The Family Friendly Sony

Sony came out to The Wall Street Journal about them cracking down sexual content on their platform.  That’s a direct WSJ’s quote too. Supposedly, this reflects the concerns in the U.S. about how women are depicted in games, but in overall terms that’s rather weak excuse, especially when the spokeswoman (shouldn’t that be spokesperson if we want to be all neutral with these?) states that these new guildelines allow the creators can offer well-balanced content on the Sony’s platforms. This is largely bullshit though, as this would likely hint that they want all single elements of content they offer to be balanced rather than the content, as in the whole library of games, to a balance from left to right. Imagine having a selection of ice cream, but all of them are different kinds of vanilla. Because the store doesn’t like chocolate, you won’t see any of that. That’s a well-balanced offering in the store shelves and that’s what Sony’s doing. Excuse the hyperbole for now.

We know from the event hold Dies irae that Sony’s been practising these rules for some time now to the point of ready to be released games being completely shelved. Statement the spokesperson makes about the executives being worried about Sony’s brand being tarnished by titles with sexual content is weird at best, as the way the whole moderation is done happens to happen in English. It seems that this is mostly a big deal for the American side of Sony, and Japanese heads are just letting things slide.  But all this is what I’ve covered already in previous posts, the Wall Street Journal is just an official confirmation for all this.

Sony’s image for numerous years in gaming has been all about the hard-hitting titles for mature and adults all the while offering a healthy selection for the kids. PlayStation 2’s library is a prime example of why a console needs any and all sorts of games, as this provides that well-balanced content that spokesperson speaks of. By all means, this image of Sony was well-deserved due to all the realistic games Sony’s systems have offered. However, thus far Sony has touched on their games only to a limited extent, and left most of them stuff to local rating systems like PEGI. On the other hand, Sony’s limitation has always been more about the games’ mechanics. A lot of Japanese titles didn’t get pass to the Overseas market, as Sony of America was pushing the 3D more, the same thing Sega of America did with Saturn. Only very few overtly sexually explicit content was censored or removed, in the West. That was twenty years ago, and now the age is different. Whatever you do, you insult someone, and rage sells. Companies being afraid and aware of the outrage culture is making them bend in unnatural ways in order to showcase themselves as pure and progressive.These actions are directed at a small, outraged part of the population, and it is sadly affecting the whole world. Whoever at Sony pushed these through probably wanted to showcased their tribal colours and how true they were.

This is rather American of Sony though. The view of the United State’s censorship that has been in the rest of the world is that Violence is OK, sexual content is not. No matter who or what are behind the rules, be it the puritan church or politically active movement, this always seems to be the end result. Personally, I find dark comedy in here, where two opposing sides often end up in the same result through different means. It’s not very often a corporation like Sony enacts censorious practices just in afraid of getting pissed at by a sect, but image is what companies need to be concerned. Playing the whole family friendly side of things is their best cover, and that’s what the spokesperson also alluded to. Apparently, having titles with sexual content on your platform would have an adverse effect on children’s growth. One platform can do only so much. As always, the Internet offers more than enough of content to twist a child’s growth, and even then that’s somewhat dubious.

What Sony is using as a cover is really simple and traditional; Think of the children. We can discuss modern parenting however much we want, its pros and cons, but in the end a company shouldn’t take this sort of load unto their shoulders. Part of parenting, perhaps an extremely large part in the modern era, is to look over what sort of media is your child consuming. However, this also requires to know your child and how mature he is at any point and whether or not he is ready to consume the product. This isn’t as clear cut as its usually made out to be. A sheltered child in a good family probably can’t hold much violence or sexual content, but consider a child who comes from a family with alcoholic parentage and violence. We assume that all parents are good and children live a pure life, but the reality often is harsher, sometimes even gruesome. Children can take reality, and even if it seems harsh, reality have to be explicit and explained to them. Simply covering them from hard matters will twist them more. As an anecdote, the time I worked with children, I saw some cases that clearly couldn’t handle anything sexual related when they hit puberty, as I know first hand their parents were, to put it mildly, extremely with the subject to an unhealthy degree. This person is now a bee attracted to a lamp-post rather to flowers.

On the surface Sony’s movements might seem sensible, but on the long run it’ll do more damage than good. The fact that they didn’t come out with their new practice for solid two years since the initial waves of censorship (and let’s be completely honest; this is censorship rather than just moderation) tells a lot. If Sony had made a public statement about this to the developers and to the public, it would’ve cause harsh negative PR. Companies demanding to parent children is nothing new, and sometimes companies just do that for numerous reasons, most often for PR points. Television is a classic example, where channels still are told to lessen the violence and sexual content they showcase, despite programmes containing what is considered harmful content for children are relegated to late-night slots or after midnight. Yet, these shows get lambasted, instead of questioning why are these parents allowing their kids to stay up so late to watch these shows. As usual, it is very easy to put the blame on someone else.

