By Kurt Kalata and Brian Gazza

The mid 80s was a renaissance for shooters. In 1985, Konami released Gradius. Not long later, in 1987, Irem released R-Type. These are two of the most important games in the genre. It's completely that stunning that, in its relative infancy, Irem could shape a game as ingenious as R-Type. One of the premiere side scrolling shooters, R-Type moved a bit slower than your typical twitch games, with a meticulous pace and almost leisurely scrolling. The idea wasn't to simply blast everything on the screen, although you could certainly try. The idea was, quite simply, to stay alive. Naturally, given the claustrophobic nature of the levels, swarming with enemies from every angle, this was never an easy task.

R-Type's real claim to fame is the Force pod. An invincible little orb that's your best friend in the universe, the Force can be attached to the front of your ship to not only provide a small shield, but also add extra firepower. It can also be attached to the ship's aft to defend yourself from the rear as well as shoot behind. But that's not it - the Force can be detached to roam around the playing field. Although its weaponry it pretty slim, it can fire vertically, making it invaluable in clearing out ceilings and floors. And while you have limited control over the Force - you can only detach and recall it to your ship - with some masterful positioning, you can use it to destroy bad guys in hard to reach places. Expert use of the Force (insert requisite Star Wars joke) is what really sets R-Type apart from pretty much everything else. You're also equipped with little orbs called Bits, which float at the top and bottom.of your ship. They mostly stay motionless, and like the Force orb, are invincible, so they can be used to absorb enemy fire or kill small enemies.

All of the R-Types are also quite notorious for their difficulty, especially if you're not well tuned in using your Force pod. Since enemies always come out in the same patterns, and you're sent back to a checkpoint whenever you die, most of the games boil down to case of memorization, remembering when the bad guys attack, and how to solve the puzzle of destroying while still staying alive. Like many older games, this one's only for the truly patient.

The overall design of the games are astonishing too. Your enemies are the evil Bydo empire, a combination of biological lifeforms with robotic equipment. Not only does this show through in the amazing enemy design, but the levels themselves usually share a distinct melding of creepy flesh united with cold steel.

While the storyline in the original amounted to nothing more than the famous quote on the title screen - "Blast off and destroy the evil Bydo Empire!" - later games expound on the plot quite a bit. The Bydo were initially a creation of humankind in the 26th century, but were actually lost in a wormhole due to immense stupidity. Not happy with being lost in the space-time continuum, they eventually evolved, traveled through time, and attacked humanity in the 22nd century. As a result, you pilot the R9 fighter ship (and in later games, its descendants) to fight the recurring menace. None of this really matters, but it's a vaguely interesting science fiction-y concept.

R-Type has an interesting story behind its name as well. In biology, there are two primary reproduction strategies. One, dubbed "R-Type", is followed by insects, and is Darwinian in approach - the idea is to have as much offspring as possible and that only the strongest will survive. The other, "K-Type", is the one humans go by - it means that the organism should have fewer offspring and put more effort into making sure those children survive . How this ties in is anyone's guess, but most likely it has to do with the nature of video game shooters itself. The enemies - in this case, the Bydo or the R-Type - send an overwhelming wave of enemies towards the player, but most of these are easily disposed. On the other hand, the humans send one single, beefed up fighter as its savior.

There are only five "official" R-Type games, although there's the bastard arcade-only sequel, R-Type Leo, and a few notable spin-offs and clones, including the arcade game Armed Police Force Gallop and the tactical strategy game R-Type Command.

R-Type (Arcade)

R-Type (Arcade)

R-Type (Arcade)

R-Type (Arcade)

R-Type Leo

R-Type - Arcade / Sega Master System / Turbografx-16 / Gameboy / Gameboy Color / MSX / Commodore 64 / Amiga / ZX Spectrum / Amstrad CPC / Atari ST / X68000 / Playstation (1988)

Japanese Arcade Flyer

American Arcade Flyer

American SMS Cover

Amstrad Cover

MSX Cover

PC Engine Cover

The original R-Type still has some of the most fantastic level designs seen in any shooting game. The first stage begins with a quick flight through space - not too dissimilar from Gradius, which was released roughly a year before it - but soon enters into the mouth of the battleship. Enemies pour from both the top and bottom of the screens. A circle of orbs rotates around, firing shots - each can be destroyed one by one, but only the master orb in the center will destroy them all. At the end of the level is the monstrous Dobkeratops, a monstrous H. R. Giger influenced beast with bright red skin, a huge tail that snaps back and forth, and a green face in its chest that acts as its weak point. It's one of the most memorable bosses in all of video gaming, right at the end of the first level.

The rest of the game continues to impress. The second stage takes place in some kind of biological lab, with creepy algae and coral lining the floors and ceilings, and insects charging out from beneath. The third stage is a single fight against a huge battleship, as the screen scrolls around, guiding you beneath it, around its cannons on front, and up to the top where its weak point lies. The fourth stage features strange bugs that leave web trails all around the screen. The designs aren't quite as cool in the later half of the game, but the final boss consists of a strange little blue orb, which appears to have the facial features of a bearded old man, hiding in the womb of a fiercely alien creature. It's a remarkably difficult game to be sure - the first stage isn't too hard, but the difficulty really ramps up about halfway through - but it's definitely worth seeing to the conclusion, even if the ending is a bit underwhelming.

The original arcade R-Type runs at a higher resolution than all of the other game consoles, hence the wider screen. There are eight total levels, making it the longest outside of the PS2 R-Type Final. Even with all of the improvements made to its sequels, the arcade original still stands the ol' test of time.

