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Raiden III (PlayStation 2) artwork

Raiden III (PlayStation 2) review

"Imagine my surprise when I took Raiden III home, excitedly put it in my PS2, and found there were no surprises to be had. There is only one ship, and the weapon system is about as barebones as they come."

Nowadays, having a new shooter land on a US console practically calls for champagne. This is especially true when that game bears the illustrious name, Raiden. It was only last month that I was trying to explain what a shooter was to a friend. “Oh, like Raiden,” he exclaimed. Coming from a guy whose game collection was limited to Guitar Hero, that should be testament enough to the legendary status of the Raiden series. So here we are at number three. You can still get out the glasses if you want, but let’s stick to wine coolers.

Imagine my surprise when I took Raiden III home, excitedly put it in my PS2, and found there were no surprises to be had. There is only one ship, and the weapon system is about as barebones as they come. You begin with a simple gun, with upgrades appearing on the battlefield via floating orbs. Collecting the colored orbs strengthens a weapon, but you can only have one at a time. Three main weapons are immediately available; the broad ranged Vulcan Shot, the narrow but powerful laser, and the Ghostbusters-esque Proton Laser. You can also receive three different missile-based sub-weapons. Add the usual bombs to the list and Raiden III is exactly like its predecessors.

To be fair, three weapons are more than some shooters offer. Still, it’s disappointing when only one of them is worthwhile. With the Vulcan Shot, you can literally play through over half the game by sitting at the bottom of the screen and holding down the fire button. You might have to move a little every now and again, but there certainly won’t be any heated dogfights. The only time I ever got shot in the first half was when I tried using the lasers. It’s because I had to move in front of the targets, and moving is not something you want to do much of in Raiden III. The controls are fine, but the ship travels like a canoe in a speed boat race. At times, I couldn’t even catch up to the weapon upgrades.

Perhaps speed isn’t your thing, but give me a few moments and you’ll see why it should be. Raiden III has seven levels, as well as seven difficulty levels to choose from. Since I wasn’t feeling masochistic I thought I would ease myself into things with the second setting. As I should have expected, it was beyond easy, until the middle of the fifth level that is. Suddenly I was getting a decent challenge. After that, I pumped it up to the middle difficulty setting, only to realize that the difficulty setting doesn’t manage enemy frequency, patterns, or intelligence. It just makes their bullets move faster. On the higher difficulties, the bullets move so quickly and you move so slowly that skill isn’t even a factor. So where is the middle ground?

I was almost shocked to find that Raiden III even had list of extras to offer. Score Attack mode allows you to play any beaten level without plodding through the rest. There is a Boss Rush mode, but the bosses of Raiden III are absolutely unremarkable in every sense of the word. You could call a friend over for the two-player mode, but this always has one of two outcomes. 1) You play on an easy difficulty and breeze through everything, or 2) you both scream every curse word in the dictionary as your ships get unfairly ripped apart on a high difficulty. There is an interesting Double Play Mode, where you pilot both ships with one controller. It makes for a unique experience, but it simply can’t correct all of Raiden III’s mistakes.

Even considering the game’s balance issues, I’m sure that someone out there will stand up to proclaim Raiden III as being a return to the old-school days of traditional shooters, but the gameplay is hardly what I would call “classic.” It’s downright stagnant. Games like Einhander and Ikaruga have been called “gimmicky” by some critics, but gimmicks are exactly what made those games so powerful. It’s no longer enough to haphazardly toss a few ships and guns on a screen and expect a hit. It’s time to step up and shove some innovation into the genre.

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Staff review by Brian Rowe (May 01, 2007)

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