After more than 30 reviews for this list, it is very clear that I love to play shmups. I’m not the most hardcore player and I don’t have the best scores or skills, but I enjoy playing them and that’s what matters to me. Despite owning a vast library of shmups, there are some of them that matter more to me even before playing them. Shmups that I buy as a fan and I hope they live to the hype out of my personal expectations. R-Type is a shmup that matters to me.
When I hear R-Type I don’t feel like a grizzled veteran reviewer. I feel like a little kid all over, gently dipping its toes on the vast ocean of shmups. I feel the impact of a legacy and place myself all the way back to Super R-Type which was the first R-Type I played. So let’s start with this review from the experiences of a veteran, but seen through the starry eyes of a little kid.
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: April 30, 2021
R-Type Final 2 is the latest entry in the legendary R-Type series. The series plays a 2D horizontal style of shmup with some very distinctive features. One of them being the “force”, an orange orb that attaches to your ship, and its strategic use in the levels that adds a delicate element of planning, setup and maneuvering. The other is that R-Type is hard, really hard. Oh yeah, there’s also all sorts of enemies inspired by genitalia.
The series as a whole tells the story of humanity’s war against the evil Bydo empire. R-Type Final 2 takes place after the events of R-Type Final. I don’t mean to spoil you, but the threat of the Bydo is still pretty much real.
The R-Type celebration
Even though R-Type Final 2 comes as a sequel to R-Type Final, its true purpose ir more akin to a celebration of the R-Type franchise. From the moment you boot up your first stage and play as the all too familiar R9A-Arrowhead, you are presented with homages to the series. Even the first boss contains an all too familiar foe encased on ice on the background, which is actually unleashed on R-Typer difficulty!
Perhaps what embodies the celebration of its legacy more than anything is the R Museum. The R Museum is the place where you can check the different ship used throughout R-Type’s history. Each display comes with a description of the ship and the conditions that led to its creation (in terms of R-Type lore).
This museum, however, is empty when you first boot the game. As you play more and more, you will collect different types of materials and a unique currency. The materials will let you “build” new ships in the museum. As you build more ships, you will open up branching paths to develop variations of the different ships. Personally, I’m a big fan of this method of unlocking new ships because it keeps the game fresh and it gives you something to look forward to after each sessions, even if you were unable to beat the game.
But most importantly, the advantage of unlocking the museum is that each ship is completely playable in the main game! While all ships have a wave cannon, a force, bit configurations and sub weapons, what makes them standout are the different variations of each of these elements. Different ships will have different wave cannons or forces which completely change the way a ship is meant to be played. Bits and sub weapons are a little different, because there is a set number of each and the difference will be which ones your ship can equip.
There is a lot of variety when it comes to unlocking ships, as each new ship can potentially bring you a new and fresh way of playing. Some are clearly better than others, and some excel in niche situations, but ultimately I found out that your choice of ship mostly boils down to personal preference. You don’t need to play something you don’t like to have an advantage, so have fun and pick your favorite.
One thing I haven’t mentioned is that not all 50-something ships are completely different. As I briefly stated, the museum follows a tree pattern with branching paths. While some of the branches open up new styles, others are strict upgrades over their predecessors. R-9D2 is strictly better than R-9D. Most of the time a numeric progression is present, it signals an upgrade in the series. What this meant for me is that, although unlocking new ships is cool, it’s also pretty neat to finish a session and be able to get an upgraded version of your ship. It’s the type of progression I enjoy.
Use the force
One of the key aspects of combat in R-Type is that orange orb we call “force”. The force is pretty much a swiss army knife in terms of its versatility in both offense and defense. The force will absorb incoming projectiles unless they have piercing properties. It also does contact damage to any enemies it touches. Collecting additional power-ups will make it grow stronger.
What makes the force interesting is the amount of control we have over it. You can choose to stick it either to the front or the back of your ship. If necessary, you can throw it in a straight line and have it float around to deal damage. You can recall it and it will slowly fly back to you. By itself, the force will fire when you fire whilst retaining its properties like absorbing bullets and dealing contact damage. However, if you choose to attach it to your ship, then it will fire a special beam that’s devastating to the enemies. There are blue, red and yellow force power-ups, so pick the one that’s best for the situation at hand.
As you can imagine, this control you have over the force is responsible for the strategic elements of this game. Depending on the situation, you will be alternating between having the force with you to concentrate your firepower or throwing it around to diversify your damage. Being able to find the proper positioning of the force is a must for the higher difficulties. Front, back, attached, in a corner of the maps, these are all positions you must consider when figuring out a stage.
By clearing bullets or enemies with your force, you will slowly build up your dose gauge and gain additional score. Once the gauge reaches 100%, your force will glow and you will trigger a dose break state. In this state your score will increase, your force’s damage is increased and you gain the ability to cash it all and use your special weapon.
