Time for one of my favorite SNES shooters. The R-Type series, from Irem, was sorta the Ross Perot of the shooter universe circa the 1990s. Not as popular or well-known as Gradius and not as beloved by the hardcore as the vertical Compile games. It spans five games (that I know of...there may be more) and while it's side-scrolling, it has a number of innovations that set it apart from (and even surpass at times) the Gradius games.
As usual, you play as THE ONLY SHIP LEFT THAT CAN SAVE EARTH. Notice how the front of the ship sorta looks like a Xenomorph head.
Before you think that it's just a coincidence, or that I'm crazy and see Xenomorph heads everywhere... here's the box art:
Well, that boss is Xenomorphy, but it's different enough that it might be a coincidence...
...except here it is in the game, and it's pretty damn Xenomorphy. So yeah, this is yet another game that drew inspiration from Alien.
Usually we just get monsters inspired by Alien, so it's pretty cool to get a protagonist ship that looks like a Xenomorph-head.
The Y button unleashes whatever special weapon you've got (there are four types) while the B button fires standard shots...that can be charged-up (seen here) to do huge damage. This variety in available offensive powers is pretty cool; you can use one or the other. Typically in these games you just stack weapons atop one another until you're filling the screen with death, so having multiple separate avenues of attack is refreshing.
That said, the real crown jewel of R-Type... is the Force Pod. This thing has all kinds of uses. You can attach it to the front or back of your ship to function as a shield. You can fire it into enemies to do continuous huge damage. You can let it float around firing shots on its own to get more fire-coverage on the screen. In short, it's awesome.
A slightly Xeno-y miniboss! At first I was playing this game on Novice (the lowest difficulty level, below even Easy) and when I one-shotted this thing, I began to rethink that.
The first boss is an odd little satellite. Here we see the super charged shot, the result of charging up MORE after charging up for the regular charged shot. It's the strongest attack in the game, but if you don't time it well (i.e. wait too long), you lose the charge. After I one-shotted this boss with it, I started the game over and turned up the difficulty level. Gotta give the game props for having an easy difficulty level that actually lives up to its name, though. Most of these shooters have an "easy" level that will still completely kick your ass. This game is much more accomodating.
One of the four special weapons is the straight ring laser, seen here. It's powerful, but it only covers a small area of the screen. No Options here to cover more area like Gradius, either. Other special weapons include the fire chain, which runs along the floor and ceiling, a reflective laser that bounces off of surfaces, and a quartet of fireballs that fire straight forward from your ship.
Get a second Force Pod powerup and the pod ascends to the strongest form. This thing is beastly, and a lot of fun to play with. Here I send it ahead to take out foes before they can even get off of that end of the screen.
My weapon of choice, for the most part, is the reflective laser. It fires three lasers that bounce all over the place and cover most of the screen. While it tears up regular enemies, it isn't that effective against bosses because it does the least damage of all the special weapons... but then again, charged shots and Force Pod throwing tend to be the best ways to take out bosses anyway.
Speaking of bosses, here's the second boss... and the first one that really looks like a boss. Much better than that imminently-forgettable satellite at the beginning. This thing is only vaguely Xeno-y.
One of the major strengths of this game is the music. The third stage here is an aquatic underground with a really fitting BGM. ...and an oddly disturbing visual background.
This crab miniboss might well be the single most impressive sprite in the game. Keep in mind that this game was released in 1991. That's within the first few months that the SNES existed! For people used to NES graphics, things like this blew the mind.
Next up is a big boss with worms slithering in and out of it. An eye pops out of the side every so often, and that's the vulnerable spot. I hit it with one super-charged shot and the fight ended. How strong IS that shot?
The fourth stage is the Crusader Ship, a huge spacecraft that you travel along and break apart piece-by-piece. It's one of the most memorable things in the R-Type canon. The music here is perhaps my favorite piece in the game. It's so much fun, much like the stage itself.
The full Crusader Ship isn't that big, but it seems like it is due to the slow scrolling speed.
The ship core fires a lot of reflecting lasers around the room. I counter with the fire chain, which sweeps along the floor and ceiling to take out the various eyes on the wall.
The big danger of stage five? The walls. They move, sliding around in an effort to trap you.
This continues with the boss fight, a high-speed chase where the primary concern is dodging all of the platforms that zip from right to left.
Stage six is a machine factory with a lot of diagonals. This would be a good time to mention the two spheres above and below the ship. They aren't Gradius-style Options, but rather shields. They can block unlimited small enemy shots, and do significant damage to enemies that touch them. However, enemies strong enough to survive more than a second of contact can easily continue on to your ship, so they aren't infallible protection. Still, they're a nice layer of powerups to obtain.
Sixth boss is probably the least-impressive since the first. Some kind of weird trash-compactor that gets absolutely WRECKED by the Force Pod.
The final stage is full of creepy flying crab-things. R-Type games usually turn the creep factor way up later on. They're a bit more serious than the typically lighter-hearted Gradius games.
The final boss is a Xenomorph embryo in a case. Seriously. The machine has four other captured good guy ships wrapped up in tentacles, and if you free them they assist in the battle. They must be POWs from previous failed offenses.
The Force Pod obliterates the embryo, but that means you're a lot more open to attack without it attached. It's a tradeoff. This is the hardest fight in the game, so it's a tough call to make. Weirdly enough, there's a second embryo behind the first one, and that one has to be destroyed as well once you break through to it.
At the end, the base explodes. The ship automatically flies out during the extended chase sequence, which the player can't control.
And that's it for this game. Great game, great series. Recommended to everyone due to the great music and the variety of play. The difficulty is also substantially lower than most shooters of the era, making it accessible to anyone.
...but what the hell does "turning planets into death stars" mean? George Lucas should sue!