Sony’ gone family friendly (outside violence and other sexual tendencies that are not female nudity) but the common consumer in the West won’t probably notice it too much. Japanese titles of course have already been impacted, and it has already caused some titles to have more visible content on the Switch, with Steam versions being more open than any. Maybe this would be a chance for sites like DMM and DL Site to push their lack of censorship towards Western users as well and diversify their libraries. If you’re a Muv-Luv fan, you probably already have a DMM account for all the stuff they have on the site. This is also why we should have more than just three consoles in the race; there needs to be more competition and platforms that offer choices that are not available on others. If one platform decides to go censorious, another should do the opposite.

I hope you all have a good, peaceful Easter.

Perhaps we take electronic games as self-evident

The whole thing Sekiro and discussion about difficulty and accessibility still seems to be a thing, and this post is not about that. Rather, it’s how we perceive electronic games in our daily lives. This blog has numerous posts about electronic gaming’s history and culture, some of which cover stuff from the late 1800’s to modern day between the time when kinetoscope was the hottest thing to see people box or lady showcasing her knees (a type of erotica is always relevant and present with any form of entertainment and will always stay as long as human is a sexual being) to the pinball scare in the middle of the 1900’s and how people rebelled by simply becoming pinball wizards all the way to the modern era of video and computer games. Looking back at the history we have, electronic games have become part of our cultural landscape in rather record time, spreading across the globe in matter of few centuries, covering all continents and places. Even the poorest places on Earth have seen their electronic games in a form of another, sometimes first with piracy, then maybe even build something on it. Playing overall is such a significant part of our anyone’s past time and cultural original, it’s not hard to see that a new way of playing would seep right in, especially when it is playing that broke the previously established barriers what play can convey and showcase. The closest we can get to what electronic games give is, specifically computer and video (and arcade) games, comes from the tabletop games, be it pen & paper like Dungeons and Dragons or your childhood favourite board games, and the playing we did when were as kids. Cops and Robbers, knights in shining armour, forest adventuring, playing house/family, playing you were a racer and so on. Electronic gaming is a true extension of these elements given, for the lack of a better word, reality and a way to accomplish those plays in actuality. No longer you’re moving down leaves that represent the enemy hordes of the evil wizard Red Eye, when you have a controller in your hand and playing your given action title. At the core, the play is the same, but the means have changed widely. It’s also become more acceptable for an adult to realise these sort of plays at their adult age.

The technology isn’t there to allow us a completely unique and dynamic kind of play. We probably will always be tied to the core tenant of games instead of playing; the existence of rules. Perhaps this is why gamer has become the term for people who play electronic games as a hobby and passion. It makes a difference between a play and a game. A play doesn’t necessarily need rules, but a game does. It’s perhaps a bit arbitrary and the term doesn’t really come off in all that positive manner. None other hobby has the kind of lead off towards its hobbyists, at least it wasn’t the case before gamer as a term solidifed itself. Readers are readers, film watchers are film buffs or viewers, runners run and so on. A gamer is not the same thing as a player. Maybe because a sport like soccer has players, not soccerers. The electronic game culture had to find its own term to describe its most enthusiast consumers. Outside some journalist trying to shake things up few years back by attacking their consumers, there really hasn’t been any significant attempts to change the term in itself, and has effectively stuck. For better or worse.

The above argues that electronic games have two sources, which don’t exclude each other and perhaps are even needed for playing games. If we take for granted that playing is a natural state for animals on Earth, anything from an insect to a lion cub seems to play in some kind of way, then playing seems to be stuck to our genes. No wonder electronic gaming was taken in as a natural evolution. It met the usual resistance that all new media and hobbies go through, and one could even make a comparison to movies with the current scare towards sexual content electronic games have, even to the point of Sony applying their censorship world wide. It might affect us now, but this shall pass in time. How or to which direction I couldn’t wager a guess. Even then, corporations often follow the money. Though they only have the luxury of practicing something like Sony’s standards now is because we are enjoying good macro-economics and everything seems to sell, people have money to burn.

It is not a surprise that electronic games have eclipsed Hollywood in terms of money then.

