Welcome to another sensational edition of The Randomizer, where I answer to no man, but I do answer to a machine. This is a series where I press a button, and a video game from my personal collection is randomly selected. Once chosen, I must play it and give my opinion on it.
I have to admit, I’m loving this concept more and more. The burden of having to choose a game to review is lifted like a weight off my shoulders. The mystery of what game is next gets exciting for me. With so many games to choose from, it literally could be anything. And with the first two games, Rollergames and P.N.03 being hidden gems of games that I enjoyed, let’s hope that this winning streak continues.
I really hope you’re enjoying this too. Don’t be afraid to let me know if you are, or what you’d like to see improved. Constructive criticism is always welcomed. Believe me, I know I’m not perfect, and can only get better with some good advice. Just be gentle with your words. Behind this rough and tough exterior, lies a guy who still cries when watching An American Tail.
So let’s slam that button again, and see what gets selected here. Oh, I hope it’s another fun game. I like those games, because they are fun.
Oh hey, R-Type for the Sega Master System.
Wait, I own a Sega Master System?
Oh yeah, that’s right, I bought it off a friend of mine, who sold me his entire system and games. Got it for cheap too. Sure hope the thing works.
Now in theory, most gamers know exactly what R-Type is. But if you don’t, let me see if I can briefly summarize it. R-Type is a horizontal space shooter that was widely popular over the world. It was a game created in 1987 by a company called Irem. And before you ask, no, the company was not named after a country in western Asia, nor after an A Flock Of Seagulls song. The game came out in the arcades before being ported to many home consoles, some of which are ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and the Amiga, and none of which are Nintendo. This game came out as direct competition to Konami’s blockbuster horizontal space shooter, Gradius, which came out in 1985. Both games went on to inspire other great shooter games, like UN Squadron, Pixeljunk Shooter and Ikaruga. R-type went on to spawn many, many sequels.
What can I say about R-Type that hasn’t been said by other people. Hell, I can just type for this review “It’s R-Type”, post it, and go get a sandwich and a beer. If you’re more interested in this game, I totally recommend reading the piece on Hardcore Gaming 101 to learn far more than what I can tell you.
The biggest difference between the two games is where Gradius was more a “shoot anything that moves” shoot-em-up, R-Type focused more on the dodging aspect. The objective was more about traversing through narrow passages, obstacles and fired projectiles than it was about shooting things until dead. The pace was much slower, and focused a lot more on survivablilty through movement than Gradius. Many have their opinions about which one they preferred.
Now for me, between Gradius and R-Type, it’s hard to decide which is the better series. That indecision is based on two distinct reasons. One, being that I’m not very good at scrolling space shooters, and the other being that I absolutely suck at scrolling space shooters. No matter how hard I try, I can never manage to get far in any of these games. I can shoot to kill just as well as the rest of them, but when it comes to maneuvering around obstacles in these games, I just am terrible. It’s mainly because, when it comes to any kinds of space shooter, horizontal or vertical, I have this condition called “target fixation“. It’s a term I learned off of the television series Canada’s Worst Driver, but it describes the same issue perfectly. It basically means that instead of focusing on how to get around an obstacle, I focus on the approaching flashing red orb bullet thing, and instinctively steer towards it instead of away from it. It’s a hard habit to shake off, and all I should be doing is looking where I want to go, instead of what I want to avoid.
I never actually owned a Sega Master System growing up. I had a family friend who had one, but the only game that she had with it was the game that came installed in the system. If you start up the console without a cartridge inside, it launched either Hang On, a motorcycle game, or Safari Hunt, a gun game. So my experiences with the console is pretty minimal going into this review. But I still aim to be fair and honest.
Also to be honest, this is the kind of game I was afraid of getting for this series, the Randomizer. R-Type is a title that is really hard to talk about in great detail, and writing this review was more difficult than I thought. There’s really nothing to the game that’s worth a lot of words. It’s a simple space shooter. But I told myself, whatever game came out, I’m going to give it my best to describe the game and give my opinion about it. And gosh darn it, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
I actually have R-Type complete in the box, and it comes with the instructional manual and a pretty cool After Burner promotional poster that I may have to put on my wall. The instructions come with the story in two paragraphs, so just for fun, I thought I would read it.
They came from a dimensional plane clear across the galaxy, wreaking havoc and chaos from star system to star system. With an evil that smothers all resistance with fear and terror, the horrid creatures of the Bydo Empire are now knocking on Earth’s front door.
The Earth Defense League has one ray of hope to stop the wave of terror: R-9, a super secret spacecraft capable of striking the enemy in their own dimensional plane. When flown by a hot pilot like you, the R-9 can rip through bug-eyed monsters faster than a light saber through butter. But the horrendous creatures of the Bydo Empire are more than claws and pointy teeth; they’ve got some pretty impressive hardware, too, so stay frosty! Earth’s future depends on you.
Okay, I have several comments about that story, so let’s cover some of them. First of all, “a light saber through butter”? Line 1 for you, Irem, it’s George Lucas’ lawyers. Second of all, this still doesn’t explain where the hell the rest of the Earth’s space army is. Or is it that you only have one prototype ship to fight an evil space army? Isn’t that like giving little Suzie Jenkins from grade 4 a shotgun and sending her in to fight several hordes of zombies? Also, … Really? You think I’m hot? Aww, how sweet. And finally, “Frosty”? “Stay frosty”? That is literally written in the instruction manual. What, was this written by that “the most interesting man in the world” dude? I can’t describe how much I find that one line hilarious.
