Are you familiar with the name Manfred Trenz? How about a company called Rainbow Arts? Perhaps the name Turrican will be more relatable? It all depends on how far back you started playing video games, especially in Europe. All three names warranted attention for Commodore 64 and Amiga owners, since they were synonymous with arcade quality games at home - sometimes even too close to comfort for other Japanese heavyweights. The company eventually departed from the microcomputer market and ventured onto console hardware. To this day it's still impossible to understand how a German-developed game ended up being a Japanese Super Famicom exclusive, but that is exactly what Rendering Ranger: R2 is, and as something of an oddity it has attracted the attention of Super Famicom collectors all over the world. But is it a good game?
We don't need - or ever have needed - a plot in order to justify shooting evil aliens in the face and this game presents you with none, leaving the motives of our lone soldier up to the player's imagination. The game starts off in a devastated, war torn city with the player having to navigate their way through the streets, avoiding the odd bottomless pit and destroying enemy robots that come in many varied forms and directions (so it's a good thing we can fire in all eight of them) until you face the inevitable boss, a screen-wide gunship which is partial to flamethrowers. As an opening stage it's quite an eye opener, with bags of action from start to finish. However, this level merely serves to deceive the player, for there is much more to Rendering Ranger: R2 than what it is presented in that opening stage - it's no exaggeration to say there's a whole other game lurking past level two.
Level three will leave you speechless. After hopping onto a space fighter that impressively rotates while taking off at the end of the previous stage, the viewpoint scales back and Rendering Ranger: R2 becomes a fully-fledged horizontal scrolling shmup - and a beautiful one at that, with lovely parallax backgrounds, asteroids and enemies filling up the screen constantly. At the end of the level a screen-sized capital ship awaits your challenge. Level four continues the shmup theme with a giant, Mode 7 rotating mech to contend with before level five puts you back on foot. By this time, you'll be left wondering exactly how this is possible on the SNES. You could easily believe this as a game running on SNK's Neo Geo or even 32-bit systems like the PlayStation or Saturn - yet the reality is that it's running on the humble Super Famicom without the aid of any special custom co-processor chips. How? Why? The answer is mostly due to Trenz's legendary assembly skills. By programming directly in assembly and not in a more human-readable interpreted language, Trenz worked wonders on a console which has never been famed for its shmup credentials - and with any slowdown to boot. You won't find any sort of stuttering in either the run'n'gun or shmup sections of this game. This feat alone is enough to place Rendering Ranger: R2 in the upper echelons of shmups and run and gun blasters on the system, but fortunately there is more than technical prowess behind this game's appeal.
You start with two different weapons: A classic spread shot and a blue laser. Picking up red and blue power ups will upgrade both respectively. There are also yellow and green pickups that will allow you access to two other weapons: yellow fires in all directions and green is a rebound shot. All of them are handy in the numerous hazardous situations the game throws at you. Pressing X will unleash a smart bomb, unique to whatever weapon you have equipped. Unlike Contra III, you don't pick and stock them; instead, they have a cooldown period so they need to be used wisely. Weapons are shared between both run and gun and shmup levels.
The graphics are all CGI models turned into two dimensional sprites (Donkey Kong Country really shook things up in the previous year) despite the game having started development with traditional sprite art (Manfred still has this version locked away in his possession). This was actually a request from the publisher to make the game more attractive to the increasingly demanding 1995 market. In fact, the run and gun levels were not even a part of the game, which was initially planned as a pure shmup until the publisher once again stated that it would be very hard to sell a game on that concept alone. It is the same publisher that said only Virgin Japan was interested in picking up the game for release. As such, the western version of the game Targa was never released - the only difference is the fact that our hero doesn't wear a helmet, choosing to fight the enemy hoards with his long black hair and beard exposed.
Despite all of its amazing content and satisfying gameplay, there is one small negative aspect: the difficulty. We understand the people at Rainbow Arts were raised playing arcade games and as such all of their games tend to verge on the hardcore, coin-stealing game design of old and Rendering Ranger: R2 doesn't cut the player any slack. Even regular enemies will take several shots to destroy if you don't have your weapons fully powered up, and this will be often the case because when you die (and you will, a lot) your selected weapon at the occasion of your demise will be powered down. Facing the bosses with unpowered weapons makes an already difficult task even more so, and is often unfair and borderline insane on shmup levels. Fortunately there is a password system in place, so more often than not we found ourselves playing to reach the end of the level instead of completing the whole game in one sitting. It will take practice and patience but it is such a terrific and thrilling sensory overload that it is as hard to drop the joypad as is figuring out your way through the massive Metroid-style level five.
The game is lacking an epic soundtrack by Chris Huelsbeck, the man responsible for all those amazing earworms in the Super Turrican soundtrack. But as is, the music in game is perfectly adequate. We were simply spoiled by Huelsbeck's efforts scoring other Rainbow Arts games in the past, and the quality of his work is so high that its absence here is worth noting - especially as he and Trenz have worked together so many times previously.
Rendering Ranger: R2 is a labour of love from a small and dedicated team that spent nearly three years making the Super Famicom do things people assumed impossible. It's a lovely hybrid of a regular run and gun game and superb shmup. It looks absolutely incredible with detailed backgrounds and bosses up to three screens tall, the controls respond flawlessly and as previously stated, there is no perceivable slowdown anywhere to be found. A technical masterpiece that is much more than just eye candy and a great way to prove that the Super Famicom could indeed handle shmups as easily as the Mega Drive or PC Engine in the hands of the right developers. It's almost criminal that due to its very limited production run in Japan (only 5000 copies, apparently) very few people ever got to play this gem. As such, expect to find prices in the hundreds for a loose cart nowadays. A complete in-the-box copy of the game? Well, let just say you will need very deep pockets for one of those, but unless something incredible changes, Rendering Ranger: R2 is the closest we'll ever get to a proper Turrican 4 or Super Turrican 3. Trenz used the pseudonym "The Master" in his early computer game credits. Spend a few minutes with this slice of Super Famicom brilliance and you will quickly understand why - assuming you can afford a copy, of course.