Sunday, April 14, 2013

Game Review: The Raiden Project

The Raiden Project
  • Publisher: Sony
  • Developer: Seibu Keihatsu
  • Release: PlayStation, 9 September 1995
  • Genre: Shoot-Em-Up
  • Players: 1-2
  • Save: Memory Card, 1 Block
  • Rarity/Cost: Moderate / US$15-25
Say, have you guys heard about that new video game Metal Gear Rising: Revengance?  I've heard a number of conflicting opinions on this title, but nearly everyone's been praising its innovations in the area of sword combat.  This review... is not about that.  But its protagonist shares his name with Raiden, the lightning-powered monk from the Mortal Kombat franchise.  This review... is not about Mortal Kombat either.  But I am leading up to a series of shoot-em-ups called Raiden and boy was that a convoluted intro.

So anyway, the Raiden I'm talking about began with an eponymous arcade game, launched in 1990 by the little-known development team Seibu Keihatsu.  It was followed up in 1993 by Raiden II, and it was those two games that were featured on a compilation called The Raiden Project, itself one of the first titles released for the Sony PlayStation in 1995.  Neither game has much in the way of plot; both star two fighter jets facing off against a random army of... wait for it...
A new use for this meme! ^_^
Ah, aliens.  The perfect antagonist for an excuse plot.  Of course, the games themselves don't dwell on such elements; in practice, you'll face an assortment helicopters, tanks, planes, turrets, and more creative fare on your drive to save the world.  The "plot" is more or less the same between Raiden and Raiden II.  In fact, the settings and bosses of both games are suspiciously alike.  I would even go so far to accuse Raiden II of being a thinly-disguised remake of the original.  For example, Stage 1 has a pair of bosses with the same attack patterns, Stage 2 ends with a huge plane that spawns more tiny planes, Stage 3 takes place over a shipyard, and the last three stages take place in outer space.  I'd have broken out the Portal 2 "spaaace" meme, but it's really hard to hide pictures under my spoiler tags.

Certain enemy types yield power-ups. (Raiden)
In both games, certain types of enemies award weapon upgrades when they get blown up.  Both games have two weapon types: a machine gun (corresponds to red items) and a laser (blue).  The machine gun spreads out to the sides in upgraded forms, while the laser has a much narrower spread.  It supposedly does more damage, but I haven't had as much use for it.  Maybe it's just my playing style, whatever.  Getting an item of the same type upgrades your weapon, while getting a different type changes your weapon without leveling it up.  Raiden wasn't the first shoot-em-up to utilise this power-up format -- Blazing Lazers (TurboGrafx-16 predates it by a year -- but I've never been a big fan of it.  If you keep switching weapons, you'll never get the chance to upgrade any of 'em.  Not to mention, you lose all of your upgrades when you die, and since dying only requires one hit, you're gonna die.  A lot.  Which means you'll revert back to the level-1 machine gun.  A lot.

Raiden II adds a new weapon type, a lightning whip (violet) which homes in on targets and can even connect to multiple targets at once.  It rocks against regular enemies, so much so that it feels like a game-breaker, but it's not that strong, so it'll take longer to bring down bosses with it.  On the other hand, the other two weapon types fire faster as you move closer to your target (it's one of those shooters, where there's a limit on the number of bullets it can show on screen), so more shots equals more damage.  In addition, you can find missiles (yellow) and homing missiles (green), which automatically fire with your main weapon, and bombs which are triggered separately.  Unlike bullets, bombs can also block enemy shots, so use them strategically.  Raiden II also adds cluster bombs to your arsenal, but in practice they work the same as the regular kind.


The lightning weapon in action. (Raiden II)
Apart from the weapon selections, there are few other differences between Raiden and Raiden II, but what changes there are define the two.  Both eschew fancy 3D effects (apart from the main menu background) in favour of just really good 2D graphics.  No matter how many enemies the game throws at you, there's no slowdown, hardier enemies catch fire as they take damage, and downed aircraft leave smoldering craters in the ground.  And of course, the soundtrack is motherfalcon awesome, although the sound quality is sadly a bit muddy in The Raiden Project.  Both games do give the option of remixed soundtracks, but the new instrumentation loses the rock edge of the original and just doesn't do it for me.  Apart from the new weapons, in Raiden II you can restart right from where you left off after using a continue, whereas in the first game your respawning is tied to a checkpoint system.  I found this to be a lifesaver -- or at least a temper-saver -- because without it, you'll potentially keep on repeating passages or bosses, starting out with the level-1 machine gun every time.  On the other hand, Raiden offers extra lives as point bonuses, so pick your poison, I guess.

Both Raiden games are good enough on their own, but together as part of The Raiden Project, they become something more.  The controls can be freely mapped among the face buttons, L1, and R1 buttons, including an auto-fire function, which I for one will go out to say is a life-saver -- or at least a finger-saver -- and given that, the only complaint I have about the controls is that since this game pre-dates the DualShock controller, you can't use the analog sticks, and must thus rely on light taps of the directonal buttons for precise maneuvering.  But far be it from me to dock a game based on technology that wasn't around at the time!  You can also set the difficulty and credit limit, which tops out at nine continues.  Between that limitation and the overall difficulty, I still have yet to actually finish either game even on the easiest settings.  But fortunately... there is an infinite continues cheat!  You want it?  It's yours, my friend: Go to the Credit Limit setting in options, and press X, Circle, Square, and Triangle together  Keep trying until the setting reads "Free Play"..  Okay, that just bumped up the rating a notch. ^_^

In all seriousness, having two well-polished shoot-em-ups for one purchase price is a fantastic deal, and one no flight-shooter fanatic should be without.  Would I recommend it for everyone else?  ...I wouldn't; because of the difficulty associated with this particular genre, it's more of an acquired taste for the 99% of gamers who don't find the fun in navigating intricate bullet patterns.  But what better way to acquire that taste than to give The Raiden Project a spin?

Positives:
+ Two fine games in one package.
+ Polished 2D graphics with a few neat effects.
+ Extras such as alternate music and auto-fire buttons.
Negatives:
- Losing all your power-ups whe you get hit.
- Not all the changes from one game are applied to the other.

Control: 5 out of 5
Design: 4 out of 5
Graphics: 4 out of 5
Audio: 4 out of 5
The Call: 90% (A-)

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