R-Type tried to say goodbye for the first time eighteen years ago, the PlayStation 2’s R-Type Final intended to be one last hurrah for a relic of a bygone age. Two portable Tactics games came and went after that heartfelt farewell, but apart from that little experiment R-Type was considered a closed book.
Or so we thought. The crowdfund-supported R-Type Final 2 is now upon us, available in every region and on every format video games are currently sold. Is this the glorious return of an old favourite or a cynical cash-in designed to prey on a respected series’ goodwill? One thing’s certain: On the easiest difficulty setting you will more than likely clear the game in well under an hour on your first go.
This means two very important things:
- Final 2 has been designed as a new R-Type – as an arcade-style shmup – and isn’t wasting your time pretending to be anything else.
- The easier difficulty settings really do make the game easy, so everyone can find an option they’re comfortable with and spend more time enjoying themselves than worrying about playing “properly”.
Dive in head first and it’s like the series has never been away; every sight, sound, and uncomfortably organic enemy feeling as authentic as any of the other Irem-branded games in the series. It’s subtly spectacular in all the right ways – unidentifiable lumps of alien flesh glisten as you pass by, your Wave Cannon fire briefly illuminated abandoned corridors, and hot pink lasers slightly distort the surrounding air as they streak across the screen.
All of the old Bydo-beating shmup rules are back too, and old hands will soon be expertly ramming their Force into boss weak points, perfectly timing their powered-up shots for maximum damage, and weaving their way through the game’s numerous stage hazards. And if that doesn’t sound like you? The “R Manual” (read: tutorial) on the main menu will soon get you up to speed. It appears more than a little light on content at first blush, with only a single screen’s worth of topics in total (and some of those are plot, rather than play, related) but in practise it’s a pin-sharp teaching aid that knows it’s going to be most effective if it sticks to the basics and then explains them in simple text accompanied by useful images. Want to know the difference between an ALBATROSS and an ARROW-HEAD? You’ll find no help here. Need to know exactly what will harm you or which icons are power-ups and how to get them? Then this is the place to be.
There’s plenty else worth looking at in the menus before blasting off to strike the evil Bydo empire: The Bydo Lab serves as both a handy checklist of every enemy you’ve defeated so far as well as offering a little basic information on whatever the heck it was you obliterated with your laser fire – human or Bydo, mecha or organic, where it’s found, etc. – as well as its name. It’s not as enlightening or atmospheric as R-Type Tactics worldbuilding efforts, but knowing everything has an imagined purpose or was once a functional item that has now been corrupted or perhaps fallen into disrepair does help to add that little bit of something, just a hint that this melancholy story and the war you’re fighting is bigger than you and your high score. The R Museum is another big feature, and the place to go to purchase new craft using materials gathered in the field (by shooting things as normal – you don’t have to actually collect anything) or by inputting currently unknown passwords, with accessibility sometimes dependent on you having created another specific ship first. The tree structure of the museum creates a visual lineage of ships and an implied sense of history, which also makes exploring a favourite’s line or branching out into something completely new a simple task – just follow the lines on the floor. As Final fans will know there’s far more to your growing fleet than decorative differences or the usual trade-offs between speed and power: the R-9A and its closest derivatives are by, R-Type standards, pretty vanilla craft but others introduce enormous changes to every shot type and POW Armor provided extra, creating clear distinctions between them – and how you pilot them too. At the time of writing a few ships are listed as being still under development and inaccessible to all – considering the sheer number of them (there’ll be ninety-nine once they’ve been finished) and how impossible R-Type returning at all was thought to be… it is a shame, but doesn’t feel like a gaping hole in the game for the odd one to not be ready for launch day.
Start the game up and you’ll find the seven stages you’ll inevitably die your way through are varied and inventive, demonstrating an engaging mix of new takes on old favourites (yep, Dobkeratops is in here, as is a gigantic fortress-like encounter) and sudden late-game twists on the familiar, turning what were previously reliable friends into waves of deadly foes and enemies capable of briefly trapping or even snatching your precious bullet-absorbing Force out of the air. The end-of-level bosses are equally unique, some calling on well-timed shots to defeat while others force you to keep on the move if you want to survive or even physically push them away using your firepower to avoid getting hit by white-hot blasts of energy. Replays reveal that a few stages have several completely different alternatives that effect how the story plays out and how you reach one of three possible conclusions.
Whatever the ending, you’re still not done with Final 2 even after the credits have rolled. There’s a score attack mode to dip in and out of as the mood takes you, allowing you to play any single stage you’ve visited on any difficulty setting (regardless of the one you reached it on, making it perfect for practising tougher challenges), and if you’ve forked out for either the Stage Pass or the Digital Deluxe Edition you can also play two remade stages from R-Type’s past: “Flame-Engulfed Arms Factory”, a remake of R-Type III‘s Fire Cask Factory, followed by a remake of R-Type Leo‘s “Inside of Ruins”. They’re impressive updates of their 2D counterparts, faithful in spirit if not strictly accurate in every detail. Unfortunately these stages are presented without any context or even a brief line of text letting you which game they’re from, so unless you already know exactly what they’re referencing (and considering the age and relative obscurity of the picks, that’s not a given) they’ll come across as disjointed (albeit entertaining) an experience as you’d expect a couple of stages taken from wildly varying hardware and games to be.
R-Type Final’s climax felt like a true farewell: You were utterly alone, your beam gauge shattered with nowhere to go and nothing left to lose. In contrast this second goodbye feels more like R-Type as usual even at its bleakest – blast off, shoot some Bydo, then come home when you’re done (or possibly not). I consider that a compliment:
No more goodbyes – R-Type’s back.
[PC version shown and reviewed]