(SMS / Master System)

R-Type (SMS / Master System)

Game Review

R-Type Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Darren Calvert

Blast off and attack the evil Bydo Empire once again in 8-bit!

While we applaud Sega for bringing some of its most fondly remembered Master System games to the Virtual Console, we can’t help feeling that on this occasion it is a little bit pointless. After all, we’ve had a near arcade perfect port of R-Type on the TurboGrafx-16 since 2006, which humbles the Sega Master System version by comparison.

Unless you've been living in a cave somewhere, you will no doubt have come across R-Type in one shape or form over the years. The original arcade machine was released by Irem in 1987 and took the world by storm despite being as hard as nails (gamers were made of sterner stuff back in those days).

For the uninitiated, R-Type is a horizontally-scrolling shoot-em-up much like Gradius. What distinguished it at the time was the innovation of “The Force”, a pod you could pick up and attach to the front or back of your ship for protection from enemy bullets. The neat trick is that your indestructible pod can be fired into the path of oncoming foes, which can be particularly useful against certain end of level bosses since it allows you to dish out the pain from relative safety.

If you hold down the attack button you will also get a charge attack to inflict more damage. You can also pick up some neat power-ups that give you varying types of orbs for more protection, homing missiles and different types of shots.

In typical shooter fashion there is an end of level boss that fills up the majority of the screen at the end of each level. Some of the bosses can be really tough to beat, but perseverance is the key to success – once you figure out the patterns then you should be able to beat them unscathed.

R-Type is a famously hard game, but the Master System port is a bit slower paced and feels easier on the whole. As such some might prefer it in this respect. Additionally there is a secret level accessible through a secret warp on level 4 in this version, and it’s amazing that the developers were able to cram this extra content into the humble Master System cart.

For Master System owners in the days this was, with good reason, one of the best games to have in your collection. The NES was not graced with a port of its own and the home computer ports were vastly inferior to this. In Europe at least the TurboGrafx-16 (PC Engine) was available via import-only, so for most this was the closest they could get to enjoying the popular arcade game in their own homes, and to be fair it is quite a faithful port with the same levels and bosses.

Fast forward to 2009 and the Master System version of R-Type seems like a much less attractive proposition. Since the Virtual Console service launched in 2006 it has been possible to download the TurboGrafx-16 version of the game which is a much more faithful port of the classic coin-op. The graphics in the TG16 version are really in a different league, with detailed shading on the backgrounds and enemy sprites. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but if you compare the two side by side then the Master System version looks weak by comparison.

The Master System version really struggles when there are too many enemy sprites on screen at once and the end result is some serious sprite flickering. While this was forgivable back in 1988, there is no reason to put up with it now when for just 300 Nintendo points extra you could enjoy a much more refined experience. The mighty TurboGrafx-16 version suffers none of these problems, so you can just sit back and enjoy the game as it was intended to be.


Back in its day this was one of the better Master System games, but the dumbed down graphics and serious sprite-flickering do not make this a viable option anymore. At the time it was really impressive considering the limitations of the Master System’s hardware, but when casting nostalgia aside there is no easy way to recommend this unless you are particularly curious to see the secret bonus level. With lots of excellent and unique games such as Psycho Fox yet unreleased on the Virtual Console, we would recommend that Sega concentrated on releasing them instead.

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User Comments (43)



brandonbwii said:

I recall my first experience with R-Type actually being on the GBC with unbearable flicker. I'm glad I later downloaded the TG-16 version.



Kelvin said:

This is a much better treatment than in the news story a few days ago. This is more even-handed, acknowledging the MS port's best features while still noting its weaknesses, rather than the sweeping condemnation we got the other day.



Omega said:

...the home computer ports were vastly inferior to this.
What?!? You aren't serious? If you really think that you probably have never seen R-Type on the Amiga or the Sharp X68000?

But in one point I agree: The SMS version is easier than the PC-Engine version and therefore more fun. And I hate when the screen scrolls up and down on the PC-Engine.

