Following its original 1987 arcade release, Irem's highly regarded R-Type was ported to numerous home systems, with this Game Boy version appearing in 1991. For those not in the know (estimates range from 2-5 people living under a rock) the aim of the game is to take your space fighter and blast your way through waves of fiendish foes, spread across several tricky levels on your way to a final showdown with the big Bydo boss and a rather underwhelming ending. But hey, the journey there is challenging and a lot of fun.
As fantastic a game as R-Type is, porting it to the Game Boy could have been disastrous. After all, this is a system with a 2.6 inch (often blurry) monochrome screen that lacks any in-built illumination – not ideal for the frantic weaving and blasting required for the game. However, the developers were wise enough to make some changes to accommodate the move to the green and black wonder. Despite these alterations (and some omissions), it's surprising just how close it remains to the coin-op original.
The controls are responsive, meaning your ship will do everything you ask, when you ask it. The D-pad is used to move your 'Arrowhead' fighter around the screen and B fires your weapon. Hold the button to charge, then release to unleash a devastating blast. Right from the get-go you'll find yourself using both forms of attack as some enemies can be dispatched with a quick blast whilst others are somewhat tougher to slay. Upgrades are available including protective shield orbs and the legendary 'Force' pod, which can be attached to either end of your ship or left to float about independently. The A button is used to push away or pull the pod towards your ship as the situation dictates.
This portable conversion moves a little slower than the original game and there are a few less enemies on screen. However, the sprites that are there take up a larger percentage of the playing area than they did in the arcade, meaning you will still find yourself manoeuvring through narrow spaces between enemy fire as you try to loop back and take them out. Make no mistake, this is an easier version of the game, but it's no pushover - even with the 3 credits given to you in addition to your regular stock of lives. There are plenty of ways for your craft to explode, from swarms of relentless alien attackers to many an awkwardly placed obstacle. Some moments allow you to weave about the screen however you like, whilst others will see you destroyed unless you've been savvy enough to learn a safe route through the level.
The amount of upgrades attached to your ship also effects the difficulty of the game. You might find it easy going one moment thanks to your Force pod upgrade and intense fire-power, but a momentary lapse of concentration could see you lose a life and then have to face the Bydo hordes again, this time sans-upgrades.
Visually, R-Type boasts accurate (if somewhat simplified) enemy designs which move exactly as they should. The locations include a variety of constructed areas and organic looking ones, whilst space is represented with crosses and swirly visuals. Dark tones are generally avoided, and the larger sprites allows the action to be clearly visible on the chunky handheld's less-than-perfect display.
Things change with level 3 - famous for its gargantuan battleship. To begin with the music is the same as the first level - apart from the boss music and brief end of level victory piece, it seems the developers could only fit two tracks in to the game which alternate between levels. It's disappointing, but luckily the tracks that are there work well. The music is understandably simpler than the original, but it is recognisable and adds to the atmosphere with a combination of mystery and adventure. Sound effects are fairly basic but work well, particularly when an enemy blinks out of existence. The one exception is the painful ringing that accompanies your bonus being awarded at the end of a level.
The third level is also noticeably simpler than in its original incarnation, with less things to blast off the battleship and no danger of being crushed against the rocks. Indeed, should you have sufficient weaponry, it's the easiest level in the game. Having cleared the third level, players who are familiar with R-Type will notice something very odd about level 4 as it doesn't seem at all like the original. In fact, with those blocks sliding around it actually resembles level 6...and then it dawns on you. Unfortunately, music wasn't the only omission, as two levels have been unceremoniously hacked out of the game.
As disappointing as this is, it's not a deal-breaker. Of course the Game Boy edition of R-Type would have been better with all of its levels present, but with no ability to save, a complete play-through of a six-level game is a lot more manageable than an eight-level one. New players will be kept occupied for quite some time trying to master the challenge but for those more familiar with it, the difficulty is understandably lower. If you do manage to breeze through the game, tapping select on the title screen will allow you to select a slightly harder mode. Alternatively you could keep playing to try and get a new high score, or just because it's R-Type and R-Type is ruddy brilliant.
There have been unfortunate cuts, but this still delivers an authentic R-Type experience. A slower speed, fewer enemies on screen and the omission of two levels make for an easier version of the game. However, this port still manages to provide a challenge and it works well on the hardware it was designed for, with good controls and clear visuals. It may be a shorter gaming experience on the Game Boy, but it's still a very good one.