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R-Type Leo (Arcade) artwork

R-Type Leo (Arcade) review

"When you play the first few levels, your hardened fanís heart will melt with the realization that this is the sort of simple genius that makes for excellent shooting, and is deserving of its own sequel, or series. Under another moniker, Leo may have flourished, but it found itself in limbo during the shooter supply and demand pipeline between IREM and their fans. An excellent game they got - the game they wanted, they did not. "

Note: This review is based upon a particularly well emulated version of the R-Type Leo arcade game out of [sniff] necessity. Spurn it, or read on, at your discretion.

R-Type Leo is neither the crowning glory of R-Type shoot Ďem ups, nor is it the bane of the collection (we reserve that spot for the hellish Super R-Type). Instead, it is a refreshing foray away from the beaten path into new territory blazed by Bit units and laser fire.

The R-Type arena is normally represented as follows: a small grayish spacecraft (the R-9) accompanied by an indestructible spherical ally called Force, and two smaller friends called Bits, flies from left to right - and occasionally up and down - on a screen almost unfairly teeming with alien life placed in almost always just the wrong place. Thatís why it has been known to frustrate, and similarly, that is why it has been known to exhilarate. There is nothing so rewarding in video games as outsmarting the system. Beating the computer, as it were; and the more stubborn the computer forces, the more complex the mental groundwork to lay, the more rewarding the experience. Or so it goes, when itís done right.

R-Type was done right. R-Type II was not. Ironic, isnít it, that a game that was so incredibly underwhelming and unambitious should demand such overwhelming and ambitious efforts from its players to arrive at success. Before the sub-genre-affirming R-Type III (perhaps no game did more for the 'thinking manís shooter') came along, IREM introduced Leo, its second misstep since its inaugural space battle. The game was burdened heavily from the start by three main problems:

1/ It came after the disappointing R-Type II.
2/ It dispensed with the trademark Force Device.
3/ The name, my goodness, the name.

A groundbreaking experience in interstellar warfare should not make one think of a shady Seinfeld character.

Despite that wrong note, Leo manages to strike the proper chords in the looks and sounds departments, as is the norm for any game with the notorious IREM shooter franchise's membership card. Fans will notice instantly how much more colourful this installment is. If the first game made the second look washed out, the positively vibrant third game is made to look dull beside this gameís lush environs. Itís one of the best-looking hand drawn shooters youíll ever play. The audio is perfunctory for the most part, only occasionally stepping out of dutiful character to achieve memorable goodness.

Now to those claims of anomalous characteristics supposedly belonging to Leo; and a look past the aesthetics is necessary to reveal them. The aforementioned Force-stripping is at first alarming, then disheartening, and finally, inspiring. The decision behind it initially seems unreasonable and uncalled for, before we realize and appreciate IREMís risk-taking valiance, which allowed for later, more typical brilliance. Leo could very well be called R-Type Gaiden because without a Force Device to shoot alongside your R-9 spacecraft, or on its nose, or on its rear for protection, how can we possibly be playing R-Type?

Somehow, the new fighting system, which employs Bit device manipulation, manages to step in admirably and provide something much different, but still make us feel like weíve been somewhere like this before. The fire button hasnít changed. Itís the secondary button function that will truly open your eyes. After capturing a Bit device power up, hold down this button to charge your Bits, then release it when you feel sufficient power has been accrued for the task at hand. The Bit twins (they now come in pairs, like shoes) will streak toward their target with deadly sibilance and leech it to death. Overcharge the devices, and have them return to your ship flashing red and temporarily incapacitated.

When you play the first few levels, your hardened fanís heart will melt with the realization that this is the sort of simple genius that makes for excellent shooting, and is deserving of its own sequel, or series. Under another moniker, Leo may have flourished, but it found itself in limbo during the shooter supply and demand pipeline between IREM and their fans. An excellent game they got - the game they wanted, they did not.

The massive multi-segmented bosses parade around flaunting both their colossal power and blue-sphered Achilles Hell with new bravado. With no Force device to provide a shield at any time, the dynamics have changed to appropriate themselves to your seemingly more fragile state. This, I thought, would give IREM problems, but they have pulled it off admirably. Leo is as hard as R-Type I, but in a different way. Other R-Type games seemed to be telling the player, 'clear what you can of the screen, and use your Force device where necessary to survive the remaining obstacles/foes.' Leo seems to say, 'with proper Bit device use and good dodging, clear the entire screen - take no prisoners.'

As such, it is more likely in Leo than in any other game in the series, for mistakes in planning and judgment to be compensated by even better decisions and dodging, necessitated by panic. The knock on other R-Type shooters is that if you donít do just the right thing, at just the right time, you are left with no recourse for survival. Leo is looser, and demands less of perfection from you.

The trip down the path less traveled is not complete though. You see, Leo is a two-player simultaneous shooter. No, I donít mean to say that you can watch, hoping against hope that your best friend will die so that ''Player Two'' will flash on the screen signaling your turn. IREM has given you some real assistance, amazingly. Itís a refreshing thing to be taking on the near-impossible last boss all by your lonesome, working hard at living, and have your friend join in to assist with his own great shooting skills (or at least to sit in front of you and absorb a shot intended for you, or better still, allowing you to buy in, overriding the 'start back system' while heís still alive). The start back points are actually quite generously spaced, so as to provide a mostly encouraging gaming experience. Leo's only drawback, aside from nondescript music, might be the ridiculously difficult bits (the last level) where even kindly start back points are of no assistance.

R-Type Leo is just different. With alien gardens hosted by a boss right out of Thunder Force III; scorching, orange-beige desert suns reminiscent of U.N. Squadron; and Darius two-player twitch action, itís an anomaly in the R-Type strain. All the abnormal, easygoing flavouring should prove inviting to the 'average' shooter fan, while hardcore fans, if they can get over the blasphemous changes to their R-9's functionality, will also enjoy the new seasoning mixed in with the old.

Certainly, if youíve got the money and connections, consider R-Type Leo worthy of importing (the game board is Japan-only) for the truest experience outside of visiting the Far East. I donít normally sponsor emulation, but if you canít manage the import option, emulate this. Get MAME, get to downloading, and look nervously over your shoulder, saying ''I had no choice!'' in response to the dirty looks you are sure to receive. After all, your protesting emupolice friends wonít have played the game; they wonít know that theyíre perpetrating a far more serious crime.

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 15, 2003)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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