I think the SMS version is absolutely worth 500 points even if you already own the PC-Engine (or other) versions. The possibility of experiencing such a popular game on various systems is what the Virtual Console is made for IMO.

I would love it if they release the C64 version (along with Katakis) on the Virtual Console too.



Corbs said:

I'll stick with the arcade version. Or R-Type Dimensions on XBLA. Now that's a beauty. This SMS version was impressive for its time, but it's a flickery mess by today's standards.



y2josh said:

I have the TG-16 version and I don't like it. One reason is because I can't make it past the 2nd level. I'll try again some other time I guess.



Dazza said:

@Omega OK I admit the Acorn Archimedes version of R-Type which I used to sneakily play at school was a great port. At the time the Master System version came out we compared this to the Spectrum and C64 and it was light years ahead. I can't say I got to play Electric Dreams other home computer ports personally.



Omega said:

^ Wow! You had Acorn Archimedes at school? I wish our school had so much money back then. I was forced to play the C64 version of R-Type during IT lessons.



Dazza said:

Haha most of our computers were knackered old BBC Micros. There were about 4 Archimedes I think which everyone fought to go on during the lunchtime break to play games!



ToneDeath said:

When I try to remember those old computers at school, I just end up thinking of the game at the start of 'Big' (1988) where the kid's trying to melt an ice wizard or something.
I'm 21 now, so perhaps a little younger than you Dazza? Those machines must have been relics even by the time I saw them at school; I think I had a SNES around that time. I saw a littlle black computer that used tapes a few years later, just gathering dust in the back of a classroom. It blew my mind! I'd only known cartridges. CD's were just getting popular with the PlayStation, and I already thought of the floppy discs for my Amiga as weird. But tapes? No way.
Anyway, once they got rid of anything resembling a game, the only fun I had on school computers was messing with the monitors ("ooh, green!"). Until we got the internet that is...



Dazza said:

@dimlylitmonkey I'm quite a bit older than you so I am well familar with waiting 10 minutes for a game to load from a tape on the ZX Spectrum. I am sure it seems crazy to you, but it was normal back then. People carried on playing with their Speccys, Amstrads and C64s long into the reign of 8-bit wonders such as the Master System and NES.



StarBoy91 said:

Even so, I still can't get past the third stage in Turbo Duo R-Type. I can't imagine the SMS version being easier than the Turbo Duo version.



Sean_Aaron said:

I'm guessing that the reason we're seeing these ports rather than the arcade is that whomever owns the rights hasn't come to the VCA party and we only have R-TYPE in any form due to Sega and Hudson licensing it.

Anyone know who owns Irem's IP?



pixelman said:

Oh I am good. If y'all will check the NL chat log, you'll find I called "Buy the TG-16 version. 6/10" Bwa ha ha ha.



Metang said:

I think I'll stick with the TG16 version. I would have bought this for the sake of having more SMS games, but you saved me from buying this. Great review Darren!



Betagam7 said:

Pointless release unless you really want a budget version. It reminds me that I must hook up the PS2 sometime and explore R-Type: Final some more.



blackknight77 said:

I don't mind them releasing a duplicate at a lower cost with a bonus level. What I do think Nintendo and these companies should consider is spacing out these duplicates to make sure that other series are represented properly (ahem.... Outrun, Afterburner, Hang-On)



JamieO said:

I am quite nostalgic about the Sega Master System, even though I never owned one (if that makes sense!). Its graphics were always so bright and colourful during the 8-bit days, it was popular in the UK and it seemed like a really fun console. I think I liked the way in which it was home to the bright visual coin-ops of the day including Dynamite Dux, Paperboy and Fantasy Zone, drawing me towards the triangular black box frame with red (Star Wars 'Death Star' control room) centre.

However, by the time I had saved my money, the enthusiasm towards it was superseded by a newfangled PC Engine interest. This was especially as the two consoles shared key conversions, particularly ports of Vigilante, Shinobi and R-Type. Fair play to the SMS version of R-Type, for stuffing all the levels into its cart, its a shame about the sprite flicker. I'll continue playing PSOne 'R-Types' on my PS3.

