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.