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R-Type Final (PlayStation 2) artwork

R-Type Final (PlayStation 2) review

"But it's worth all the agony, the memorization, and the sweaty palms, because there's little in the world of videogames that can compare to the feeling that you're 'in the zone' as you weave effortlessly through scores of enemy bullets and ships. Not only that, but this is one of the best looking shooters ever crafted."

Even though I hadn't really played more than a few hours' worth of the previous R-Type games, I was sad when I learned that Irem was retiring the respected franchise. There's something about seeing a good thing come to an end that puts a lump in my throat. I promised myself that I would purchase R-Type Final, that I would play it to no end, and that I would enjoy it like no shooter before it. Well, two out of three ain't half bad.

Like I said, I hadn't played the previous installments for more than a few hours. I really enjoy certain shooters, and I knew R-Type was famous. I just never got around to it. That's probably the case for a lot of gamers, which perhaps explains why R-Type Final is destined to be the final entry in the series. And why do I tell you this? Because frankly, this seems like the kind of game designed specifically for a hardcore shooter fan, one who has followed the series from beginning to end. And, well, that's just not me.

Until R-Type Final, my experience with horizontal shooters had been quite limited. I'd played Abadox, Darius Twin and Gradius III. And, of course, Super R-Type. But that pretty much sums it up. For this reason, I began my time with R-Type Final by searching for the difficulty selector. To my pleasure, there are five difficulty levels in all. They range from 'Baby' to 'R-Typer,' and I knew there was no question about my placement; with 'Baby' mode selected, I began.

Things went quite well from there, at least for awhile. The game began with a panoramic view of some futuristic planet's surface (it may even be Earth; I really can't say). Then the camera stopped farting around and the view zoomed forward until I was looking at the side of my ship as it raced along the horizon. A few enemies filtered in from the right, and I pressed the 'X' button to fire, then found that nothing happened. The 'square' button yielded better results. I quickly discovered that I could either mash the button repeatedly for rapid shots (later, I would learn that holding down the 'O' button produces a similar result) or I could hold it to charge my projectiles before releasing them with more impressive results.

As I continued my flight over the planet's surface, I defeated space pods that would leave behind glowing icons of various colors. Hours later, I learned that these come in several colors, which correspond to a few different upgrade types. There's your standard shot, peripheral missiles, and the force pod.

Any fan of the R-Type series will tell you that the force pod is what R-Type does so well that other shooters don't. And though I'm not always the biggest fan of the quirk, I'd still have to agree. The force pod is like a little glowing orb, which can be positioned in front of or behind your ship. You can fire it with the 'X' button to send it flying forward, where it will do damage to enemies until you call it back to you. When it comes time to re-attach it to your ship, you get to pick its location. If you're coming upon a corridor with lots of enemies that approach from behind, you may wish to switch the side on which it rests. This is because the force pod can absorb most enemy firepower.

Not only can the force pod save your butt in that way, but it can also manage some special attacks of its own. Use the pod to collect enough shots and a special gauge will fill, indicating that you have an attack roughly equivalent to bombs in other games. In this manner, you're rewarded for innovative use of the pod, rather than just dodging and firing with your standard ship. There's no point dying as a cheap method to replenish your bombs; it just won't work.

The reliance on innovative use of the force pod is a nice touch that is used fully throughout each level. For example, suppose you are flying over a giant battleship, guarded by twenty or so turrets. You can of course fly over it from a distance, firing peripheral shots and hoping you survive long enough to take out each turret, or you can zip in closer and ram the guns from the side with your force pod. The latter is preferable just because you'll be safer (for the most part) and you can power up that cool special weapon.

The force pod really isn't an afterthought in this game. If you get far, it will mean you've adapted your strategy to put that pod to the best use. Power-ups you collect go toward improving the pod, just as often as not, and it can fire independently of your ship when you send it flying outward to deal with enemies.

Speaking of your ship, well, there are about a hundred of them. When the game begins, you'll see you have eight slots for ships. Play for very long and you're bound to unlock a few of them in your hangar. Almost every time I died, I found that I'd unlocked a few more ships. These aircraft mostly fall into three or four categories, and you'll quickly find a favorite that suits your particular style best. Some fire huge beams when charged, others fire shots that zig-zag around surfaces, and others make high-impact explosions at close range.

