It is hard to believe that Seibu Kaihatsu’s legendary Raiden shmup series graced Nintendo platforms a single time on Super Nintendo, twenty-seven years ago. But do all good things come to those who wait? We find out as Moss and UFO interactive grace the Switch with the 'Director's Cut' of Raiden V, the pinnacle of a franchise that started life in arcades way back in 1990.
Not all games gracefully jump from 2D to 3D, and this franchise certainly took a few bumps along the way, with fans and critics not really that enamoured with the third numerical entry (actually the fourth game) of the series – the first time the original sprite work was traded in for polygons. Still, things quickly bounced back with Raiden IV and Raiden V, combining the refined difficulty of the previous games with a visual extravaganza that still manages to provide just the right balance of fun and challenge into a very appetizing package.
The move to the Switch sees no performance issues in either docked or portable mode, with the vibrant, colourful levels and enemies of all sizes and shapes moving smoothly around the game’s eight stages. Replayability is assured thanks to a selection of three ships (the original Azuma, the Spirit of Dragon and the Moulin Rouge) with varying stats and sub-weapons. In common they share the limited screen-clearing smart bombs plus the main weapons, the same three tried-and-tested offensive options that have come to define the whole series: the Vulcan Cannon (red power-up), the Ion Laser (blue power-up) and the franchise trademark Lock-On Plasma Laser (purple power-up). Each one has three variants and 10 levels of increasing power; suffice to say, you will not be able to see everything the game has to offer in just a few quick-play sessions.
Bullet hell shooters can be quite an intimidating subgenre of the shmup genre, and taking a look back at the Raiden series we would most certainly not recommend any of the previous entries for newcomers. It is a bit of a surprise to find that this fifth version of the game is in fact one of the most accessible bullet hell shooters ever produced, neatly achieving that balance by adding a shield to the player's ship. Unlike previous entries (and most games of this genre), getting hit does not equal instant death; instead, it becomes a cautionary warning that you are messing up while your shield gauge decreases. Veterans will probably head for the options menu to turn the shield to minimum strength and relish the punishment, but newcomers will most no doubt welcome this game mechanic, and will consequently be able to see far more of the whole game thanks to its inclusion.
Like the previous games of the franchise, Raiden V is a TATE-orientated shooter, but sadly suffers from the exact same issues that plagued Iro Hero – You cannot (at the time of writing, at least) play this in TATE orientation, so keep your lovely Flip Grips packed away because you won't be able to use them here. The reason is that the usually barren or wallpapered screen borders are used to display information on the left side of the screen regarding score and ‘Cheers’ (an online system that lets you cheer on and receive cheers for your performance, eventually allowing you to boost your sub-weapons on demand) while the right side of is reserved for the ongoing, developing interactive plot that narrates your exploits as you fight along. It is most surely a short-sighted annoyance when porting the game onto the Switch, but far from a deal-breaker.
The ‘Director’s Cut’ subtitle comes with added features to the vanilla 2016 game. Some are welcome – like new stages and variants along with respective new bosses – while others are a bit of a hit-and-miss, such as the new real-time voice overs. It is pretty much impossible to follow anything going on outside the main playing field, but having the enjoyable fast-paced soundtrack constantly interrupted with English dialogue (sorry Japanese fandom, there's no dual audio option here) quickly becomes a nuisance, albeit one that can, fortunately, be turned off within the options screen. While the whole interactive plot is a major gameplay mechanic, you will often find yourself completely ignoring it altogether, prioritizing avoiding bullet patterns on the main game screen. Word of caution: While the original Lock-On Plasma Laser variant may at first seem like the go-to solution to the problems Raiden V throws your way, we found that its flashy pyrotechnics also manage to hide incoming enemy fire, an issue that is very keenly felt during end-of-level boss battles. Pilots be warned, it gets even more confusing if you’re playing with a friend and you both use the Lock-On Plasma Laser at the same time. Gulp.
Raiden V: Director’s Cut quietly lands on the Switch with little fanfare, and yet feels right at home along with all the numerous other bullet hell shmups currently available on the system. It pays homage to the classic series while also introducing several welcome new features that manage to outweigh its few unfortunate shortcomings. We recommend it for both newcomers to the franchise or the genre itself; those looking for a game to experience all the thrills that a bullet hell blaster can offer. Veteran players need not feel left out either since you can easily customize the difficulty within the game’s options and getting to fight the last true boss of the game will require a super-human level of skill. A great package for a great price; can we have the rest of the Raiden series now, please?