The one gameplay mechanic that differs from most other space shooters, especially Gradius is called in the instructions the “Droid Unit”. I have to keep looking up the name, because I always called it a volleyball. It basically is a separate spherical add-on that you can attach to the front or the back of your ship for easy shooting of other bad guys. By pressing the 2 button, you can also detach it and launch it forward for extra damage ahead of you. Since the thing is indestructible, it can deal damage to anything it touches as long as you don’t die. This helps with strategic planning to determine the best way to utilize the mechanical Wilson ball to kill bad guys and bosses. Pressing the 2 button again calls it back and touching it will have it connect with your ship for more firepower, and based on which power up you have, can also shoot in multiple directions. It can also act as a small shield when enemy fire is coming towards you. Think of it as your prototype weighted companion cube.
Besides your droid friend is a series of power ups to upgrade your weapon. Little orbs of three different colours appear after shooting down certain enemies. Each orb is collected and drastically affects how you shoot. One shoots forward with a wave of energy, another shoots diagonally to hit a wider range, and another shoot up and down and crawls along the walls to get all the ground troops. Each has its own use, depending on the level you are at. Pretty much every good space shooter has some kind of weapon power up, and looking back, these have become standard.
Now while I do praise the Sega Master System for having a gaming library that has wonderful looking games and nice music, R-Type doesn’t benefit from this. Because it’s a port of an arcade title, the graphics don’t exactly transfer over very well. Normally this isn’t a problem. In fact, I can name several other games I own that started as an arcade game and still look fine. This game isn’t one of them. For one, there’s a lot of flickering of sprites. For creating screen shots for all my blogs, I take the recorded footage and run it though a player on my computer and go frame by frame. I even have editing software now to go frame by frame to look for the best shots. (And to learn about video editing for *other* potential projects, wink). And I noticed that when I look at this footage, every third frame has the player’s spaceship on it, and the others had it missing. This also doesn’t help when the screen has lots of bad guys and bullets flying. The console can’t really process all those at the same time well. The flickering of sprites makes the game hard to look at for an extended period of time. And while the music is still fine, it’s not the best example of what the pre-Genesis Sega console can do.
Do you know what else makes the Sega Master System not the best for games like R-Type? The controller. I do not like the controller at all. Especially the directional pad. If you look at the Nintendo controller, it’s got four arrows pointing, which lets you move the character in 4 directions, up, down, left and right. This directional pad still allows you to point in diagonal directions with your thumb with ease. Sega’s directional pad is a square. For an example as to why it’s annoying for this kind of game, take a saltine cracker and place it on an olive. Now, place the thumb on the cracker, and try to point north. You’ll notice the top corners will wobble back and forth. This controller does this, and it caused so many deaths playing this, but it could very well be because I’m not used to it. However, the number of times I wanted to go up, and the ship goes up and left, or up and right, and it kills me, is frustratingly high. It’s why I call this variation of the game a “blame the controller” game. Like I said before, the game focuses more on moving around obstacles and enemy fire, so it’s harder to do with a poorly designed controller like this. (And don’t get me started on the pause button being on the console rather than the controller. Be thankful that was just a fad idea.)
The difficulty of this game is famous, and that’s not exclusive to this system. There are only eight stages in the game. And some levels are so short that the boss shows up within a minute, and some levels are much longer, and require avoiding obstacles and armies of bad guys. You only get three lives and three continues, one shot kills you with no mercy, and there are no extra lives or continue bonuses in the game. There is a cheat that allows you extra continues, but it’s not reliable enough to give you unlimited continues. And with one-hit kills, beating the game is insane. To beat the game, I had to use the invincibility code. And that required a second controller. So join me in thanking my friend in having a second controller along with the system and games he sold me.
R-Type is a fun game, that has challenged the hearts and minds of many youth, and eaten many of quarters. But this version is not fun. It’s not a very good port. The graphics and sound are sub par and the controller is a nightmare to use. There are way better variations than this game, like the X-Box Live Arcade version, or on Android and iPhone, or apparently, there’s a Turbo Graphix 16 version. I don’t own that one, but I’ve heard really good things. If I find it, I might revisit this title. There is a secret level bonus in the Sega Master System version, but it’s not worth the headache to get there.
I didn’t have a lot of fun with this version of R-Type, nor had a lot of interest in playing when I did. After a couple of hours of recording footage of me playing, I got so bored, I shut it off. I didn’t have anything interesting to say after playing, which is why this review was so hard to write. There are good space shooters, even good R-Type games out there. But this one is painfully dull and infuriating. It’s an inferior port of a great game, and I recommend that this title be avoided altogether for the Sega Master System.
Hell, if I could, I’d send this copy into space, and maybe the Bydo empire can collapse from the failure of conquering this game.
I think that will do it for another Randomizer. Join me next time as I continue to tempt fate, and let chaos decide which video game I play. Until then, Stay Frosty, my friends. (After typing that, I crave a beer. Who’s with me?)
Be seeing you.