I really like this mechanic because it shifts the relationship between your ship and the force. Whereas you previously would think of the force as a helper, you now have to look for opportunities to maximize your force usage. Instead of just shooting everything on sight, you now play a riskier game of not shooting if you can use your force instead.
Of course, if you play with fire you might get burned. By overextending with your force or trying to absorb way too many bullets, you might find yourself defenseless or killed from the rear. While dosing is not necessary, it makes the game feel more dynamic and fun. Also, your special weapon is something you definitely want to use. Some special weapons can near one-shot bosses on normal difficulty.
Need for Speed
One aspect that I’ve found to be more miss than hit in earlier entries is related to speed power-ups. Previously, speed was a power-up you collected and which increased your speed. I’ve never really been a fan of this concept because it takes away your ability to dodge when respawning. Thankfully R-Type Final 2 sort of addresses this issue. In this game, speed is mapped to the shoulder buttons and you can increase or decrease your speed at will.
Even though this is better than its predecessors, I still wish they fully embraced analogue movement. Instead of juggling around speed settings, analogue movement could have been used to control your speed. The reason for not doing this is probably related to arcade fidelity and sticking with the 8-way standard, but nonetheless I wish more shmups would just adopt modern design choices.
And a small gripe I have with this setting is that the speed resets on death. Not game breaking by any means, but it bothers me more than it should that I like to play at speed 3 and the game always resets me to 2 every time I die.
The next gen
One thing I have to say about R-Type is that this game is “ambitiously pretty”. The presentation is one thing that struck me from back when the demo was released. Shmups are not usually the place where you go and look for beauty, as most of the opt for more basic styles or pixel art, but R-Type definitely shows a lot of ambition in the visual aspect. Perhaps what I remember the most was charging my wave cannon for the first time and seeing the background light up with the blue lights of my beam. It was amazing.
I really want to emphasize the ambition because it fails to achieve its target when it comes to the Switch version. Resolution is lower and the particle effect aren’t as pretty, although we expected as much from the console. The framerate also took a hit as there are very few places where the game is seen at 60 fps (the beginning of stage 3 comes to mind). Expect to see something close to 30 fps in most situations. Kind of expected to see the Switch lagging when it comes to performance, but it’s still rough when you see the clear gap between expectations and reality.
The void of shame
What really gets me about the Switch performance are the load times. If loading times are not your cup of tea, then consider this your first warning. There’s really no way to sugar coat this, loading times are incredibly long. Sure, it is a game with lots of stuff going on during the levels, and you expect the content to take a long time to load, but the issue isn’t the transition between stages. The issue is that loading time BETWEEN DEATHS.
From the moment your ship falls to the moment you regain control, there will be a good 15 seconds of loading in-between. This might not seem too much at first, but R-Type is a very unforgiving title and you will die a lot. There isn’t anything fun to do or tips to read while the game is loading, instead you will just see a black screen. This might be the only game where most of the play time logged is spent on loading screens instead of gameplay.
Truth to be told, this actually makes me feel mad towards the console instead of the game. Even though the game is what’s showing poor performance, I can’t help but just blame the Switch for being such an underpowered console. Having the same experience as an Xbox or a PS4 on the go would have been a blessing, but instead we are left with a curse. And thus the monkey paw lowers one of its fingers.
As hardcore as it gets
The reason I emphasize the loading times between deaths so much is that no other shmup has such a rough new player experience. Unlike many other shmups, death in R-Type will take you back to the last checkpoint you reached. This means that there will be sections that will me burned into your brain with how much time you spent there before reaching the next checkpoint. The way the game is played can sometimes feel more like a puzzle than a shmup. Trial and error will be your friends as you slowly find your way across a level.
Even if you are a skilled player, at times it is next to impossible to emerge unscathed when you first learn a level. R-Type has a nasty habit of catching you off-guard with quick enemies coming from off screen, from the background or even attacks that have no visual cue. Your hitbox is your entire ship, so it might feel wonky at times to try to squeeze in-between bullets. It’s not really a matter of whether or not you’ll die, but rather when it is going to happen.
Adversity breeds character
But it really doesn’t help that R-Type makes you feel extremely frail at all times. Even if your force absorbs incoming bullets, your ship will still die in a single hit. There are no shields, there are no barriers and there are no do-overs. One mistake is all it takes to bring you back to that soul draining loading screen. Oh yeah, you also lose all your collected power-ups, so if you though a section was hard, then wait till you have to do it again without upgrades. This was a complaint I had on my previous review of Super Hydorah, and I still think snowballing your failures is a mistake.
If you persevere and rise up to the challenges, you will definitely be rewarded. R-Type Final 2 is one of those games that become exponentially more fun once you are good at it. Sure, the initial experience might as well be hell, but experience and your scars of battle will sweeten any subsequent playthrough. And if you don’t, the game will keep increasing your credit count with new runs, so there’s your chance of making it all the way through!
