The first level of 1987 arcade classic R-Type is one of the iconic moments in gaming history. From the synthesiser chords that herald your ship’s arrival to screen-filling alien wired up to a machine at the end, its sights and sounds are burned into my memory. It’s a big reason why, over three decades later, the arrival of a new R-Type game still makes me stand up and pay attention.
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It’s a shame, then, that R-Type Final 2 only partially captures the old spark, not least because it forgets the value of a grand opening. In many ways it respects series history. It’s full of clever references that span everything from that first game right up to the last mainline entry, R-Type Final. And it’s got some memorable moments of its own.
But R-Type should be striking and breathless, and Final 2 sets a low-key tone. Yes, it’s a game about the aftermath of war, cleaning up the dregs of twisted alien experiments. That doesn’t justify a bland initial crawl through the husk of an old space station, where you shoot rusting cargo crates then run into a version of that original boss encased in ice, robbed of its horrible majesty.
It doesn’t help that this Kickstarted revival can’t disguise its relatively low-budget production. You can argue that its simple polygon models are faithful to Final’s PlayStation 2 stylings, but the models are plagued by ugly texturing and overbearing lighting effects. Organic creatures are indistinctly drawn and sport a tacky plastic shine. They aren’t monsters so much as blobs of varnished litter, dissolving with apologetic squelches under the weight of your cannon fire.
The visual design is not only unappealing; it gets so messy that picking out enemies and projectiles is harder than it should be. The colour palettes of the busy backgrounds themselves leave a lot to be desired: they swing from dull browns or greys to the opposite extreme of lurid pinks and purples. A lot of my mistakes involved barrelling into hazards I hadn’t even seen. Technically my fault, sure, but more clarity and contrast wouldn’t go amiss.
Such collisions are doubly annoying because Final 2 sticks stubbornly to archaic rules of engagement: you die in a single hit and return to a checkpoint, minus any power-ups you’ve accrued. It’s old-school punishment built for coin-munching arcade games – and its datedness is starkly apparent in this 2021 title. Fail on one of the tough later levels, and rather than struggle with the default weapon, you’d be tempted to start all over again. Or just give up.
Yet more often than not, I did persevere. And in a masochistic way, I came to relish these challenges as much as curse them. Because R-Type was always not only about shooting and dodging, but thinking your way out of impossible situations, about finding a route or a strategy, against the odds. Thankfully, the core components that made that so in previous games survive pretty much intact here.
Most important among these is your plucky R-9 spacecraft, with the three auxiliary fire modes you can employ once you hit your stride, and a charging super shot that cuts through enemies if you’re willing to hold fire for a few seconds. Not to mention, of course, the evergreen brilliance of the ‘force’ power-up, a ball attachable to your ship that can be deployed as a shield and firepower booster, or left free to roam and attack hard-to-reach targets.
Alongside these enduring elements, Final 2 continues on from its direct predecessor in giving you a vast ‘museum’ of ships to choose from, each with a slightly different arrangement of charge shot, force, missile and extra weapon types. By repeatedly playing the game, you earn currency that can be used to unlock up to 99 vessel variants. More options to take into battle, to suit your play style, or to complete particularly challenging stages.
It’s also worth persevering because the game’s later levels do rediscover some of the old swagger, with inventive ideas that either riff on past favourites or bring something new to the party. The circular defence system from the original’s first level multiplies into a gauntlet of linked rings in one sequence. The final stage forces you to contend with a huge junk recycling slug sliding and growing across its floor. Or, rather, that’s one possibility: as in Final, there are branching paths towards the end of the game that send you off into alternative challenges.
If only the smartest moments weren’t held back for the most difficult stages, leaving the first few, which you have to blast through every time you start a new game, lacklustre in comparison. You can at least access any individual stage in a score attack mode once you’ve completed it. But in a game that asks to be replayed dozens of times to unlock all its treasures, the first third of each run should have more to offer. After all, we still care all these years later because of how R-Type started, not how it ended.
‘R-Type Final 2’ is out now on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC.
R-Type Final 2 feels like part of the long-running series, building on key features and reworking some of its most memorable stages. But it’s hard not to feel let down by both its uninspired early levels and an unpleasant visual style that drains it of character. Still, it recovers towards the end and holds plenty of replay value for those looking to take on its exacting old-school challenges.
- The various weapon systems offer tactical flexibility
- Loads of different ships to unlock and customise
- Multiple routes and some great final stages
- Visuals and sound effects are weak
- Early levels aren’t adventurous enough
- The checkpoint system is as unforgiving as ever