Although designed by Irem, R-Type was actually distributed in American arcades by Nintendo, who was actually a formidable force in the coin-op industry back in the day. Even though Nintendo brought R-Type to American arcades, it never hit the NES. Instead, the 8-bit home port went to the Sega Master System, probably because it was more powerful in the graphics department. It was brought to the system courtesy of Compile, who was know for various MSX and SMS shooters such as Aleste/Power Strike, and had a closing working relationship with Sega. While the port was obviously scaled down, it looks astounding for the time period, and other than the expected flickering and slowdown, made an excellent transition to the home screen. The Sega Master System version also had a secret exclusive level. In the fourth stage, in the part where the screen is filled with those green dots, there's an opening in the ceiling at the top. Fly in that opening and go backwards, and you'll enter the secret level, complete with weird green frog mechanisms and a uber-freaky boss.

The Turbografx-16 port is almost identical to the arcade version, with only some minor loss in graphic detail, and a slightly scrolling playfield to compensate for the difference in resolutions. In Japan, it was initially released in two separate releases. The first, dubbed R-Type I, contained levels 1-4, and the second contained levels 5-8. There was also an additional boss (since level 6 technically didn't have one in the arcade version) and a minor cutscene at the end of level 4 that was to be its "ending". Apparently the game was too big to fit on one Hu-Card, although by the time it hit America a year later, they were able to squeeze the whole thing into one release.

R-Type Complete Intro

In 1994 in Japan, Irem released the R-Type Complete CD for the Super CD-ROM, which included the entire game on one CD. Additionally, there are plenty of fully narrated cutscenes, although none of them are that great, and some weird CD audio remixes of the music.

There are three compilations of R-Type I and II. The Playstation version - dubbed R-Types hit the Playstation - include nearly perfect translations of both R-Type I and II, with addition to include a transparent status bar so the screen doesn't need to scroll vertically. The game also keeps track of what levels you'd already beaten, allowing you to skip ahead. In addition to a mediocre CG intro (only notable for the destroyed ship you see at the beginning, complete with creepy skeleton pilot), there was also a feature called R's Museum, that you could look at various designs aspects of the series, including 3D models of all of the main ships, a full enemy database, and the timeline of the games. Cryptically, this was missing from the European release. It was initially criticized upon release for not including any of the extras from the PC Engine release, or including any of the other R-Type games, but otherwise is the best way to play the two original games.

While R-Type I and II were initially released seperately on the original Gameboy Bits Studio redid both of their graphics and tossed it onto one cartridge for the Gameboy Color, calling in R-Type DX. Both the original (uncolored) and revamped versions are included, and while the color version looks reasonably decent, there's some definite palette changes from the original. It also suffers from plenty of slowdown and flickering, although otherwise plays pretty admirably for being on the Gameboy. The only real problem is that the hit detection - especially on the bosses - is pretty sketchy, making certain battles longer than they originally were. The extra R-Type DX mode simply combines R-Type I and II into one long mega-game.

The R-Types were also re-released in 2009 for the Xbox Live Arcade, under the name R-Type Dimensions. Developed by Tozai, it's a full 3D overhaul of the first two games, featuring a total of fourteen levels with high-res polygonal graphics that almost perfectly mimic the style of the original arcade sprites. In other words, it looks damn good. There are even additional touches, like new background graphics where the area was previously just black, and light sourcing on the pod. You're given the option to switch between the 2D and 3D graphics on the fly, which is cool for comparison. There's also a "crazy" angle for the 3D mode, which angles the camera similar to some of the segments in Einhander, which gives the view a bit of depth without being too disorienting. Unlike Bionic Commando Rearmed, another high-res retro remake, the gameplay and stages are exactly the same.

The only major additions are with the two-player co-op mode (both local and online), and the "Infinite" mode, which lets you resurrect right where you die. Though this might not be the "correct" way to play R-Type, it at least lets players see the whole game, or concentrate on scoring, in this legendarily brutal game. In either mode, you can also restart the game at any stage you've reached, even though there's technically no "save game" function. The lack of difficulty selection or button config are slight annoyances, and some of the hit detection is ever so slightly off from the arcade games, plus they seem to take more damage, making certain boss battles a bit harder than they used to be. Also, none of the sound is remixed, at all, though at least there's still the custom soundtrack option. It's definitely the best compilation of the two R-Types though.

R-Type was also ported to various home computers, with varying quality. The MSX version suffers from the same jerky scrolling that pretty much every action game on the platform possesses. The Spectrum version is slowed down a bit, but it's a fairly decent port and really pushes the system to the max. The Amstrad version is just a port of the Spectrum version with less colors.

The Commodore 64 and Amiga versions were developed by Factor 5 and feature by musician Chris Huelsbeck, famous for the Turrican series. The Commodore conversion isn't too great and was obviously rushed - the credits even note the game was done in six weeks! The Amiga version, on the other hand, is outstanding. The Atari ST port looks decent but is pretty average, while the Sharp X68000 version is nearly arcade perfect.


R-Type - Level 1
Commodore 64 - Stage 1
Commodore 64 - Title
R-Type Complete CD - Boss
R-Type Complete CD - Level 1
R-Type Complete CD - Level 4

R-Type (Arcade)

R-Type (Arcade)

R-Type (Arcade)

R-Type (SMS)

R-Type (SMS)

R-Type (SMS)

R-Type (TG-16)

R-Type Dimensions (Xbox 360)

R-Type Dimensions (Xbox 360)

R-Type DX (Gameboy Color)

R-Type DX (Gameboy Color)

Screenshot Comparisons


Xbox 360



Sega Master System

Atari ST

Commodore 64





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