The nature of electronic games is not simply a video game or a computer game. While computer and video game have become effectively synonymous with each other, the distinction between an adventure game on a console and an adventure game on a PC is still made, despite the whole cross-pollination that exists between the platforms to an extremely large degree. An adventure game on a console is something akin to Metroid and that’s what it is; direct action is always representative. An action game on a PC might get that additional moniker of point-and-click at some point, or expanded into point-and-click-adventure, and is nevertheless nothing less than a certain structure intended for certain kind of input device intended for certain kind of type of game. Genres are perhaps best representation how we take things as self-evident, and often mix and match whatever together without much rhyme or reason. Metrdoidvania is still the best example of a nonsense word that doesn’t describe anything, but we just assume anyone knows what it means. On the other hand, perhaps that’s a mark of a completely formed sub-culture, when it is bringing forth new terms that are not applicable outside its own circles. Nobody who is into any other form of entertainment but has no knowledge of video game history and genre changes would have an inkling that metroidvania means action-adventure game, often non-linear to boot. Is it approachable? No, but very few sub-culture and its infinite branches are.

Which really brings this to the point. We recognise the historical and cultural aspects of so many of our other forms of media and entertainment, because they’ve been with us far longer. Modern electronic games are less than a century old. The perception that has been driven through is that it is a form of entertainment that is for all, which is widely inaccurate. It’s not exactly the first form of entertainment that requires the consumer to act on their own behalf, but at the same time you hear people complaining about some aspect of the game they bought. We take for granted that whatever we buy we can consume willy nilly straight up, but that has never been take case for any game. You have a set of rules, but in their electronic form, you can’t break those rules. Even mechanical games like pinball allowed nudging the machine, which has been implemented as a separate element and skill in some video pinball titles, but the rules are far more strict. You can not cheat an electronic game, unless it allows you to, or you force upon it. You can’t create your own rules within the game’s own set. Modding certainly exists and could be argued to showcase this, but it’s far from being something completely open, and largely restricted to PC gaming culture as a niche. Just like plays and games we play outside electronic games, there are those we don’t want to take part in, individually depending. This hasn’t changed. We may lack the skill, the enthusiasm, the physical fitness even for some of these activities, but all electronic games in the end require two things; time and effort on the game itself. Your physical fitness doesn’t really matter, as long as you have a functioning input device. Your team mates don’t really matter, unless you play online in a team. Many aspects that kept or keeps you from enjoying a game or a play are absent from electronic gaming, and the rest is really up to the consumer himself. It is, as an acquaintance said about reading, about priorities.

I doubt we culturally are aware what electronic games are to us. We can come up a thing or two about them and tell they’re nice way to spend an afternoon or release some pent up stress by beating a Dutch guy in King of Fighters, but do we actually recognise that video games are, first and foremost, a play. We’re homo ludens, culturally bend to play. Perhaps the whole holabaloo of games needing to be more accessible and the like stems from play being about freedom and control, whereas games like Sekiro are all about strict rules and demanding you to have and approach in a controlled manner. The illusion of freedom is shattered, but that’s not clearly accurate. Tetris is after all a game which allows no freedom of approach and is a game that simply can not exist without its digital medium. However, it is a game of strict yet simple rules. Would that then signify that when an electronic game is clearly a game we approach and consider it as such, and when it introduces larger elements of play in form of role play? Not RPG elements, but playing a role like kids play a role of a knight or an adventurer in the forest with their friends. This clearly isn’t universal, human mind has too many variables how each of us approaches this. Perhaps the core of accessibility doesn’t lie in Easy mode or such, but in allowing the player to ‘play’ more freely. Maybe these games weren’t the first form of ‘interactive entertainment.’ That’s the stick in your hand as a sword, and that tree is the form of a massive, large behemoth you to defeat.

Perhaps this is all backwards. Perhaps he subconsciously recnognise the whole shebang of electronic games being continuation of our past play and game culture, but fail to notice that they have been, since the beginning, something new altogether and have yet to change our cultural mind on them, taking cues from other media and forcing pre-set conditions from unfitting cultural standards. Have video games themselves been too stuck on our play and game culture to the point of them being unable to truly spin off to be their unique kind of set of entertainment and games, with very few examples of truly unique electronic game being present in these fifty odd years? Best not take the next game I buy at its face value, or there might be something odd about this tea.

Iterations vs innovations

The two things in the title do not exclude each other, but for the sake of argument let’s consider them as two things that don’t exactly mesh. Why? Because when we consider video and computer game sequels, we often see both practiced quite a lot, and there’s no real cohesion which one the consumer prefers, but at the same time we can see both criticised for different reasons. That should already tell is that this is kind of tomato sauce case, where people are split in preference. As usual, there’s no real one way to go with things.

