Ahh the good ol’ SNES days. An era where the internet wasn’t as prevalent as it is now and the success of a game hinged on how badass its boxart was (at least for 6 year old me). One such game which caught my attention was Super R-Type. I remember the first stage a lot and not much after that, I never got very far into the game thanks to its immense difficulty and lack of checkpoints, but it became a routine for me to play it for a little while every time I got a SNES emulator working on a new system.
As you can imagine, I was extremely excited when I learned that they were re-releasing R-Type I & II under a new title called Dimensions EX. Dimensions EX not only brings both classic releases back to the console, it also adds plenty of goodies and quality of life improvements, so would it be safe to say this is the best version of those games?
Publisher: Tozai Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: Nov 28, 2018
R-Type is a 2D side scrolling shmup. While the format is nothing special compared to other 1987 games, R-Type had several elements which made it stood apart from the competition from both a gameplay and presentation standpoint. It was also well known for its brutal difficulty, but we’ll get into that later.
From a gameplay perspective, what makes R-Type unique is its “force” power-up. The force is the orange shield that attaches either to the front or the back of your fighter. It does many things for the player, including absorbing enemy bullets and increase your firepower. But perhaps its biggest advantage is that it can be thrown forwards or backwards allowing you to deal great damage to enemies in the line of fire. What’s more, the force will shoot by itself, allowing you to create a temporary turret.
Another hallmark of R-Type is the beautiful sprite work used for the stages, the enemies and most importantly the gigantic boss battles. All of this is accompanied by an amazing soundtrack.
The Dimensions upgrade
If having 2 classic games at your disposal wasn’t enough, R-Type Dimensions decided to kick things up a notch and recreate EVERYTHING with a modern 2.5D style of graphics. It’s not just graphics, even the soundtrack was remastered using modern instrumentation.
If you can’t decide if you like the old sprite graphics or the new 2.5D models, then don’t worry, you don’t actually have to. My absolute favorite feature of this game is that you can swap between the 2D and 3D styles of graphics by just pressing the X button mid-game. You will see the game morph before your eyes in a seamless transition. I spent (and still do) a lot of time during my runs switching graphics back and forth to see how things looked back then vs how they look now.
You can further customize your experience by tweaking additional settings. Wide mode is pretty self-explanatory. Arcade view lets you play the game on 2D inside an actual arcade cabinet which you can tilt to your hearts contempt. For the 3D mode, you can set the crazy camera to view action from an angle. You can even apply 8-bit filters to pixelate the 3D mode of the game!
My favorite addition to the game is the infinite mode. As you can imagine, infinite mode allows you to play the game using an unlimited amount of lives. This may sound too easy, but R-Type is a brutally hard game and the infinite mode lets you enjoy it without having to become an expert player. The games notorious checkpoint system is also removed, which means you respawn at the same place you died instead of being taken back to the last checkpoint you reached.
Infinite mode also tracks the number of deaths you suffered during an entire playthrough, so you can try to use a little lives as possible instead of playing the classic mode.
R-Type is also notoriously punishing when you are trying some of the later levels without full equipment, I might say some even feel impossible. To alleviate this, you are allows to press – and get a fully equipped ship. Once again this might feel like just cheating within the game, but at least it gives players a fighting chance when tackling especially hard bosses without power-ups which are lost on death.
But that’s not all the game offers! For those who like to go for high scores, there are online leaderboards available to see how you stack up against players from all over the world. The leaderboards are separated by game type, so you know that the competition is fair and square. If you like to play individual levels, the game will even keep track of your best score on a single stage so try to go for the highest possible score.
There are also achievements for those of us who love to hunt for them. The number of achievements is actually very low, but it gives you a reason to dive back nonetheless.
The EX upgrade
If you didn’t mind the guilt of infinite respawns or fully powered fighters, then the game lets you feel even dirtier with slowdown and fast forward options. The slowdown effect isn’t very powerful, but at least it gives you more room to breath in bullet hell scenarios. Fast forward is a godsend if you are a masochist like me who wanted to play classic mode. After the 20th death you grow tired of any given level, fast forward helps with that.
Tough as nails
Make no mistake, R-Type is VERY hard. Its difficulty comes from the old way of thinking where skill won’t take you as far as pure memorization. Let’s be real, there is absolutely no way any skilled player would be able to beat R-Type on its first try.
By far the biggest cause of deaths and as a result difficulty progressing, is definitely the positioning of the enemies. Enemies will come out of everywhere and shoot you as soon as they are on screen.
If a horde spawns in front of you, then no big deal, just dodge their fire and take them out. A single robot coming from your back, however, is incredibly hard to deal without force and it doesn’t even require number to be a threat, the fact that it is practically immortal is already denying you at least 1/3 of the screen just by being there and threatening with unreactable bullets.
Force will make or break your game.
As I mentioned before, enemies from your back are easier to dispatch when you have force. It almost seems as if most of the game is designed around piloting your ship and handling the position of your force. But what if you don’t have it? Attempting any level without force is pure hell. Force is also a biggest source of R-Type’s identity, it is quite baffling that it isn’t a baseline power-up. Infinite mode even seem to acknowledge this by giving you a force when respawning.
Unfortunately you won’t always be able to acquire force. It is acquired by breaking the item carrying robots, but these power-ups are set in stone and some levels won’t provide you one past their mid checkpoint. I must have spent at least half an hour trying to beat a level that only provided 2 speed ups and a homing missile power-up past its mid checkpoint.
At some points the game actually feels like a puzzle endeavor. Getting through a segment of the game is an exercise in extensive trial and error, only to figure out the exact path through the enemies, and there is one reason for this: speed. Your base speed is extremely slow. It certainly feels even slower than the standard enemy speed, although this could be mere bias and they could be in a very similar level.
You’re too slow!
While not immediately apparent, this lack of speed means that you are very vulnerable to enemy flanks and even having them trap your movement.
Everything I have mentioned so far applies to a beginner level player. As you start you will die a lot, you will respawn a lot and you will always be part of this powerless struggle. Will this ever stop? Yes it will.
While your early hours will feel like an absolute grind, you will eventually know all the tricks the game will pull. You will clear levels at full power and even use the force as a pro and you will even wonder how you struggled in first place. And it is all thanks to the power-ups. Being able to conserve your strength will massively snowball you. At some point the difficulty becomes laughable when seeing how everything dies in the same piercing shot.
More than 30 years after its original release, R-Type still remains a delight to play. There is a lot of love poured into this game and any shmup fan will appreciate the customizability of the game coupled with modern quality of life improvements. Dimensions EX is the definitive release of both R-Type I & II and a great recommendation for anyone looking for some hardcore shooting challenge.
In regards to the list, I definitely consider it at the top because of the amount of content and customizability it offers, as well as the enormous quality of the games. Bringing the classics back is sometimes a gamble depending on how well the game aged. Fortunately for us R-Type is like a fine wine.
THE RANKING SO FAR:
- R-Type Dimensions EX
- Shikhondo – Soul Eater
- Aero Fighters 2 (ACA Neogeo)
- Lightening Force: Quest for the darkstar (Sega Ages)
- Last Resort (ACA Neogeo)