RayStorm (PlayStation) review
"Your R-GRAY fighter must fly through 7 levels of mayhem, while you cross your fingers the whole way through. If you’ve heard otherwise, disregard the misinformation. This game is hard, bordering on the impossible in sections. Perhaps that is a failing resultant from the game’s arcade roots—it plays like a quarter muncher, often giving you no chance to get out of a given situation intact. "
So many good bits, so many flaws
Raystorm is a good game. There is no doubt about it. But it could have been so much more; it simply being good is disappointing.
Working Designs must be applauded for helping to keep the 2-D shooter genre alive and well in the next generation era, bringing solid entries like this one over from Japan under their ''Spaz'' label.
Raystorm is the sequel to RayForce, a Taito-developed vertically scrolling arcade shooter from Japan, which was ported over to the Japanese Saturn under the name Layer Section, and then to North America under the dubious name, Galactic Attack. Raystorm also exists for play on the Japanese Saturn, in equally competent fashion, under the name Layer Section II. As such, the game is, as you might imagine, not exactly unknown to shooter fans around the globe.
So, are you ready? Enter the cockpit of your R-GRAY fighter—you have the choice of bringing a friend along, Earth’s Star Federation had the foresight to develop TWO R-GRAYs—and defend the Earth from the evil Secilia Federation.
Each R-GRAY is equipped with only two weapons: a straight-ahead laser and a lock-on laser. The differences in the two crafts are not purely cosmetic—one has a thinner, more powerful main gun, and the other a dual cannon. One has an eight lock-on maximum, the other, sixteen. (There are power ups that increase your maximum, as well as smart bomb items.) A targeting reticle a few ship lengths in front of your R-GRAY, (a la Xevious) will pass over enemies, and a touch of a button will fire lasers to destroy the unfortunate target. You can choose to hold your fire, and wait until targets build up, to score point combos, and because of the laser reaction time, killing in this fashion is also more efficient. After pressing the fire button, as the lasers begin descending, you can still pass your reticle over non-targeted enemies so as to create a chain reaction of ensuing death and debris. Hence, there is an advantage in having the greater target capabilities on the second ship. The craft with the simpler targeting system and wider area of fire might be more suitable for novices, and the more ‘complex’ craft, capable of focusing more firepower, for experts.
Your R-GRAY fighter must fly through 7 levels of mayhem, while you cross your fingers the whole way through. If you’ve heard otherwise, disregard the misinformation. This game is hard, bordering on the impossible in sections. Perhaps that is a failing resultant from the game’s arcade roots—it plays like a quarter muncher, often giving you no chance to get out of a given situation intact. The control isn’t helpful either. An on the fly speed adjustment would have been nice, (the speed of your spacecraft generally feels underwhelming) as would the omission of the ‘banking’ movement. Why this was included, I will never know. As your ship moves to one side of the screen, it slows slightly near the edge, and banks inexplicably, making the control of the ship in lateral motion feel dodgy and imprecise.
Consequently, you will be frustrated often while playing the bosses and later levels of the game. The bosses are especially difficult, boasting varied attacks, and many tricks up their metallic sleeves. Aside from normal ‘bullets’, they fire pseudo-homing lasers as well as arcing lasers that are nearly impossible to dodge with any kind of consistency. The hard to avoid nature of the enemies’ projectiles simply exacerbate the control issue. All these problems serve to make the game a disposable shooter. That is: because you will expect to die whether or not you play skillfully, you will simply accept frequent deaths as par for the course, as you utilize—out of necessity—any and all credits at your disposal.
To further cheapen the game’s ‘lastability’ and credibility, the bosses’ sheer dominance over your R-GRAY, (which will by now feel thoroughly underpowered) will induce you to bring your smart bombs into play to save your hide, as you desperately strive to avoid their relentless, crushing, violence. Thus, Raystorm often degrades into a simple, bomb, die, bomb, exercise.
What is so unfortunate, is not so exceptional. Despite having some fundamental game play flaws, Raystorm is presented incredibly well. The graphics are quite good, though the polygons and bullets are somewhat blurry, (yet another handicap for the game player) the bosses are huge, creative, and animate well. If you’re a fan of Robotech or Gundam, you will thrill to the arrival of any one of the end of level guardians on the scene. Some of them transform from spacecraft to robot, and back again, and all of them have multiple, devastating attacks. The backgrounds are nice, if again, a little blurry. You find yourself over oceans, cities, in asteroid fields, and enemy strongholds. What makes those generic, run of the mill scenes engaging however, is the game’s music.
Zuntata has done a job here. I can’t positively say if the job is unequivocally good, but many tracks are breathtaking, and everything is unmistakably Zuntata in its weirdness. (There is an even stranger, remixed version of the score for the Extra Mode of play, which in turn is a ‘remix’ of sorts of the Arcade Mode. Note that Extra Mode is harder than Arcade Mode.) Certain tunes sound quite out of place, like something you might listen to while on hold to the cable company, but things get better—as they often do—towards the end. I strongly contend that the final boss music is the best in any game, ever. The track is called Intolerance, (import the soundtrack, if only for this) and the way the ultimate encounter comes about, with the music announcing the profound—stepping in and taking hold of your senses—is unbelievable. As the near-impossible monstrosity bears down on you, the music convinces SUCCESSFULLY, and more than in any shooter before and since, that the stakes are HIGH, and that you stand no chance, but have no choice.
The grandeur of the ending, the originality of the bosses, the overall quality of the idiosyncratic soundtrack and the two player simultaneous option, are what make the flaws in the game play of Raystorm so troubling. For best results, rent it and have an enjoyable go at blowing through it with a friend, if the credits are enough for you to manage it. (There is a code if they’re not.) Because as it is, though the gradual, and rewarding culmination of sights and sounds should be appreciated, and taken quite seriously, the way the game plays throughout cannot be.
Staff review by Marc Golding (January 14, 2004)
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