The true refuge of the hardcore nostalgic gamer at the moment is Xbox Live Arcade. For those who think games are selling out, dumbing down and getting just too easy, the download service is a haven for difficult, stalwartly retro titles. Last year, we had Mega Man 9 and Ikaruga doling out one-hit deaths left, right and centre. Now, we have R-Type Dimensions. Essentially a compilation of the first two games in Irem’s R-Type arcade space-shooter series, Dimensions has been given an HD overhaul by USA-based publishers Tozai and Sweden-based developers Southend.
Remember when a game’s story didn’t matter? Nowadays, nearly all games need narratives of some kind – even if it is just Michael Bay-ish talk-run-shoot-explosion trite. In R-Type, the story is not important; it’s all about gameplay. You control your ship – the Arrowhead – in its slowly-scrolling-to-the-right assault on the evil aliens of the Bydo empire. That premise is used as a springboard for (in total) 14 fiendishly difficult levels featuring wave after wave of enemy spacecraft large and small. As you travel through deep space, canyons and under water, you are driven by one harsh, repeated mantra – ‘One hit, you’re dead’.
A lone help in your journey through the curtain of lasers, bullets and rockets is the Force pod, a pick-up that acts as a detachable accessory, which can shield the fore or aft of your ship, or be sent into battle as a free-roaming satellite. The Force is R-Type‘s signature item, and its use brings elements of tactics and strategy to the intense, trial-and-error gameplay.
To put it softly, you will die a lot in R-Type Dimensions. Some of the later levels of both the included games are especially sadistic in their design. This will thrill some, but deter many others. Luckily, Tozai/Southend have it covered, and have added an ‘infinite mode’, granting the player limitless lives. Purists may cry foul, saying that, surely, that takes away all of the challenge. I’d like to think of it as a gift to those more human, fallible players, who, like me, need hundreds of lives for a full game run.
This is just one of the additions and tweaks that make R-Type Dimensions into something fresh and enticing. The 3D makeover is lovely, clean and bold, however, the original, distinctive 2D art is only a touch of the Y button away, as the player can flit between the two on the fly. There’s also a multitude of other video options, including the ‘Crazy’ camera, which adopts a strange, isometric side-view of the screen, and the arcade view, where your TV screen is filled with the visage of an R-Type arcade cabinet.
These aspects help raise Dimensions above shallow rehashing and precious nostalgia. Also welcome is the local or online co-op mode; even if it does make the screen even more crowded, frustration with a buddy is frustration halved. Leaderboards and statistics bring an element of competition and self-awareness to the game – plus the opportunity to show off your skills to others. An admittedly minor, but still impressive perk is the great implementation of the achievement system, which is initially straightforward, rewarding for simple completion, but then moves to encourage the player to plug the game’s depths, discovering secrets and complexities, such as reviving comrades and finding hidden spores in certain levels. It acts as a gentle primer and guide for the newbie, and as a hearty challenge to the initiated. All this helps prove there is more to the game than the 50 minutes it takes to complete on Infinite Mode.
A wonderfully crafted piece of gaming nostalgia, exuding care and love for the franchise, R-Type Dimensions also makes steps towards seducing and courting the shoot-em-up virgin. It is fun, challenging and offers enough freshness to be more than just another XBLA port. It would be a complete success, and an easily recommended purchase, if not for the 1200 point (£10) price-tag. As it is, download the trial – if you’re bitten by the bug, there is much to enjoy.