Your review took me back to the old days, reading up in magazines about SMS games. Cheers, Darren (the banter between @Dazza, @dimlylitmonkey and @Omega also took me back to my school days, with the educational adventure 'Granny's Garden' on the BBC, when I was 10!).



Sean_Aaron said:

@KeeperBvK: Are they still operating? I assumed they ended up like Data East and faded away only to have their assets acquired by another company -- surely they must have merged with another outfit? I cannot imagine they're still an independent publisher/developer...



Chunky_Droid said:

I had the C64 version myself, I had to have the disk drive on its side just to get it to run, lol



Omega said:

^ You was ahead of your time. By turning the 1541 on its side it looks almost like a Wii.



Chunky_Droid said:

lol, I remember R-Type coming on a special "white" disk. Only game I had that had a different colour disk!



Ristar42 said:

@JamieO At last! Someone mentioned the great 'Granny's Garden', also played this on the BBC in school and have fond memories! Those instant deaths were a pain though, as was getting ushered off the BBC to do something else... Games required quite a bit of imagination to fill in the gaps back then, part of the appeal I think!



JamieO said:

@Ristar42, Ha, ha we must be a similar age, mate. I remember that the BBC B Micro's were so unique in our primary school that different groups of us would get to huddle around and scratch heads through the puzzles, dependent upon how hard we had worked in traditional subjects like maths etc. Not a bad reward, really.
We were so clueless about the concept of a video game adventure that the kids who were not in control of the keyboard would be calling out useless requests like "Type 'Find and kill the Wicked Witch'!". Our imaginations would run riot with the seemingly endless possibilities of typed answers, only to be shattered and brought back down to earth by the game forcing us into a more sensible line of thought. Great memories.



Ristar42 said:

Yeah - I think we had one BBC. It was a source of much interest and amazement when got the chance to play the thing. Also, Granny's Garden made a change from running around the playground with friends pretending to be Ghostbusters....



JamieO said:

.... or sitting on the playground gravel with a mate and a blunt pencil, penning a really important question to Grimlock and anxiously checking every subsequent issue of Transformers comic to see if it would be answered. @Ristar42



Ristar42 said:

@JamieO Ha, yeah, the letters page! - I used to have a copy of Transformers comic reserved in the news agents every week, mini-golden age for Marvel UK with Simon Furman and Geoff Senior's work. If you also remember the short lived titles 'Dragons Claws' and 'Deaths Head' - they were recently reprinted in collections. Good memories indeed!



JamieO said:

Whoa! Your knowledge of comics far surpasses mine, apologies that I do not recognise the names Simon Furman and Geoff Senior. Sorry that I do not remember 'Dragon's Claws' and 'Deaths Head' as well, I googled them, but they didn't spark my memory.
I do not know much about comics, I was just a kid who was mad on Transformers... and Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, Goonies... even He-Man....you get the idea!
However, we definitely share a memory there, I also reserved my copies of the comic at our local newsagents, to the point that the man in the shop wrote my name on every copy (issues 34 to 145 are sitting here, I would have to flick through them all again to find my letter). I don't know why the last copy I bought was a Christmas issue, I'm looking at it now, it has a cracking 'Starscream in the Snow' cover.



Ristar42 said:

Well, thats about all I know about comics, but they did some of the best stuff in Transformers (maybe a bit later, around 1988-89) and Deaths Head first appeared there, quick google search shows him on the cover of issue 133.
I had my name on them too, though they all got chucked out at some point, oh well!
Yep, check for all the other cultural references, Starwars, Goonies... grandstand table top LCD games too, probably!



JamieO said:

@Ristar42 I was talking rubbish there, I've looked at issue 133 and I do remember Deaths Head, it was a similar time as the movie with Unicron and the Matrix and he was hunting down Rodimus Prime. The cover image sparked my aging memory. Cheers
However, we should get back to talking about SMS R-Type here: Complete Guide to Consoles Volume IV noticed similar faults to Darren "although it's got a great line in playability, the sprites sometimes tend to suffer from chronic flicker".



Ristar42 said:

You're right - excuse off topic ramble down memory lane!

