunion.
One thing that cemented R-Type as a legit hall of famer in the shoot ’em up genre was its visuals. Even if the game kind of blew its load early on with levels one and three, it was quite the looker. R-Type III was absolutely gorgeous on the SNES and R-Type Delta is still a thing of beauty (especially that achingly cool final stage and all the boss cameos) but R-Type Final 2 is actually pretty disappointing. The first level looks great initially thanks to some lovely lighting effects courtesy of the Unreal Engine. It’s a real treat seeing the walls reflect the light as you charge up your Force and blast lasers along the floor and ceiling. The enemies and actual stages are kind of simple but it looks good.
But then it drops off a bit. Stage two is a bit of a mess and the lighting effects become way less apparent. However, it is stage three which really baffled us. The mighty Warship that wowed gamers back in 1987 returns here once again (it’s a bit of a staple in the series) but it looks so flat and underwhelming. Honestly, it looks like a level from a much cheaper game and PSN is full of shoot ’em ups of that lower quality. After that aberration, things get a bit more detailed but it all just looks a bit messy with inconsistent lighting, texture clipping, tired designs and overly large objects that somehow made our 50″ 4K telly feel like we were playing on a cramped 14″ portable CRT. And while we expect this to get patched out, occasionally the bloom effect on bullets goes absolutely mental and makes the game almost unplayable until you close the application and fully restart it (see below).
We mentioned level five earlier and it took us a while to realise that this level is supposed to be underwater. Other games in the series have done this but here you really can’t tell (okay, the first part of the level’s name is ‘Diving’ and there are a couple of water bubbles after you beat the boss). We’ve never seen such underwhelming water effects in our lives. It was then that we got the feeling that maybe this Kickstarter underestimated the costs of making a good game. Maybe that’s why level three looks so bad and why the bosses are so forgettable. The basic stuff, and by that we mean the weapon effects, look good but everything around it is all a bit low budget.
Just to check that we weren’t being somehow a bit mean, we fired up Soldner X2 again and yep, it’s cleaner, brighter and more exciting to play despite being a port of a PS3 game. It’s also just more fair. There’s plenty of challenge in it, especially if you dig into all of the extra objectives the game gives you, but it resists the temptation to just smack you out of the skies with no warning. Sure, R-Type has always been more about memorisation and less about twitch but even so.
The combination of its underwhelming presentation, grindy meta-game, generic enemies, wasteful ship designs and inconsistent gameplay (in terms of ship builds versus bosses) means that we can’t help but feel like R-Type Final should have stayed final. The weight of coin-op history weighs heavy on its shoulders too, as does that hefty price tag. But it’s not all bad news. Drop the game down in difficulty and its a perfectly serviceable shoot ’em up and there is a little bit of dopamine to be mined out if you find a decent ship to play with. The customisation options also add a little bit of fun too. And if you’re a shoot ’em up god, then bang it up to R-Typer 3 difficulty and 1CC your way to glory. It might not be fun, but it’ll be an achievement. But for those of us in the middle who want a fair, consistent challenge with presentation that truly lives up to the R-Type name, this just isn’t the one.
+ Some nice lighting effects
+ Can be enjoyable with the right ship and difficulty
+ Lots of ships to try out (eventually)
- Not much actual content when you get past how samey a lot of it is
- Uninspiring bosses, enemies and levels
- Average graphics
- Harsh difficulty spikes, unhelpful checkpoints and unfair moments
- Some weapon setups feel useless
- Day one DLC feels like a bit of a sting