Almost two decades have passed since the last entry in the mainline R-Type series. That makes the arrival of R-Type Final 2 a genuinely exciting prospect — particularly for shooting game devotees. Firing up Granzella’s latest for the first time really does feel like a meaningful moment for the form. An icon has returned, showing that as the indie shmup renaissance continues, there is still a place in the market for one of the grand progenitors of the form.
Yes, the title feels a little bit silly. R-Type Final was meant to be the very last R-Type, and as the years rolled into decades, it felt like that was entirely the case. Now we have a sequel to that closing moment, crowdfunded by fans, and put together by a team that includes a number of the original R-Type staff. In reality, though, for all the solemnity and melancholy that defines the R-type games — and particularly the first Final — it's a series that has always had a glint in its eye and the space for a playful moment. The title is perfect.
The game itself? Less so.
Ultimately, all the right elements are in place. Most importantly, this feels like a purebred R-Type in spirit and realisation. While bullet hell has come to be the shooting game sub-genre that receives the most attention, the R-Type games have never been concerned with asking players to thread a diminutive hitbox through intersecting spirals of tightly packed, gaudy neon bullets.
The R-Type releases have chosen instead to focus on claustrophobic, sometimes maze-like environments, where a slower pace lends a sense of a brutal grinding away against the enemies, overcoming something like environmental puzzles as the organic menace that are the Bydo do all they can to overwhelm. Your ship feels lonely and isolated, fighting methodically to puncture deeper into a very alien world where you never feel welcome, while the dance you undertake with your Force option — sending it out to smash enemies before reeling it in — rarely feels tiresome. It’s a thrilling set-up, and one that asserts that there is much room for variety in a genre often projected as constrained by its own conventions.
The good news is that Final 2 does deliver all those most R-Type-esque elements. It feels like a proper R-Type, and if you're a series devotee, that alone may be enough for you. The game plays slowly and strategically, and while there are plenty of straight-up popcorn enemies to blast, your battle to progress will also be one with the scenery and environment. To play R-Type Final 2 is to revisit over and over, refining your route through and gradually beginning to preempt any surprises that are thrown at you.
Final 2 also uses a fairly aggressive checkpointing system. That means that if you lose a ship, you don’t magically appear in the same spot, as with most bullet hell titles. Rather, you return to the last checkpoint, powered down and vulnerable. The checkpointing won’t be for everybody, but it is well implemented. There’s usually a decent chance to reestablish your firepower before you get to anything too overwhelming, and thanks to the strategy-leaning elements of the gameplay, doggedly repeating sections until you’ve unlocked the solution to overcoming them compliments a checkpointed structure. Indeed, while credit feeding rarely provides the best way to play an intense arcade shooter, here it really works well - something that perhaps better serves players with a less fevered devotion to shooters.
At the same time, the difficulty levels are where R-Type Final 2’s cracks start to show. Played at the default ‘Normal’ difficulty, things can feel a little soulless and empty. There’s not quite enough going on in terms of enemy aggression, bullet numbers and mechanical vibrancy. And yet things are still rather challenging. Pop up the difficulty up to the more challenging ‘Bydo’ difficulty, or the yet more savage ‘R-Typer’ setting, and you get a game with a little more going on, but with much more challenge. Down at the easy end — branded ‘Kids’ difficulty in Final 2 — and you’ll actually find a version that is terrific fun in short bursts, as there the capacity for slightly faster, more vigorous play exists, and yet many of the environmental puzzles still throw a lot of challenge at you.
Beyond its slightly awkward relationship with its own difficulty balancing, R-Type Final 2 also features an unusual choice with regard to the display. The camera pitches up and down ever so slightly as you move the ship, meaning a modest shift in the 3D assets that envelop the game’s 2D plane of play. At times that can make precise movement and hitbox visualisation rather trying, especially at some of the tighter boss battles. Oftentimes the pitch has no discernible impact, but when it is present, it can be especially irksome if you are trying to perform at your best.
Also a little underwhelming is the technical presentation. Undocked, things look good enough, and there’s certainly some design flair in given moments. But too frequently the visuals feel flat and dated. It even feels like you are peering at gloriously detailed graphics through a filter that muddies their clarity and finesse. That is less noticeable when playing undocked, but on the big screen the visual imperfection is considerably more potent. Furthermore, on the Switch there are some lengthy loading times between losing a ship and reappearing at a checkpoint, which can interfere with your flow — especially in the game’s more intense moments.
For all that picking away at R-Type Final 2’s weaknesses, however, it remains very much an authentic contribution to a series that has made such a mark on the genre’s evolution. There is ample fun to be had, and the meta game that lets you collect, browse and customise a tremendous array of ships offers a bounty of different ways to play.
R-Type Final 2 feels just a spot of optimisation and a finessing of the difficulty balancing away from greatness; easier penned than done, of course. There is something special lurking within Final 2, but it never nears the sublime high seen in R-Type Delta, the quality of the early series entrants, or even the energy of spin offs like the excellent, if divisive, R-Type Leo.
R-Type Final 2 makes an authentic if flawed contribution to an iconic shooting game series. Many of the problems seem technical, so hopefully an update could do plenty — especially if it lets you lock that camera pitch. All we can hope for, then, is that we are still in the beginning of R-Type’s final phase, and that what Final 2 gets right is allowed to rise to the top.