Re: this version, I loved the SMS, but it suffers badly with flicker in comparison to the PC Engine, R-Type - Wonderboy 3 / Dragons Curse is another example. Pretty much agree with the review though I have the Psycho Fox cart and again, in PAL regions 50 Hz hurts the game bad. Wish Sega would sort it out...



Omega said:

JamieO wrote:

... "although it's got a great line in playability, the sprites sometimes tend to suffer from chronic flicker".

The SMS version of R-Type has really a great playability. It's even more fun than the PC-Engine version in my book. And the flickering is absolutely normal for NES or SMS games.

Flicker is usually a result of having too many sprites in one horizontal line. The NES and the SMS can display a certain number of sprites in one horizontal scanline. Any more than that and the Video Processor won't display them.

This is handled by a programming algorithm which causes the sprites intentionally to flicker to display more sprites than the system originally allowed. Playing a game like R-Type with only a few sprites on screen wouldn't be so amazing. So the flickering (or better said: the displaying of many sprites) is not a drawback but a great achievment of the programmers.

And, hands down, the flickering in the SMS version of R-Type is surprisingly little. You simply must take into account that the Master System is not the Playstation 2.

By the way: If the game is too hard for some and you need more continues, you can rotate the D-Pad in a clockwise direction when the continue screen appears to get more credits. I didn't consider this a cheat because it's mentioned in the instruction manual which originally came with the game as well.



JamieO said:

@Omega Fair point, I would pick to have the developers push the machine and display more sprites every time, even if the end result was flicker and I definitely appreciate that running R-Type on the Master System as an 8-bit machine is a completely different 'kettle of fish' than converting it to PS2, or even the more powerful PC Engine. That is actually the first time that someone has explained to me the reasoning behind sprite flicker. Thanks.

@Ristar42 Cheers mate, I'm always heading on an '80s trip down memory lane, so it was cool to share a few of those memories here. I am becoming increasingly interested in Psycho Fox, it sounds like a SMS one to watch for Virtual Console. I especially like that it was a kind of prequel to 'Magical Hat Flying Turbo Adventure', I loved that game on the Japanese Mega Drive.



Kelvin said:

JamieO, did you have a PC Engine then? I knew of them from magazines at the time, but never saw one in the flesh until a couple of years ago; as I recall, it was never officially released in the UK. It certainly seemed to me that the 8-bit console generation here in Britain was led by the Master System, but I could be misremembering; it was twenty years ago now!



JamieO said:

@Kelvin You are right mate, the SMS sold well in its Pal format, the PC Engine was more an importers console of choice. My mate was more clued up than me back in the day and he had one, I played it a few times, a sweet little miniature white console with tiny cards. Superb Hudson/NEC hardware design.
Regretfully I saved up my money, with a list ready for an import Scart PC Engine and Vigilante (to buy from C&VGs many 1990 importers like 'PC Engine Supplies' and 'PC Engine Services', for £159 console and Vigilante £22.90), but by the time I had saved enough (I was only 15), the Mega Drive was released, so I skipped both the Master System and PC Engine for the MD. Doh! The MD is my favourite console, though.
It lists amongst my regrets, like not owning a Neo Geo AES or a Dreamcast.
That is why I buy as many PC Engine and Neo Geo compilations and Virtual Console games as I can (I love the Japanese 'PC Engine Best Collection' on PSP, particularly the 'Soldier' series version.
The PC Engine was nearly released in th UK, but it fell through I'm afraid. Ah, well!



CanisWolfred said:

Having played the Arcade version, I have to say this game seems like a pretty faithful port. Really, the fact that an 8-bit came can look this good and operate that smoothly without sacrificing too much is enough of a reason for me to get this.

That, and It's freakin' R-Type! I just can't get enough of that game!XD



WonderboY101 said:

Personally I would have give this a 7. It's still really playable with no vertical scrolling and a secret level. The sprite flicker is not an issue to me. It's never affected the gameplay for me, anyway. The TG-16 is obviously the to go for, but if you have a spare 500 points it's certainly worth considering.

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