Ray’z Arcade Chronology is a compilation of three Taito arcade shoot ’em ups, 1994’s Rayforce, 1996’s RayStorm and the 1998 prequel RayCrisis. All three of them are vertically-scrolling shoot ’em ups that borrow heavily from the classics of the genre, in particular Namco’s Xevious games, and while each of the games has been re-released over the years, this pack brings them all together for the first time.
While all three games revolve around humanity battling against the AI (“Con-Human”) that once controlled their food and weather after it becomes self-aware and destroys so many people that the few survivors have to flee to off-planet space colonies. However, that’s not enough for Con-Human who then decides to go after them in space too which leads to humanity creating the X-LAY ship that you’ll be piloting in the first game.
Of the three games on offer, RayForce is the most traditional shoot ’em up. Originally known as Layer Section in Japan, the game’s action takes place on two levels in so far as you’ll be shooting the enemies in front of you with your primary shot but will also need to take out ground-based foes (or enemies flying below you in the space-based levels) with your bomb attack. While the primary shot is straightforward enough, the bomb is a little more fiddly as it requires you to lock onto enemies using a cursor just ahead of your ship and then hit the button to release the attack. The more enemies you lock onto before you bomb, the more you’ll score.
While the action is smooth and solid and also a great example of shoot ’em ups of the time, the lock-on mechanic is a bit fiddly to manage at times. Also, even on the easiest difficulty, the speed of enemy shots and the slightly cluttered visuals do tend to lead to some unfair deaths at times. There’s also very little in the way of surprises with RayForce. It’s a very typical shoot ’em up with nothing to make it stand out from the crowd (especially as you had the likes of Cave just killing it with their ’90s output) but it’s a decent enough game.
Where RayForce was a typical top-down 2D shooter, RayStorm brought things into the mid-’90s PlayStation era with more of a 2.5D, tilted viewpoint and 3D polygonal ships. This definitely ups the visual interest but also the game offers up two playable ships each with more of a laser-based primary attack, differing lock-on attacks and ‘special’ attack which is screen-wide.
You also get the very handy auto-lock option which lets you bomb and shoot at the same time. This makes for a less fussy experience when playing but does limit your score-chasing potential a little.
Again, it’s a very solid example of this type of shoot ’em up with no real issues but again nothing that’s going to wow new audiences. But we did appreciate the option to have either the original visuals or a smoothed-out HD version which isn’t as nice to look at but is definitely a lot cleaner.
That leaves us with 1998’s RayCrisis which also uses a similarly tilted 2.5D visual style as RayStorm but adds randomised stages, new weapons, an ‘Encroachment Meter’ which punishes you for letting enemies survive by giving you the game’s ‘bad’ ending if you get that far. The auto-lock option has gone though and while the game is fun to play, it’s probably the worst in terms of a lack of visual clarity. They were clearly having a lot of fun trying to make the visuals interesting and detailed but that definitely comes at a cost to the game play.
Now, of course, whether or not the games cut it in 2023 on a PS4 is pretty irrelevant. That’s why we’re not about to score them individually. The main thing is that fans of the series now have them all in one compilation with a smattering of trophies to earn, some visual filters such as smoothing and scanlines and all emulated perfectly thanks to M2 who are best known for porting Sega classics to newer consoles as well as a few Cave and Raizing shoot ’em ups. The addition of HD versions of RayStorm and RayCrisis are certainly welcome too.
However, as a collection we do feel as though it falls short of being a decent museum piece. We are, after all, living in the Atari 50 era where Atari have been remixing, remastering and re-releasing almost anything that ever landed on an Atari-branded console with all manner of artwork, manuals, unreleased beta versions and anything else an Atari fan could ever want. Certainly Ray’z Arcade Chronology would have benefited from unlockables and museum content. I mean, sure, no-one really looks at concept art or listens to sound tests but they’re nice to have. Also, more egregiously, the unreleased prototype of R-Gear isn’t included in the PSN digital release but is available on the limited edition physical version of this compilation.
But the main thing here is that you get three very decent shoot ’em ups in a cool compilation, perfectly emulated and ready to provide you with all the blasting fun you could want. Sure, there are better shoot ’em ups than these, after all it’s been almost 30 years since this series started, but these ’90s classics still stand the test of time we reckon.
+ No issues with emulation
+ Some good visual options
+ Difficulty selectable by stages
- Lacking in museum features
- May be too dated for modern shoot 'em up fans