Originally released in 1987 into arcades across the globe, the original R-Type is widely celebrated and often referred to as one the best shoot ’em up games ever made. This quintessential title featured addictive side-scrolling gameplay, advanced graphics for the time with huge, detailed bosses, and punishingly-difficult gameplay designed to chew through your spare change. In fact, the original game became so popular that it has since been ported to over 15 different platforms!
Left to right: R-Type (arcade), R-Type (Gameboy), R-Type: Dimensions (PC)
It should come as no surprise that such a successful game would spawn a multitude of sequels, spin-offs and compilations. During the ’80s and ’90s the genre was booming, and the R-Type series saw three direct sequels during this time. However, with advances in gameplay and home gaming consoles, focus for shooting games turned from the humble shmup to the now massively-popular FPS. As one last hurrah, the developer Irem decided to release the series’ swansong on PlayStation 2: R-Type Final. Released in 2003, this was intended to be the “final” game in the series and featured a massive roster of 101 unlockable ships.
Plot twist: R-Type Final was not the final R-Type (much like Final Fantasy is not the final Final Fantasy).
Almost two decades later, a Twitter post surfaced on April Fool’s Day 2019, showing off a teaser trailer for the ironically-named R-Type Final 2. Much to the surprise of fans across the globe, this was no April Fool’s joke at all! Later that year a Kickstarter was launched touting the return of the iconic shmup, raising over $1,000,000USD thus reviving this beloved series. Now almost 18 years since the last main title, it’s time to once again blast your way through swarms of galactic aliens in R-Type Final 2 for Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, and PlayStation 4.
As a direct sequel to 2003’s R-Type Final, you take on the role of a lone pilot in an endless war against the Bydo, a mysterious galactic race waging war against humanity. Having struck the source of the Bydo in Final, humanity has been able to develop more advanced anti-Bydo weaponry in order to retaliate. With a vast array of aircraft and artillery now at your disposal, you’re tasked with recovering the remaining war records from the initial conflict and to put an end to the Bydo once and for all.
The story is paper thin, as is the case for most games that focus almost entirely on gameplay. At the beginning of the game you’ll be presented with brief interactions between characters to set the scene, but outside of this any aspects of the story are delivered through simple bonus descriptions that are found in the game’s gallery and manual.
This is where any shoot ’em up truly shines, and R-Type Final 2 is no exception. If you’ve played any other shmup game, you’ll immediately be familiar with the majority of the gameplay, which involves piloting a spacecraft through multiple levels, fending off hordes of enemies, and confronting a large boss at the end. It’s simple gameplay that has been refined over decades, but the basic concept is mostly unchanged. Each level is scattered with power-ups that will enhance your weaponry or provide unique weapons that are more powerful but focused, or weaker with the ability to clear the screen. There are also stereotypical charged attacks, which can be devastating but leave you open and vulnerable while charging.
R-Type, however, manages to set its gameplay apart from other shmups through its use of the Force (no Star Wars copyright infringement intended), a small independent ship that can be attached/detached which pilots and fires autonomously. Effectively utilising the Force is essential if you want to progress through R-Type, as without it you’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed by enemies with no hope of clearing the screen. Power-ups to your ship will also transfer to the Force, and produce some unique attacks depending on whether it becomes attached to either the front of the rear of your ship. Some circumstances require quick management of this, as you’ll have enemies approaching from both sides of the screen.
Difficulty is undoubtedly punishing, as is the case for most games in this genre, made more challenging in R-Type as your ship can only take a single hit and screens are often littered with bullets and hazards. You’ll most likely find yourself having to play through levels ad nauseum before finally gaining a grasp on patterns of attacks; though it is satisfying to pass through a level unscathed once you’ve had enough practice. There are also several different difficulty levels, which sadly I had to resort to playing on “Kids” difficulty for part of the game (this destroyed my fragile masculinity).
Having played entirely on the Nintendo Switch, I started R-Type Final 2 with the expectation that the game’s visuals would be dumbed down in order to accommodate the handheld. Although this is partly the case, as this version of the game is not quite as visually-detailed, it is barely noticeable. The game’s cheesey sci-fi cutscenes are a pleasure to watch and environments retain an attractive sci-fi aesthetic befitting of the game’s tone.
With detailed environments, particle effects aplenty, and a busy screen sometimes packed with projectiles, the game manages to perform incredibly well with very few drops in framerate. My gameplay was 50/50 handheld and docked during which I noticed very little difference in terms of performance. It’s a pleasant surprise to play a game with so much going on while having no compromise to the handheld mode.
Composed by Yuki “Sato” Iwai, the soundtrack to R-Type Final 2 accompanies your journey through space and features the typical electronic beats that tend to be heard in shmup games. Having worked on several previous titles in the series (as well as quite a number of Mega Man games too!), Iwai creates tracks with a soundscape that are fitting for the aesthetic of each level. Although most are immemorable and none are particularly catchy, the songs will at least not get on your nerves after being heard repeatedly after each death.
Are you a completionist? If so, R-Type Final 2 is your dream. There is an absolute plethora of unlockable content for those that chase that elusive 100%. Completing levels will award you with currency that can be spent in the shop: unlocking decals for your ship, modifications to your space suit, or buying resources that can be spent on upgrades. There are 99 (probably even more!) different ships that can be developed in the museum and will likely keep completionists busy for hours on end. I managed to finish the game by unlocking only 17, as you’ll generally be able to find a model of ship that suits your style of gameplay.
Strangely there has also been a photo mode added to the game, where you can dress up your pilot in different outfits, purchase silly poses, and stand alongside your spacecraft taking pictures with it. Photo modes are mostly suited to games with vast worlds and gorgeous, detailed environments (like Horizon Zero Dawn or Ghost of Tsushima), so this is an odd addition and feels incredibly out of place. Out of curiosity I briefly decided to give it a go and would likely never touch it again.
Amusingly, you’ll also unlock the option to customise the game’s name from a set of chosen words upon completing the game. It’s simple, but I had far more fun messing around with this than the photo mode.
With its classic gameplay, punishing difficulty, and enough content to keep you coming back for more, R-Type Final 2 is a modern shoot ’em up that successfully carries on the legacy of this iconic series. Fans of the genre will be elated to play R-Type Final 2, especially those who supported the Kickstarter and have been eagerly awaiting the release of the game. Though if you’re not a die-hard R-Type fan and instead just looking for an excellent shmup experience to play on the go, this should be at the top of your list. Be warned though, as this game is not for the faint of heart and may instead be a trial by fire for those unfamiliar with the genre.
So, why should you play it?
- If you’re a fan of shoot ’em ups, you’d be mad to pass up on this.
- One of the best arcade-style shooters on the Switch.
- Completionists will be overjoyed at the amount of unlockable content.
- An excellent challenge to test your gaming skills.
But why shouldn’t you play it?
- If you’re completely new to shoot ’em ups, try one that is more forgiving.
- Poor reaction times? Not the game for you, as your ship only takes a single hit.
- Those not fond of playing the same stages numerous times should avoid this game.