Although we were too young to know anything about technical details back in the 8-bit era it was obvious that the NES and Sega Master System were not up to the task of replicating the arcade games of the era perfectly. Arcade perfect ports were the forbidden fruit of the day, always chased but never eaten. Not until the 32-bit era could we truly say arcade perfection had been achieved but there were a few exceptions, and the Turbo Grafx-16 port of R-Type is one of them.
R-Type is one of the most influential shooters around, even more so than Gradius. The unique Force system has been copied by legions of copycats up to this very day, from Pulstar on the Neo Geo to indie shooters like Dove Z. Even Konami recognized a good thing when they saw it and used a variation of the Force in their arcade shmup Xexex.
R-Type was ported to almost every console and PC format you can imagine with mixed results. The Master system retained the spirit of the arcade game but lacked in the graphics department. The various computer versions all made different sacrifices depending on the hardware with the Commodore 64 version ending up the worst. The Turbo Grafx version is near identical to the arcade outside of minor loss of detail and slight color differences. The original PC Engine release was split across two Hu-Cards for no discernible reason so for once the US got the better end of the deal. Despite the years since its release R-Type is still an enjoyable but tough as nails shooter that holds up to this day.
There are very few actual weapons in R-Type. Outside of the requisite missiles and bits (basically options) there are actually only 3 special weapons that all have their uses. The Blue rebound laser is thin but powerful and can bounce off walls. The Red Counter Air Laser is a double wave beam that is extremely powerful and covers a wide area in front of the ship. The yellow Counter Ground Laser travels along the top and bottom of nearly any surface in its attack.
The true star and what give R-Type its identity is the Force. The Force unit is a living satellite that has a variety of functions. Attaching it to the front of the ship will allow it to boost your attack power and absorb enemy bullets or damage whatever it comes in contact with. Putting it in back will give you reverse fire. The force can be sent out as a first line of defense and recalled at any time. While its shots aren’t strong it does fire in 3 directions, making it invaluable depending on the situation.
Managing the use of the Force is crucial to learning the nuances of the game but survival as well. It damages anything it touches and is invincible so in a pinch you can easily wipe out some of the stronger mechs that obstruct your path. If you’re good enough you can even use it cheese your way through certain boss fights (hint, hint). The special weapons are almost a side attraction compared to the versatility of the Force.
The level design is as fantastic as the game’s weapon system. The game’s Giger inspired aliens that make up the Bydo Empire were unique for the time and the game spends equal amounts of time exploring organic and mechanical environments. Stage 3’s fight against the massive battleship that is the entire level has now become legend but the following levels are able to match its intensity as well. Although R-Type is a slower paced shooter it does an excellent job of becoming chaotic at a moment’s notice, able to make you forget your surroundings and collide with a wall and die.
As such R-Type is also known for its ball breaking difficulty. There are usually only one checkpoint in each level and you’ll have to fight for every inch of progress to reach that point. It usually isn’t the enemies that will kill you but the weird level design itself. The ship of stage 3 for instance dips and branches out at different points and if you aren’t in the one safe spot will invariably die. The weird bugs that leave behind trails of…I don’t know pellets can quickly make navigation difficult. R-Type is a game of trial and error as the enemies will always spawn at the same time and location. But just because you know where the attack will spawn doesn’t mean you can avoid it.
For its time this version of R-Type was one of the best arcade ports of all time. Aside from the difference in resolution nearly every background detail has been recreated exactly. This was an insanely pretty game in the arcade and being able to play a near identical version at home was a huge selling point. There’s an insane amount of detail in the backgrounds and the bosses have had an equal amount of care lavished upon them. Most importantly the creatures of the Bydo Empire were like nothing you’d seen before unless you were a hardcore sci-fi buff.
While it’s since been surpassed by ports on more advanced systems the TG-16 version of R-Type is still a technical curiosity. Even on a console overloaded with shooters R-Type manages to stand out as one of the best ever released and an enjoyable game to this day. [nggallery id=243]