Though the ships themselves don't differ so much as you might like, you can tweak them to suit your style. It's possible to choose other peripheral weapons, and also to modify the color of your ship. I can't remember the last shooter that gave me so many options with my ships. For me, this was less of a benefit than I'm sure it will be for others. The load screen to head to the hangar is the longest one in the game. And no matter which ships I tried, it seemed like there were no more than 10 or so that differed significantly from the others in any sort of positive way.

As it turns out, the ship you'll often pick is determined not only by your style, but also the level in question. While one type of ship is perfect for navigating the corridors of the first stage, it will seem downright worthless a few zones later. If you lose the three ships that come with a continue, just change the craft you're piloting before using your next credit.

Knowing which ship to choose isn't the only way memorization will factor in, either. If you play for long, you'll be weaving all around the screen during breaks between enemy waves, and someone watching might think you've gone insane. Then the next group of foes will approach from the lower left, and suddenly your move to the top center of the screen will make sense. Or whatever the case may be. Some of the later bosses require enough memorization and strategy that they might as well be levels in and of themselves. Fail to move just right and it's back to the last checkpoint (continuing on the same screen where you died is for sissies, apparently).

None of the stages are particularly long, so you'll have good fun seeing how far you can make it without losing a life or using a continue. Good fun, that is, until around the end of the fifth stage. While my early play with the game eventually got me up to stage five with little difficulty (remember, I was on 'Baby' mode), I had a terrible time defeating the boss. In fact, it wasn't until the game gave me 'Free Play' mode and its glorious infinite continues that I was finally able to defeat him. He's a real pain in the butt. Even when I got all the way to that boss with the loss of only a few lives, they were all drained and I was forced to start all over again.

Yes, this game is difficult. Eventually, I made it past that boss. I'd like to say it was all skill, but I know a little bit of luck had a hand, as well. And from there, things only get tougher. The passages in the sixth stage are crawling with enemies that attack from all sides, and there are often moments where there's barely enough space for your ship between all the flying bullets, rockets, and enemy spacecraft. Then there are giant worms that rise from the ground, circling around you and firing shots from within. Moments like this will force players not only to memorize, but to make split-second moves. Even on 'Baby' mode. But it's worth all the agony, the memorization, and the sweaty palms, because there's little in the world of videogames that can compare to the feeling that you're 'in the zone' as you weave effortlessly through scores of enemy bullets and ships. Not only that, but this is one of the best looking shooters ever crafted.

From the minute you start flying across the planet in the first stage, you'll know this game couldn't have been created in a previous generation. Yes, it takes place in only two dimensions. But the art direction makes that easy to forget. Between waves of enemies, it's not uncommon to watch the camera turn a half rotation, and suddenly you're cruising over turrets that a moment before were in the background. Or you're flying toward a distant opening and suddenly a monster has crawled out to face you. The most amazing example of the game's graphics is in the sixth stage, after one particular hallway with a giant worm. As you fly right, you'll come to a vertical shaft. Keep moving and the ship will descend in slow circles while a gigantic alien form writhes beneath you. Worms emerge from its pores, then enter new holes while alien ships attack from all sides. Even the Playstation 2 can't keep up with this much action all at once, and the game slows ever-so-slightly just so the processor can keep up.

Other visual effects aren't as jaw-dropping, but they continue to amaze. There are precious few moments when nothing of note is happening on the screen. Even small effects like bursts of plasma from your ship's cannon look fantastic. At any given moment, it's possible to look at the screen and see some little touch that puts this game above and beyond its peers in the graphics department. Many backgrounds appear to have been rendered in three dimensions just for the slight effect it adds to the game. It makes me thankful Irem cared. Others might have been content to provide only static backdrops. Would players have complained? Probably not.

Another mark in the game's favor is audio, though I didn't find myself so impressed by that as I was the visuals. The music as you drift through space or careen through tunnels is suitably eerie, but it doesn't seem like it changes much throughout the course of the game. More impressive are the sound effects. It's always satisfying to destroy a huge spaceship and hear the blasts that rock it as portions of it succumb to your firepower, until the final boom that means that ship won't be returning home.

Without the appropriate sights and sound, R-Type Final would have been a failure. But it has those in spades, and it has some tight level design that really turns the franchise's gimmick into something special. I've heard fans of the series say that it doesn't do anything new, that we've seen it all before in one of the previous R-Type games. And, well, that's probably true. But if you're looking for an introduction to the series and you don't have the older systems handy, you could do a lot worse than to rent or buy R-Type Final. It may not be the best shooter the galaxy has ever seen. I can think of several shooters I've enjoyed more. Still, its fun, challenging, and worth playing. Too bad it's the last one.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (March 06, 2004)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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