The shoot 'em up genre is the very definition of ‘easy to learn, hard to master’. At its core it's probably easier to explain than any other type of game: move around and shoot things, job done. Despite this, most shoot 'em ups tend to be extremely difficult. Whether it's because their roots are based in the arcades – where games were designed to eat up coins like Hungry Hungry Hippos – or simply out of pure cruelty, it's fair to say that the vast majority of gamers world struggle to beat most shooters.
Irem’s R-Type and R-Type II are prime examples of this, having originally launched in the arcades too. While both are seminal works in the shoot ‘em up genre, there’s no denying they can be on the difficult side and making it past, say, the second boss in the original R-Type – let alone all eight – without getting your rump handed to you is quite the task. But while R-Type Dimensions EX does a good job of remastering both games for the devoted audience it’s mainly aimed at, it does an even better job of making it approachable for less experienced gamers, while still giving them something to play for.
It’s all down to the Infinite mode, which gives you an endless supply of lives as you play through the game. Can’t fly ten feet without exploding in a ball of flame? Not a problem: you’ll never run out of ships. As long as you have the patience, you can make your way to the end via sheer brute force, and finally fulfil that seemingly impossible dream of completing a shoot ‘em up game.
Where’s the challenge, you may ask (and if you didn’t, we just asked it on your behalf)? Well, the game does actually keep track of how many lives you lost as well as your total score, and once you beat the game you do get to upload both stats to an online high score table. This means there’s an incentive to go through it again, trying to die fewer times and rack up a higher score this time around. It takes the excitement of attempting a high score challenge and fighting your way up the leaderboard, and gives it to a set of gamers who may otherwise feel daunted by it by taking out the “Can I do this?” element and focusing on “Can I do this better?” instead.
Don’t worry if you’re a hardened shoot ‘em up fan: the sort of person who calls them ‘schmups’ because all that time it takes to say two more syllables could be time spent playing more obscure Japanese bullet hell games. You’ve still got the normal versions of R-Type and R-Type II in there – each with their own separate ‘Normal’ mode leaderboards so you don’t have to worry about being overtaken by Little Jimmy 80-Lives – and each game is as entertaining to play as ever.
That’s because both games are essentially unchanged from the arcade originals, at least in terms of gameplay. There’s an option here to play both R-Type and R-Type II with the original arcade graphics and music, and doing so is an absolute treat. That isn’t the cool part, though: with just a press of the X button you can switch (ahem) to a fancy polygonal version of the same game, complete with a new soundtrack. Flipping between the new and old art styles is seamless, with just a short delay before the transition kicks in.
The modern graphics may not be to everyone’s taste. The iconic enormous boss fights in particular lose some of their sheen, as what used to be extremely impressive examples of 2D sprite work look like average-detail polygonal models instead. The option to choose which you prefer is a welcome one regardless, and being able to toggle between them in real time is a nifty trick. There’s also a ‘crazy’ camera option in the pause menu, which tilts the 3D version’s viewpoint to the side a little to give the illusion of depth. Don’t bother with the ‘arcade’ option, though: it places the 2D version inside an arcade cabinet but makes the screen ridiculously tiny as a result.
In fairness, nothing we’ve told you so far is new. R-Type Dimensions was already released nearly a decade ago on Xbox 360 and PS3, and included everything we’ve already mentioned: both games, the Infinite mode, the ability to switch from a retro to modern visual style. Developer Tozai Games has slapped an ‘EX’ onto the title for a reason, and that reason is mainly a speed function. You can now apply either a slowdown or speedup effect to the game while you play, making things more or less difficult for you whenever you see fit. That’s really the main difference over the previous release, so if you played the last-gen version to death and were looking for something other than the ability to play in handheld mode, that’s pretty much your lot.
None of this is to say that R-Type Dimensions EX is a disappointment: far from it. The package provided is already top-notch: two of the most iconic shoot ‘em ups in the history of the genre, a great little graphics-switching gimmick that feels like magic, and – perhaps most importantly – that Infinite mode. It’s just that anyone looking for a reason to double-dip beyond playing on the move may be left wanting: this is pretty much the (great) game released a decade ago with added speed settings.
If you’re an R-Type fan you already know that R-Type Dimensions EX is worth getting. Both games are handled brilliantly, whether playing with the old-school sprite-based art style or the enhanced polygonal one. Interestingly, the gamers who may get the most out of this are those who generally struggle to do well in shoot ‘em ups: the brilliant Infinite mode makes a usually hardcore genre far more accessible, meaning everyone – regardless of skill level – can enjoy the satisfaction of beating the game, submitting their score to the online leaderboards and trying to improve next time.