• Whenever you see those “best games in the history of gaming” lists, you hardly ever see shoot ‘em ups. Yet, for a glorious period in the early to mid eighties, shoot ‘em ups were the staple fare of youngsters who spent far too little time concentrating on their homework, and far too much time lounging around in seedy arcades blasting the living pixels out of army after army of invading alien filth.

    I was always hooked on Salamander, a 1-2 player game by Konami that shifted between sumptuous sideways-scrolling action to vertical shooting fun on every alternate level. Salamander had all the key elements of a good shooter – simple controls, selectable and ridiculously powerful weapons and nasty dirty great big bosses at the end of each section to give you something challenging to pit your wits against.

    I remember frequent visits to the Trocadero’s arcade in London, and other arcades surrounding it – always with an eye on the latest machines and it was in the Troc I remember seeing R-Type for the first time.

    Visually it stood out because it looked pretty slick and advanced. Mostly though, R-Type left a lot of other shooters for dead with the way you could control and manipulate your “multiple” – a weapons pod that you could attach and detach from your ship, and upgrade whenever a power-up drone got in the way of your guns.

    R-Type also had a mega-shot, sucking in particles from the air around your ship to fire them out as an unstoppable pulse of energy that could tear through an attack wave of enemy ships like a hot knife through butter.

    It took some time before home versions of R-Type appeared, and I remember grabbing the Spectrum version and then following it up with the PC-Engine and SNES versions, both absolutely spot on in replicating the arcade thrills and core gameplay dynamics of one of the greatest shoot ‘em up games ever to grace a screen.

    R-Type Dimensions

    Skip forward to the 21st century and you can now experience the game via the digital delights of the Xbox Live Arcade. Irem have licensed Japanese developers Tozai to produce an updated and polished version of R-Type, subtitled “Dimensions” for the Xbox 360. At a rather steep 1200 points, you do at least get a chance to experience the original R-Type and its sequel R-Type II. Not only that but the games aren’t merely emulated, they’re rebuilt from the ground up to bring you R-Type in high-def visual splendour.

    There’s a further twist. With a tweak of the options, you can also alter your gameplay view so you’re not merely looking at a side-on scrolling display, but a jinked 3D affair that either works well enough to give you a preview of nastiness coming up, or feels rather awkward depending on your point of view (I fall into the latter camp).

    Lastly for techno-luddites who like the chunky pixellated sprite look, you can swap back and forth between high-definition visuals and classic 8-bit era graphics any time you like with a quick stab of the Y button.

    So to the game itself. It might well be that in the years since I last took R-Type for a spin, my reaction times have slowed down and old age has bitten through my reflexes, but Tozai’s reworking of R-Type is tough and speedy. The game’s as slick and smooth as heck and it could well be that my attempts to over-compensate for the sort of play speed I remember from the originals caused me to crash my tiddly little starfighter into errant missiles or bits of scenery all too many times.

    Once I’d got the hang of controlling the game with the Xbox 360 pad (here’s where I’d heartily recommend using a Hori or a decent arcade stick instead) I managed to get through to that first legendary boss – Dobkeratops. Looking like the long lost daddy of the movie “Alien”, Dobkeratops is a screen-high beast of mass destruction and encountering it here on the 360 version was just as thrilling as the first time I encountered it in the arcade version. He’s a bit of a pushover really, just send your multiple pod in there and let it do all the work, bashing into the nasty little gremlin that pops out of Dobkeratops’ stomach, and ending the level (and giving you a nice little gamerpic bonus as well – a neat touch that).

    From then on, R-Type kicks up a notch and by the time you reach the third stage, you’ll have seen just how tricky Tozai have made their version of this classic game and how, despite it lacking the pace and freneticism of something like Ikaruga, R-Type Dimensions is really not a game to take lightly. It’s hard as nails!

    Getting through all six levels of R-Type one is quite an achievement (and naturally you’re rewarded with a real achievement too!) but before you sit back and sip your tea, resting on your laurels the XBLA version of the game dishes up R-Type’s sequel, R-Type II.

    This time, things are even tougher than before. Attack ships have been tightened up and are speedier and smoother. Ground and air based enemy units pour it on with frenzied abandon, and in common with age-old versions of R-Type II on the SNES and the 3DO, you’re going to have your work cut out. Again the same nicely presented game engine, high-def visuals and bizarre 3-D-ness are present and correct.

    At the top of the review I mentioned Salamander – and one of that game’s hooks was the ability to drag a friend along, and have them play a co-op game to help you get through the trickier sections. Tozai’s treatment of R-Type 1 and 2 also allows for co-op play, and there are special achievements and rewards for cajoling a friend to help you out, either over live or in a quick local game.

    As with all XBLA titles you can notch up your score and register it online for a bit of harmless boasting.

    If there’s one thing to take away from R-Type: Dimensions, it’s that this is really how XBLA retreads of classic arcade games should be done. Keep the classic core elements that made the original game brilliant, but give it enough of a polish to a high sheen to make it worthwhile even if you’ve never seen or played the original. Alas, the price of all this gilt-edged gaming is not cheap and it beggars belief that despite featuring R-Type and its sequel, the game has been pitched at 1200 points which nudges it from an instant essential purchase towards something that will definitely polarise opinion and have you umming and ahhing, particularly when there are a lot of other superb shooters on the Xbox Live Marketplace that are a few hundred points cheaper.

    Nevertheless, it’s one of the best retro retreads you can find on XBLA and Tozai should be applauded for doing the original game justice without trying to get too clever with it. If nothing else, it brought a warm glow of nostalgia to a haggard old gamer for a few hours, and that’s no bad thing at all.

    Score: 8/10

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