Appearing suddenly on the eShop with very little fanfare, RXN -Raijin- is an interesting beast from Gulti Games - a team forged from the remnants of Japanese arcade manufacturer Seibu Kaihatsu - previously known for its work on the Raiden series. Created in part to celebrate the studio's 10th anniversary, this vertically-scrolling shooter harks back to arcade converts such as Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga, doubling down on that core shoot, dodge and destroy mantra.
Derived from the name of the Japanese god of thunder, lightning and storms, RXN -Raijin- follows a group of three pilots who use their mechs (called the RXN, naturally) to hunt down the mysterious Ulka, a group of organic and mechanical monsters under of the control of the maniacal Yukata. While plot and backstory are often considering some of the least important aspects of an old school shmup, RXN still makes the effort to include an overarching story, but it becomes increasingly difficult to follow. With the English language option on, small windows of dialogue appear in the top right of the screen during battle, which are either too fleeting to catch, or simply distract you from the firefight you're engaged in.
Not that it really matters; the dialogue is littered with cryptic heroism rhetoric and the story is negligible at best, but the Japanese anime theme song and voice acting are typically over the top and the soundtrack alternates between wailing metal guitar solos and grimy early '90s drum and bass reminiscent of Squarepusher or Aphex Twin. Of course, there's the triumphant end of level brass as well for good measure.
In terms of visuals, it's a mixed bag. On the one hand, when the game hits top gear, it's a glorious light show of bombs, lasers flailing in all directions trying to take down massive, multi-limbed robots and beautiful manta rays. However, both in-game and in the menus, the RXN shows a few blemishes. The static anime characters are well drawn, but are reduced to small text windows during gameplay. You are able to view your mech in both aircraft and humanoid form in a gallery.
You can rotate it and see it transform, but there's no bio or weapons detail, nor do the models have much function, detail or variety in terms of colour palette or textures. When there are no enemies on screen at the beginning or the end of a chapter, it's easy to see the basic scrolling backgrounds, with some fuzzy edges and plain architecture. The biggest issue inherent with this genre is the slowdown, and unfortunately, RXN is no exception. When things get too hectic, the framerate drops for a significant length of time, putting the game practically into slow motion. It's occasional but noticeable.
The game has upwards of 50 chapters of varying difficulty, and some even branch off on their own or offer alternative paths before meeting again. On the surface there appears to be a wealth of content, but in reality the levels are incredibly brief. Most can be completed in under a few minutes and consist of merely one or two waves of enemies. There's also a lot of asset repetition throughout, so you'll likely play a level that is aesthetically almost identical anywhere from one to five stages later. There isn't a large number of different enemy types either, some levels are cleared without even defeating any enemies and bosses turn up more than once during your journey.
The variety and impact of the weapons in RXN are the clear highlight. Each of the thee pilots has variations on the four different weapon types, including a group of laser firing drones for ranged warfare, rockets or pulse guns for close quarters and a forward facing laser for a more focused attacks. Learning how to maximise the efficiency and timing of these weapons is the key to success as each one can be levelled up by filling a percentage meter in the bottom right of the screen. In addition to the standard arsenal, and at the sacrifice of a third of your health, you are able to perform a spectacular devastating kakusei (Japanese for 'awakening') move by pressing X, wiping out all bullets and damaging all enemies on screen. The combination of strategic movement and weapon selection make for some thrilling, albeit short lived, skirmishes.
The longevity of RXN relies on the need to level up all three pilots in order to progress later on. So you'll have a pilot with a particular weapon that's much more effective than another, and therefore you have to replay a level each character in tandem, or plough through the campaign, running the risk of hitting a chapter or a particularly bullet sponge-centric boss that's too tough. Maxing out the three characters will take a fair while, but outside of the branching paths, there isn't much in terms of deviating from the repetition of collection.
When it's firing on all cylinders, running fast and smooth with massive and beautiful enemies getting obliterated by hundreds of lasers firing in all directions to furious metal guitar solos, RXN -Raijin- is everything an old school shmup fan needs, and a strong call back to what made the genre so revered in the first place. Unfortunately, the game also has some missteps ranging from the tolerable multi-pilot levelling system to infuriating slow down. The structure and chapter length suit short sessions, but may leave some players wanting more to chew on. At times thrilling, and at others confounding, it's a flawed but nonetheless enjoyable straight-up shmup.