Box Shot
Platform: Sega Master System
Publisher: Sega
Designer: Irem
Genre: Shoot-em-up
Players: 1
Published Date 1988
Reviewed by: Kurt Kalata

Talk to any shmup fan (that's short for 'shoot-em-up', for the uninitiated) and there are a few thoroughbred classics that they'll speak fondly of. No, not Space Invaders or Galaga. REAL shoot-em-ups, the ones that modeled the way that shooters are today (well, if more were released in America, anyway.) In that regard, R-Type is one of most highly regarded in this field. And believe it or not, it never made it to the NES, the clear winner at the time. Yep, only for the Sega Master System (although a Turbografx-16 version did come out later...but that's besides the point.)

As the pilot of the R-9 spacecraft, your job is to, as the title screen states, destroy the evil Bydo empire from taking over Earth. Unlike many shooters at the time (mid-80s, when it was first introduced in the arcades) R-Type really didn't provoke the mad-button slamming technique that was popular in older games. Instead, your main weapon was charged up by holding down the button. Sure, you COULD bash the fire button repeatedly, but you'd only get a series of weak blasts. Here, you hold down the button for a second and then let out a bolt of plasma that pretty much blasts through most enemies (or seriously damage them, whichever is the case.)

But wait, that's NOT all! R-Type second neat addition is a little pod. And no, it's not a clone of an Option from Gradius. It has its own weapon capabilies, some of which can be quite powerful (including a neat blue/orange wavy laser.) But the real fun is manipulating it. Pressing Button 2 will attach/release the pod. You can position to the pod in front of your ship or in back of it to increase your firepower (and act as a kind of shield, since it's invincible.) Or, you can send it to fly around the screen, shooting on its own and destroying bad guys. You can even use it as a ramming tool for bosses...just fire it off near the weak point and it'll take care of some of them in a few seconds! You simply get power-ups by shooting certain enemies or finding ones hidden in certain places on the screen. It's nothing fancy, but it works. Most of time, they're just add-ons for your pod, but you can get missiles and stuff like that.

And reminding me of bosses, R-Type is incredible. Ever since I first saw screenshots of it, the first level boss has always looked extremely cool. From the H.R. Giger-like head to the long, segmented tail and the strange face sticking out of it...it just rocks! And the rest of the bosses are huge as well. This is something that really made it stand out back in its day, and the bosses still remain well-designed to this day.

The levels also stand out. While the first one starts out in outer space and enters into a base, the rest of them are unique. There's a level that looks like it was taken out of the biological laboratory from Aliens, with a creepy blue background and alien heads and bones coming from the floor. Then there's an assault on a humoungous spaceship taking up several screens (which has since become token in most shmups) and another outer space level that has spaceships that leave "trails" that must be shot through. When you die, you do get sent back a little bit in the level without any weapons, but since your main charging attack is somewhat powerful, you'll be able to handle your own for awhile. Still, given the pace of the game, playing sections and over can grow on one's nerves. There is a limited amount of continues, but wimps can elect for an invincibility code (just have a second controller ready...and no, I'm not gonna give the code out here.)

One look at this game, and you can definitely tell that the Sega Master System had superior graphic hardware to the NES. The backgrounds are well detailed and look very cool, not repetitive like many NES shooters. There is, of course, some slowdown and image breakup, but it's never to the point when the game becomes unplayable. The little Beam Charge meter from the arcade version is gone though, so you can't tell EXACTLY how much your weapon is charged. This hardly matters on a whole. Plus the screen blacks out whenever a boss comes up (like the NES Life Force) but again, this isn't big. The music's not too bad, but like most games, it suffers due to the sound chip. Some tunes just sound way too chirpy. The sound effects also could use a bit of improvement, but they're listenable.

There's some problems with the game control though. First, the R-9 is WAY too slow. In one of my endless R-Type/Gradius comparisons, imagine playing through Gradius without ever getting a Speed-Up. Sure, there are occasional power-ups that will make the ship faster, but they don't appear as often as they should. Hey, since your enemies move fast (and their countless little bullets), why can't you? Plus the screen just scrolls too slow for me...a little bit faster would've been nice.

But overall, tough as it is, R-Type is still a great game. It stands out as one of the best SMS titles in both graphics and overall gameplay, but I prefer something a tad faster. But don't let my fussiness deter you. This a classic that you definitely have to try out.