When it comes to examples of old-skool gaming, you can’t do much better than a classic side-scrolling shoot-’em-up, and for those who grew up with the videogame industry, R-Type is one of the definitive examples of the genre, having started life as an arcade coin-op (back when arcade games cost just 10p a go!) and subsequently ported, reinvented and reimagined many, many times over on countless different videogame formats.
The premise is simple: fly from left to right within a limited one-screen high environment while spacecraft, robots, bugs, missiles and the very landscape itself does its absolute best to kill you and all you’ve got to help you is a selection of collectible weapons power-ups, a chargeable laser, and a floating ball called a force module. The action is fast, furious, and usually quite deadly, this not being a game that allows much margin for error.
Each new version of R-Type over the years generally added something new to the mix in terms of different spacecraft, bigger weapons, better visuals and more monstrous bad guys, but ultimately the premise remained the same – a lone space-pilot on a solo mission through hostile environments faced with untold numbers of enemies and only skill and a variety of nifty weapon systems standing between you and oblivion. The most recent notable incarnation of the series, and arguably the best, was R-Type Final on PS2, which offered players a bewildering array of craft and weapons along with graphics that the original fans of R-Type coin-op action in the 80s would have sold their granny just to look at.
But where do you go from there? Even more ships? Even bigger graphics? Even Higher Definition? Nope! EA has instead chosen to go completely the other way, taking things completely back to basics and bringing the original 80s coin-op experience to the small screen of the iPod.
So what you’ve got are the eight original arcade levels from the coin-op, and thanks to the fact that your average MP3 player these days has something like ten times the processing power they used to run space missions back in the 80s, it looks and sounds pretty-much indistinguishable from said original arcade version, just on a smaller screen. What’s different, obviously, is the control system, as most iPods don’t come complete with arcade joysticks, Apple’s design chaps having decided to go with the less bulky touch-screen interface instead. Some thought has clearly gone into solving the no joystick problem though, as you have three control choices, each with their own pros and cons, specifically: the Tilt option, the Touch option and the Virtual d-pad.
Tackling them in no particular order, the Virtual d-pad does pretty much what it says on the tin, giving you a d-pad at the bottom of the screen along with two buttons, one for fire and one to control the force module that R-Type fans will be familiar with (basically a floating add-on to the craft that be fixed at front or back of the craft, or fired off across the screen to hammer the bad guys at a distance). This option provides the most arcade realistic R-Type experience as you move the craft by manipulating the on-screen pad, but the downside is that the playing area is shrunk slightly to accommodate the control icons, making everything a little squished.
The Touch option meanwhile gives you a full-screen game, and you simply move your finger around on one side of the screen to directly move the ship. The advantage of this is that the ship at moves the speed you move your finger, which makes for much faster movement than with the Virtual d-pad, and this is particularly handy for getting out of scrapes. The disadvantage of this option, particularly for those with fat fingers, is that your finger being on the screen does tend to block your view of parts of it, and so sometimes you miss seeing enemy craft or missiles which are heading for your ship until it’s too late.
The Tilt option is again fairly self-explanatory – tilt your iPod or iPhone up and down and left and right to move the ship in the required direction. As control is analogue, this means that you can move the ship fast or slow depending on the angle of the tilt, but this option is recommended only for those most skilled with tilt controls because with R-Type just about everything – enemies, missiles and scrolling landscape – will kill you with just one touch, so you need pinpoint accuracy to really excel at it, and this is something which I personally have never found easy with tilt control systems. Mind you, I was brought up on d-pads, so maybe the younger gamers out there will find this system their preferred one.
What is recommended, regardless of which control method you use (for me, it’s the Touch option, by the way), is the autofire option. While for purists this might seem like cheating, for me repeatedly tapping the touch screen doesn’t have the same pleasure as hammering away at a big old arcade cabinet fire button anyway, and the autofire gives far more bullet frequency than you’ll ever get manually, which is essential in this game, where the enemies start coming at you en mass, and then just increase in number. Anyone who is used to modern videogames with their shields and energy bars is going to struggle to get used to this classic where one hit kills you (and robs you off all your add-ons and power-ups too, thereby ensuring that you usually die again almost immediately after respawning!) But it’s well worth persevering at it, because what you’ve got here is a little chunk of pocket-sized classic videogaming. At a cost of £1.19 to download from the iTunes Store, this means you can basically own the game that people used to pump hundreds of 10p pieces into back in the old days, for less than what people paid to play it just 12 times back then. And considering that most things that cost 10p back in the 80s now cost around a pound these days anyway, that’s pretty damn good value for money. As such, this gets an almost perfect 9 out of 10. Arcade-perfect R-Type in your pocket? The kids in the 80s wouldn’t have dreamed it was possible!
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Related: R-Type Command review, PSP R-Type Command Demo