R:Type – As Good As You Remember?

R:Type is another old school gaming gem that has found its way onto the Android platform. Ports of old games can sometimes be quite a let down, perhaps either because we expect more of games nowadays or because developers do not always do a good job of it.

R:Type was probably the very first game I was addicted to and an essential game for the SEGA Master System, so I was excited yet nervous when it was launched onto Android. Would it fill me with a warm nostalgic gaming feeling? Would it leave me in manly tears and my fond memories in shreds? Read on for how my experience with this gaming classic panned out…

Back in the Day…

R:Type, for me at least, was the archetypal side scrolling shoot-em-up. Alongside Wonderboy it was my favourite game from my early teens and the game I have fondest memories of. Who can forget that first boss, with its whipping tail and scary head? Named Dobkeratops, it was a red mess of brain and spine and you just don’t forget stuff like that.

The First boss: Dobkeratops

The First boss: Dobkeratops

There is a set way to make your way through a level. R:Type has never been about wiping everything out, it was about figuring out the safe path: what to hit, what to avoid, where to place your craft. It introduced a more strategic element to the genre and was hugely original for doing so. The game was deliciously frustrating as only old school games can be, yet breathtakingly rewarding when you complete a level. I loved this game to bits and played it to death.

A real highlight is the weaponry. You get rapid fire from the beginning and holding fire would let out a powerful burst known as the Wave Cannon. You collect extra items including an indestructible and detachable pod, called The Force. The Force took on more and more power with each upgrade. You can fire it into any area in front or behind you for massive damage. Very cool indeed. Your ship also amassed shields and other upgrades until you were a flying machine of pure death.

The Force attaches to the front or back of your R9 and you have orbed shields above and below

The Force attaches to the front or back of your R9 and you have orbed shields above and below

Present Day…

I am not ashamed to say I got tingles when I first fired the game up on my Android phone. From the haunting 8-bit music and pure retro visuals I was right back in front of my humble Master System, glaring a 14 inch television screen with a plasticky controller. Soon the waves of enemies started coming… is this harder than I remembered?

Opening menu screen

Opening menu screen

R:Type on Android is definitely harder than the original, but perhaps only because of the touch screen controls which can obstruct your vision a little. I sometimes found enemies pop up behind and take me out due to the position of my controlling thumb. With my digit blocking the view, this was a bit frustrating.

You move your thumb (or finger) about the screen to control the position of your unit. There are then two buttons on the right hand side: one to fire, and one to detach or collect The Force. It’s as honest a representation of the Master System controls as you can get on a touchscreen device. Not perfect – but as authentic as possible without a separate controller.

The game is optimised for Xperia Play, so if you have one of those devices this will negate those earlier described issues regarding view.

The eight original levels of R:Type are faithfully restored in this port, and the graphics and sound are exactly as I remember them. There are two difficulty levels, Normal and Hard, but you must complete all levels on the former to unlock the latter. In addition to this, it’s as addictive and captivating as it ever was. Nothing is missing here, just pure, unbridled gaming nostalgia.

Retro Gaming

Retro gaming today is incredibly popular, whether that be ports of old classics or utilisation of those fondly remembered graphics (such as in games like Tiny Tower or Game Dev Story). It’s about playability, addictiveness, nostalgia and those emotive early gaming memories. It’s popular too; at the time of writing, R:Type has racked up nearly 600 ratings with an average 4.3/5 on Google Play – not bad for a 20 year old game!

There is nothing quite like R:Type. While side-scrolling shooters are common, none capture the thrill of evading destruction and defeating gigantic enemies in the same way R:Type does. There have been numerous renditions of classics like Asteroid and Galaga, re-calibrated for the touchscreen market, but R:Type has something special about it, an aloofness and a deliberate difficulty that other games cannot get close to. The way your R9 unit takes on everything David vs Goliath-style is engaging and, above all else, fun.

Optional onscreen control pad

Optional onscreen control pad

Graphics and Sound

As you can tell from the screenshots, R:Type isn’t about high-resolution 3D graphics that sear the eye-sockets with visual candies. It’s blocky, 2D and 8-bit. However the bright colours and mini animations are a revelation. I am somehow still impressed with the cool way The Force pod rotates, the way the powerful Wave Cannon builds and expels, and the frighteningly visceral bosses.

Bright visuals and neat animations, despite it's low pixel count

Bright visuals and neat animations, despite its low pixel count

The sound is also very impressive. Despite the simple form factor, it evokes the kind of excited dread I got from the first time I heard music from the original Terminator movie… like Vangelis had written for a video game. Each level’s music is a different track, but the daunting boss theme lets you know when one is near. Epic and searing, and from pre-polyphonic times, the sound is several layers of awesome. Granted, the cannon fire noises do get a little irritating – especially for people around you while you’re playing it – but this aside it’s utterly flawless for its time period.

Complete the 8 levels here to unlock Hard mode

Complete the 8 levels here to unlock Hard mode

Conclusion

R:Type still feels as fresh and as exhilarating as I remember it, and this port to Android is as faithful to the original as it can be. The difficult gameplay might put modern gamers off, but for those of us that remember, it was pure gaming bliss.

Game Over... Time for another go?

Game Over... Time for another go?

Should you download R:Type? Yes, you should, and I would present everything detailed above as the reasons why. Games are not about the way something looks or sounds; the gameplay mechanics or how addictive it might be; whether it’s made by this developer or that developer; whether it features controversial violence or occasional pixelated nudity. Games are about making you, the gamer, feel good. R:Type is massively enjoyable and rewards persistence and practice. Fans of the original will most likely remember R:Type with nothing but fondness and even modern day gamers have the opportunity to get in on the chaotic action.

My only small criticism of R:Type on Android is that the controls lack accuracy on a touchscreen. This aside the game is an epic blast of brilliance and well worth the £1.37 (or equivalent). Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps I’m simply too drunk on cosy nostalgia and lacking any objectivity… let me know what you think.


Summary

Blast your way strategically through a nightmarishly frenetic alien homeworld in this faithful retro classic. R:Type quenches the most demanding of nostalgic thirsts and reminds you what made games so good back in the day.

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