Blinded by the beauty
Despite the best efforts to be a very visually enticing game, more often than not the artistic vision gets in the way of the gameplay. The most egregious example of this is related to particles and explosions. Your wave cannon is a nice tool with massive firepower, but the effects and particles often end up hiding imminent threats. Not only that, sometimes the enemy’s own effects will overlap with incoming bullets or enemy ships and end up causing your death. A lot of attention was devoted to making it a pretty game that gameplay clarity became an after thought.
The other big crime comes courtesy of layering and rotation. Some times, in order to give it a cinematic effect, the enemies will be flying between the foreground and the background. It looks cinematic with ships flying around, but it never becomes clear when they enter the same plane as your ship. This creates a guessing game where you just try to keep up with incoming and outgoing ships and hope that if they collide with you, that they were still on a different layer. It gets much worse in one of the later levels that is an all-range battle against an armada with ships rotating in every direction and firing from the background.
When it comes to music, I honestly didn’t find it to be too memorable. The soundtrack definitely works and helps to put the mood into the game. Stage 3’s track is a particular favorite of mine. Despite being appropriate for the game, I never felt that any track stood out to me in the sense that I would add it to my every day play list.
Actually, I lie. The final song of the game is amazing! It is the perfect track for reflecting on the hell you went through to beat the game and to bring home that feeling of accomplishment.
Perhaps the silent MVP of this game is the robust customization system. If the R Museum does the job of honoring R-Type’s legacy, the customization systems make sure every ship is your own. Ships can be fully customized in your hangar. You can change their color, the tint of the pilot’s canopy and which bit and sub weapons to carry with you.
But the most important thing is that you can fully personalize your ship with decals. These decals can be set in any way you desire. You can change their size, their position and even the piece they will attach to. This isn’t your typical “insert decals into these predetermined slots”. Here you have full control of where and how you apply each decal. If you like to customize your ships, then you will most definitely love it in here.
The customization doesn’t stop at customizing your ships. You can customize your very own player card where you can show your pilot, your favorite ship and even show some of your badges. Your pilot has different poses and you can control the camera angle displayed on your player card. You can even set titles and add a custom message for all to view. There’s also a rank system that lets you “level up” by completing milestones such as enemies defeated or stages cleared.
R-Type Saga Z
Finally, you can customize the very game itself. After beating the game, you unlock the ability to customize subtitles. You can change the title screen from “R-Type Final 2” to whatever you can write with the preset titles. Mine is set as “R-Type Saga Z”. You can customize the titles of the stages to anything you can type. You can even select images from the gallery to change your title and loading screen. While all of these choices are mostly silly and don’t contribute much to the game, it is surprising to see this level of customization on a shmup.
As a little bonus, when customizing stages you have an option of watching the stage credits. Here you can see who was the designer and all the people that contributed to a stage. In case you wondered if your favorite designers were responsible for your favorite stages.
R-Type Final 2 has too much content to choose from, so to recap, here’s the different play modes available to you:
- Stage & Score attack
- Bydo Lab (enemy gallery)
- Pilot & War Record
- R Museum
- Special (to edit subtitles and input backer passwords)
- Manual (with detailed descriptions of the sub systems and the story)
Blast off and strike the evil Bydo empire
After all has been said, I think the R-Type Final 2 package as a whole is great! It certainly doesn’t pull any punches and the learning curve might wrongfully turn a lot of people down. But if you enjoy challenging games, then you will discover that R-Type is one of those games that become more fun the more you play it. I do wish it had more accessible options for all players like Infinite mode in Dimensions EX, but it is what it is.
When it comes to content, this is easily packed with the entire weight of the R-Type legacy. Customization and gameplay options abound, so any R-Type fan will definitely feel at home and will make this game their own. This a game made with love for R-Type fans. If you are one of them, then by all means buy the game.
However, DO NOT buy this game on the Switch. It pains me to say this because the Switch is great for shmups, but you are much better off getting R-Type Final 2 in literally any other platform for a much better experience. If I may, I would recommend getting it on the Xbox Series S/X. The one thing I’ve found to be better than shmups on the go are shmups on quick resume. The ability to switch games without having to close them is great for experiencing the short but sweet experiences which are typical in shmups.
THE RANKING SO FAR:
- Crimzon Clover – World EXplosion
- Psyvariar Delta
- Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade
- Rolling Gunner
- Blazing Star
- Raiden V: Director’s Cut
- Darius Cozmic Collection Console
- Super Hydorah
- Steredenn: Binary Stars
- Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax
- Sky Force: Reloaded
- Strikers 1945
- Black Paradox
- R-Type Dimensions EX
- Sine Mora EX
- R-Type Final 2 (Switch version)
- Shikhondo – Soul Eater
- Freedom Finger
- Ghost Blade HD
- AngerForce: Reloaded
- Aero Fighters 2 (ACA Neogeo)
- Q-YO Blaster
- Lightening Force: Quest for the darkstar (Sega Ages)
- Red Death
- Task Force Kampas
- Switch ‘N’ Shoot
- Last Resort (ACA Neogeo)