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R-Type III: The Third Lightning (SNES) artwork

R-Type III: The Third Lightning (SNES) review


"The knock on R-Type III is that it is insanely difficult, and it's not of the frustrating 'this game cheats!' ilk either. The control is absolutely flawless, so that when you die, it's your fault, and you'll know it. You'll respect the ingenuity that went into making the game corner you and force your hand. Because it is a pattern shooter, you cannot rely on extraordinary reflexes alone to blast through it from beginning to end. Positioning and knowledge of the enemy's weak points and using the right weapon for the right situation, as well as knowing where to position your Device are the keys to victory here. "



The Learning

Meet a saviour. After the excitement caused by the entry of the classic arcade original into the side-scrolling shooter fray, there was only disappointment to follow from IREM. R-Type II seemed little more than a flawed remake of the first game while the obscure R-Type LEO flailed and struggled vainly to attract an audience. The shiny package that was Super R-Type could only limp, slowdown plagued, onto the Super NES console, where it became almost an embarrassment to IREM’s shooter ego, outclassed by competition such as UN Squadron, Space Megaforce and Axelay. While it is arguable whether R-Type Delta is the best shooter ever, there is little doubt that it might not have had the chance at life, if not for R-Type III; the game that righted the sinking ship. The game that IREM took risks with, bet the whole thing on, and won.

The story in this game, as in any shooter, is really a moot point - there aren't too many shooters that deviate from the 'save the world with your lone spaceship' premise anyway. But for some reason, IREM's little inspirational line that appears in every R-Type game - Blast off and strike the evil Bydo Empire - is oddly compelling.

More compelling are R-Type III's graphics. The attention to detail is mind boggling for a 16-bit title, and as far as sprite-based gaming goes, it certainly surpasses early Sony Playstation offerings such as Raiden. Vibrant colours, sharp mechanical and 'alien' renderings; and flicker-free sprites combine to make for a crisp, stylish visual experience. Mode 7 effects such as the rotating scaffolding and revolving barrel-like structure in the first level are the norm. Certainly this is the best-looking R-Type short of Delta, and it finds only Thunder Force IV as competition in the 16-bit arena.

Sound effects in this third installment - this Third Lightning as it were - are solid, but the music is noteworthy and memorable. The fourth and fifth level tracks are especially intense, serving as an anthem to the unflappable spirit you must awaken to be there in the thick of things in the first place. Their quality goes beyond the 'humming rating' and attains the elusive 'I must listen to this sound test' level. There is nothing like blaring, thrashing hard rock in a hard-as-hell shooter.

And R-Type III is certainly as hard as they come; it's vintage R-Type, transcending the simplistic formula of just being more of the same with the difficulty cranked up (the formula that contributed to R-Type II and Super R-Type’s failing). The people at IREM took deep breaths, and shook things up. They had shaken things up with LEO too, only they went too far, removing the ever-present, all-important buddy satellite, the Force Device. Many diehard fans who played the series religiously shunned that blasphemy, and IREM learned. They kept the old, (the tried-and-true Force Device) and added the new (two new, completely unique Devices).

All three have their pros and cons. The original is now dubbed the Round Force - which enables you to utilize the usual weaponry. The expert's choice is the Shadow Force, a satellite that necessitates finesse in its employ. It can be tugged back toward your ship much faster than the others, and when powered up, even smaller buddy satellites join it to augment your offense. Finally, the Cyclone Device – my favourite - is probably the most awe-inspiring and independently destructive, as well as the most fun to use. While it doesn’t launch any projectiles, its core is extremely powerful, and it has the unique distinction of being the only R-Type Force Device ever to have the ‘push and pull function’ as I call it. This means that you can fire the Cyclone toward and through an enemy, tug it back toward you, and before it returns, send it out again. Thus, you will be able to effectively drag the potent ball of blue energy to and fro inside bosses, causing remarkable disturbance and damage.

In addition to the Devices, you can also obtain smaller orbs called Bits, a maximum of two. One is suspended above your craft, and one directly below, for extra coverage and firepower. Your cannon, besides Device and Bit augmentation, can be charged, as always, to release a powerful blast. New to III, is the ability to switch charging types to Hyper, allowing your ship to release a barrage of machine gun like blasts, none of them as powerful as the single charged shot, but collectively much more destructive. Another upshot to the Hyper mode is that your Bits are also affected, as they circle your ship for greater protection. The drawback is that your ship cannot use either charging mode when the Hyper shots cease; the R9 will make struggling, whining sounds as if taxed by the outburst and in need of recuperation.

To add all of this up, imagine this scene. Perhaps we are at level six, where enemies fade in and out of black holes - it matters little. You are yo-yoing the Cyclone Device for maximum damage, your charged Hyper shots pounding evilly placed formations of hard-to-kill foes, who just seem to absorb and keep on absorbing. Your Bits are swirling, flaming torches striving to do supplementary harm, and the background music is roaring like thunder. You will be convinced that this is R-Type on a higher plane; that this is sheer shooter excellence.

The knock on R-Type III is that it is insanely difficult, and it's not of the frustrating 'this game cheats!' ilk either. The control is absolutely flawless, so that when you die, it's your fault, and you'll know it. You'll respect the ingenuity that went into making the game corner you and force your hand. Because it is a pattern shooter, you cannot rely on extraordinary reflexes alone to blast through it from beginning to end. Positioning and knowledge of the enemy's weak points and using the right weapon for the right situation, as well as knowing where to position your Device are the keys to victory here.

Therefore, with a good measure of patience and plotting, and an even larger portion of resilience and relentless tenacity, you will accomplish feats that seemed initially impossible. To pervade parts that previously had no apparent loopholes is the ultimate gaming reward, and R-Type III gives us that chance to prove ourselves and pump our fists in defiance time and again. This perfected 'learn and reward' style of gameplay is what limits the frustration, and champions you onward in the face of relentless, remorseless challenge.

R-Type III speaks sweetly to the sadist shooter fan's ego. It dares the best of the best to conquer its seemingly insurmountable heights of hardness, but the unlimited continues and well-spaced checkpoints encourage you to keep at it until the inimitably satisfying conclusion. The ending itself isn't much, but you've got to beat the ugliest, dirtiest end boss I've seen to reach it - and that's reward enough in itself. R-Type III is quite possibly the hardest game you'll ever play with a smile. Brilliant.

Something more: Remember the Doppelganger from the first R-Type? You know, the giant rat boss? He makes a reappearance here. And if you manage to clear the game, the second time through will be even harder, but more importantly, it will feature differently coloured scenes and enemies! The new and improved steely black Doppelganger will have you staring... until he kills you.

Something else: Electronic Gaming Monthly gave this game eights out of ten across the board (they gave similar and better scores to tons of shooters) yet proclaimed it the best side-scrolling shooter of all time in their 100th issue! Go figure...

Rating: 10/10

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (January 13, 2004)

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