As if by magic a playable demo for R Type Final 2 has just appeared on both PlayStation Network and the Switch eShop (Japan only at the time of writing, sorry. You can get both links via @shmups Twitter feed. EDIT: Now available in the US too: @NISAmerica) and the only sensible thing to do when hit with that news was almost drop my coffee mug in a rush to grab my Switch and get it downloaded as quickly as possible. For all my caffeine-endangering enthusiasm I have to admit I was a little worried: This is a crowdfunded sequel to Irem’s official PlayStation 2 exclusive goodbye R Type Final – a game released eighteen years ago and intended at the time to honestly be the last anyone would ever see of the series. Trying to keep my happy little Bydo-blasting heart in check, I hoped the demo would reveal the game to be a slightly rough shmup with its heart in the right place, as if The Ghost of R Type Past had popped in for a brief chat but had no intention of staying for a serious conversation.
What I actually got out of the demo was, simply put, R Type Final 2. R Type’s not only back, it feels like it’s never been away. The new pilot presence – your own customisable avatar complete with selectable (silent) responses to other voiced characters – seems unlikely to be a big mood-breaking issue it could have been from the short cutscenes included, and every single ship, Bydo, and floating chunk of space debris felt as polished and authentic as anything else the illustrious series has ever produced. It still perfectly straddles that line between the overt sci-fi cool you’d expect from a game born in the arcades of old and the sort of terrifying hollow emptiness that lurks at the fringes of each stage (and so beautifully brought to the fore in R Type Tactics), the bright lasers tearing through the incoming bio-mechanical forces and then lighting up the dilapidated corridors beyond.
The game underneath the graphics feels up to the old, high, standards too; enemies appearing in an unpredictable combination of retro wave patterns, larger life-ending foes, sneaky ships coming up from behind, and almost overwhelming barrages that must be dealt with very carefully if you want to see the other side. As in the original Final the differences in the ships you get to choose from are significant and immediately obvious, the “unbalance” of some of them only serving to give them more personality: As always the R-9 Arrowhead’s a safe all-rounder that will neither hinder nor help pilots in any specific way, whereas something more exotic like the Morning Star will seriously struggle in some places and make others a total breeze. Which craft you choose is entirely up to you, experimentation always encouraged with no obvious “correct” option standing out from the crowd.
Oh and the end of level boss…? Well. I gasped. And yes, you probably are thinking of the same boss I’m thinking of right now.
As a demo there is of course very little here: One stage, four difficulty levels, and six ships (once you’ve run through the stage enough times to gather the materials to create them all, that is), but it still feels like there’s enough in here to act as an honest and representative slice of the upcoming action we’re all looking forward to at the end of this month. The little accessible extras dotted around the menus allowing you to customise your favourite R Type (or all of them if you fancy it) with a tasteless clash of garish colours and silly decals, take a first-person wander around the hangar (gazing up at the ships for yourself gives you a wonderful sense of scale, and to see such iconic craft lit up and looming is awe-inspiring), and learn a few atmospheric tidbits about the ships and your mission – are just the right mix of tantalising teasers and genuinely useful information. While the weight of R Type – and perhaps classic shmup history itself – may weigh heavy on Final 2’s shoulders, its wide variety of difficulty levels and well written tutorials make it feel just as much a game for newcomers to the series as it does a welcome second farewell for long term fans.
(Can we please get an R Type Tactics double pack next? Please?)
[The Switch screenshots shown in this article were all taken in portable mode]