You can't have a conversation about shoot-'em-ups, or shmups, without mentioning R-Type. Back in the late '80s and early '90s the game was synonymous with the genre. Unfortunately for Nintendo fans at the time one of the best ports of the arcade classic was on the TurboGrafx-16, an also-ran console that never found its place in the market thanks to the heated battle going on between Sega and Nintendo at the time.
Fortunately for current-generation Nintendo fans, R-Type has finally made its way to the Wii U, just under 10 years after its release on the Wii's Virtual Console. Old age, however, has not slowed this game down one bit. It's still very much a standard-bearer for the genre - the gameplay is straight-forward, satisfying and precise.
You're in command of a small ship that's blasting through dozens of enemies in space. You can move both vertically and horizontally on a two-dimensional plane, and use one button for shooting your weapon which you can be held to release a charged shot. You're only capable of firing directly in front of your ship, however you can find bots which can latch on to either the front or the back of your ship to aid you in dispatching your foes.
R-Type's controls are incredibly precise, which is important as the game sometimes demands you make pixel-perfect manoeuvres to stay alive. Like many games in the genre, R-Type gives you one shot at success; if you're hit once, you're done. Of course you have a couple of lives and even a few continues, but to say the game is challenging would be an understatement.
Let it be known that R-Type is incredibly difficult. One does not simply beat R-Type in a single sitting. Enemies will spring forth from areas you least expect them, or come out on a delayed schedule to lull you into a false sense of security. Rather than relying on a hailstorm of bullets like some modern shmups might, R-Type is full of carefully placed enemies with movement patterns that seem to predict your reactions. The beauty of such a high bar, however, is the satisfaction one gains from conquering foes. Pulling off a perfect run of nearly any R-Type stage (but especially those later in the game) feels like an accomplishment.
Like many space shooters, R-Type's aesthetics are heavily rooted in science fiction. You'll face swarms of enemy ships coming at you from all angles in the blackness of space, as well as some crazy bio-mechanical monstrosities which will skitter and crawl along walls and ceilings attempting to destroy your tiny vessel. Bosses are massive and launch volleys of projectiles at you, forcing you to constantly stay on the move while taking as many shots as you can at narrow weak spots in between your dodges.
Considering its difficulty, R-Type is not particularly frustrating. Deaths nearly always feel like they're due to honest mistakes rather than being caused by fiendish design or poor mechanics. In true arcade shooter fashion, each failed playthrough left us wanting to improve our skills to push further through all 16 stages.
The Wii U version also has the added bonus of being playable solely on the GamePad. It's a standard feature for all Wii U Virtual Console titles, but it makes it even easier to enjoy this classic.
R-Type is a must-have for any fan of shooters or classic arcade games. The TurboGrafx-16 version of the game is arguably the best port in existence, and Nintendo fans can finally play it on their Wii U. The precise controls, steep challenge and fair level design are enough to rate it highly in our eyes, but the added off-TV gameplay made possible by the Wii U pushes this already fantastic title to even greater heights.