Evercade Game Spotlight: R-Type (Irem Arcade 1)
As the Evercade library continues to expand over time, its breadth and diversity only gets more and more impressive. Today, it covers everything from obscure, overlooked and underappreciated underdogs to all-time legends of the gaming industry. In today’s Evercade Game Spotlight, we’re taking on a title that very much falls into the latter category: the one and only R-Type from the Irem Arcade 1 cartridge.
R-Type was first released to arcades in 1987 by Irem. Speaking in 1987 in an interview translated by Shmuplations, team leader Kinte recalls that the project was kicked off as a means of showcasing the company’s new 16-bit arcade hardware. It was capable of displaying a lot of sprites on screen and had the processor power to keep things moving along swiftly and smoothly, so the folks at Irem quickly determined that a shoot ’em up would be a great means of putting the new tech to the test.
Programmer and character designer Akio was a big fan of Konami’s popular Gradius, and so the team decided that if they were going to make a shoot ’em up, it had better be distinctive and original — because immediate comparisons to that big hitter would be inevitable.
One of the first things the team behind R-Type decided on became its most iconic feature: the floating Force weapon. Designer Abiko jokes that the original concept for this came from the image of a dung beetle pushing along a ball of dung, and that players would power up the “dung” rather than their ship.
Along with that, they wanted to avoid using the same old weapons that had been seen in other shoot ’em ups, so came up with the idea of the reflecting laser. “That was a real pain to code,” recalls Abiko.
R-Type’s stages were each designed with a particular concept in mind. The first was intended to bear some superficial similarities to Gradius so that it would be familiar to existing players, but from there the game truly distinguishes itself with a new look and feel for each level.
The organic feel of the second stage is heavily inspired by the movie Aliens, for example, while the subsequent stages were each designed to raise the challenge factor (and potential income for the arcade operator!) while still being distinct and memorable. The final stage is specifically crafted to provide a sense of closure to the experience by acting as a “garbage processing facility”, where all the enemies you’ve previously confronted are seen being disposed of.
R-Type was a huge success on its original release, both in terms of commercial performance and critical reception, though everyone agreed on one thing: it’s really, really hard.
R-Type’s difficulty primarily stems from its extremely rigid enemy patterns — but this is also a weak point that skilled players can attack. Precisely because those enemy patterns are so rigid, R-Type is a game that particularly rewards memorisation. If you practice the game to such a degree that you know what’s going to happen before it actually happens, you’re much more likely to enjoy success.
Indeed, the ideal position to get yourself into with R-Type is to be able to clear the game while dying as few times as possible. This might sound like obvious advice, but R-Type is particularly punishing to those who make mistakes; unlike many other shoot ’em ups (particularly those which came a bit later), losing a life in R-Type does not result in respawning on the spot, but rather you’ll find yourself set back to a checkpoint — and without any powerups whatsoever.
It’s not impossible to clear R-Type’s challenges using only your ship’s default weapons — the ability to rapid-fire your main gun can make short work of many enemies, and the ability to charge your beam and fire a powerful wave cannon blast can often get you out of sticky situations. But for the most part, you’ll want to hold on to your powerups as much as you possibly can.
Key to mastering R-Type is learning how to use the Force. More than a simple weapon powerup, the Force can be used in several different ways according to the situation in.
While attached to the front or rear of your ship, the Force will block many types of bullets and damage some enemies. Once upgraded at least once after acquiring it, it will also provide you with one of the three secondary weapons according to whether you collected a red, blue or yellow power-up.
The red laser (above) fires a pair of laser shots forward. At higher power levels, the lasers intertwine and cover a larger area. The blue laser is the reflecting shot, which fires out at 45 degrees above and below as well as directly forwards. At higher power levels, the lasers persist for longer. And the yellow laser fires at 90 degrees above and below before following the line of walls. At higher power levels, the lasers once again last for longer.
One noteworthy thing about the secondary weapons is that you can fire them both in front and behind you according to where the Force is attached. Part of the memorisation process of learning R-Type is figuring out how best to configure your weapons for the various situations you’ll find yourself in.
That’s not all the Force can do, however. A tap of the A button will release the Force, allowing you to send it out from your ship to cover a different area of the screen. It will continue to block bullets and damage enemies, and it also has its own gun — though this is less powerful than the secondary weapons you’ll fire when it’s attached. When powered up, it will fire a spread shot while detached rather than single bullets.
This feature of the Force can be used for a variety of purposes, but it’s particularly useful during boss fights where there’s a fairly static weak point to deal with. A good example is Dobkeratops, the iconic first stage boss (above); fire the Force into its belly where the green head pops out and not only will you deal heavy damage simply using the Force itself, but the additional damage from the Force’s guns will make pretty quick work of it. In the meantime, you can concentrate on steering your ship to avoid Dobkeratops’ attacks… and the scenery, of course, which it’s all too easy to forget about in the heat of battle!
Besides the Force, you’ll also have the opportunity to collect Bits and Missiles. Both of these are extremely useful additions to your arsenal; Missiles home in on enemies, while Bits not only provide additional firepower, they also block bullets and damage enemies just like the Force does. You can’t fire them out like the Force, though; they instead follow the path your ship took with a slight delay.
Fully tooled up, your ship in R-Type is a force to be reckoned with (no pun intended) — and it should hopefully be clear why you want to avoid dying at all costs! Losing all those weapons can be absolutely devastating to a run, particularly once you’re up to the more challenging stages — so do your best to play as safely as you can. High scores can come later!
To that end, absolutely do not be too proud to make use of Evercade’s save game system while you’re learning the game. While starting over each time you get a Game Over is a great way to learn the early stages of the game and make gradual progress, there’s also great benefit from saving the game when you’ve got a fully-upgraded ship so that you can simply practice holding on to all those precious weapons for as long as possible, while learning the best way to deal with some of the more complex attack patterns.
When you’re good and ready, set yourself a credit limit and see how far you can get — or see what the best score you can get on a single coin is. Perhaps you might even be able to attain that elusive one-credit clear someday? If you do, be sure to make a record of it — mastering R-Type puts you among the top tier of shoot ’em up enthusiasts!
And that’s R-Type! Although a relatively early entry in the horizontally scrolling shoot ’em up genre, it’s aged extraordinarily well — it was enormously influential on the games that followed it with good reason, after all. So take some time to blast off and strike the evil Bydo empire — the skills you develop while learning R-Type will stand you in good stead for pretty much every shoot ’em up that followed it. Just be prepared for a challenging but rewarding road ahead!
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