If we were to use examples of iterative games, perhaps the best example would be Super Mario Bros. and the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 that was got the Lost Levels name in the West. This Japanese SMB2 is an iterative sequel, intended to effectively be more of the same, a pro-player’s version with the stage design and difficulty kicked up a notch for those who found the first game to be lacking. Western Super Mario Bros. 2, which got the USA label in Japan later on, is innovative sequel in contrast, as it expanded the playable roster, the world, characters and mechanics that would be seen later on in the series. Yes, we are going to ignore Doki Doki Panic, and if we didn’t I could use the same points of arguments for Super Mario Bros. 3, which we could use as a third example of innovative evolution of the Super Mario Bros. trilogy of games on the NES. If we extent the lineage to Mario Bros. the innovations become clearer, as the sheer point of having well scrolling action game at that time was something of a marvel, something past consoles didn’t really do or do well. Even Pitfall, the game some would argue to be the best action game on an Atari platform, moved in screens rather than with scrolling. Computers at the time had a hard time to do scrolling well, which is very apparent how the games were structured as per-screen basis or had a chunky scrolling, like what Konami did with their MSX shooting games like Nemesis.

While the Japanese SMB2 is a good example of an iterative game, we’ll use something like Doom and Doom II as an example most people should know. We can extend to this to numerous WADS that simply add stages or weapons, and perhaps even to some total conversion and such, but at the core there will be the good ol’ Doom experience; Shooting demons and trying to save your bunny from being staked. Doom II is by all means a large expansion with new weapons and levels, which was the team exactly did. The levels in Doom II are far more expansive and intricate compared to the first game thanks to the advanced in basic hardware. The enemy type number was effectively doubled. For an original Doom experience, the second game and its later iterations are effectively a sort of Best Of version, though some hardcore purists would argue that the pure classic experience still lays in the first game. Pokémon falls into this category as well, effectively being unchanged since the first game. The series has no renewed itself at any point, which has been more or less why its spin-offs have played with some of the concepts a bit more.

Adding new stages, some new mechanics and weapons don’t really innovate anything; they’re adding things on top of the base that’s already there. Innovation requires that a game is thought again from the grounds up, where the basic premise of the core design is effectively blown apart and the best parts are picked up while discarding everything that didn’t all the while building something new. Innovation is to take a house and renovate it from bottom floor all the while you’re considering all the room framing and how the yard is. Iterative is effectively building a new garage. Sometimes all you need is a new garage and some good lick of paint, because not all innovation hits the spot.

There is safety in iterative games, as they don’t fix something that was already broken, though sometimes they don’t fix what was broken. To use Pokémon as an example again, its iterations are interesting in that each new entry creates a new side mechanic only to be forgotten and abandoned in the next. Seasons of the year still hasn’t made a return from Diamond and Pearl. To contrast this, Digimon games have been widely different from each other from time to time and how they play, both to its benefit and detriment, as the franchise doesn’t have a cohesive core. Super Mario Bros. is a franchise that has a cohesive evolution with its games that innovate, as they don’t simply change the games’ genre on the fly. Side games certainly do, and New SMB series has effectively been nothing but iteration after iteration instead of innovating how the series could play in 2D, despite 2D Mario still making the biggest bank out of the series.

Maybe there are franchises that don’t exactly require innovation as such without effectively breaking the game’s core design. Umihara Kawase is a platforming game that has always been about the rubber band physics action; how to get from point A to point B, or C or D. If you’re not familiar with this niche classic, check this longplay for few minutes to get the idea. The point of the game is to use physics and mechanics tied to the physics in order to clear a stage, and these elements were further polished with its PlayStation sequel, Umihara Kawase Shun. Except in its PSP release, which broke the physics completely. Sayonara Umihara Kawase added new playable characters, a time stopping stopping mechanic for one of them and few new things, but ultimately where this series’ concentration on the sequels has been in the level design. If the physics change even a bit, or of new mechanics are introduced, the stage designs can and must reflect this either with new geometry or with additional hazards and interactive stage elements. Changing the core gameplay has to be taken seriously with heavy consideration in order not to break the basic design. Umihara Kawase Fresh changes the series’ core structure significantly from stage-per-stage progression to open world exploration with story elements, quests and health management. Effectively, the development team has taken the same route as so many other 2D action game team, and made it action-adventure in fashion of Montezuma’s Revenge and Metroid. While on surface and as an idea this sounds like changing the genre altogether would be in lieu with SMB’s innovation path, we have to seriously question whether or not the series benefits from these changes and additions.

Innovation in itself does not necessarily mean change for the positive. You can innovate something, completely overhaul and change the core of things and be left with something that is broken and doesn’t work. Umihara Kawase Fresh may now be broken due to its additional mechanics and heavy emphasize on story compared to its previous iterations (in which Shun is still the best entry in the series) though at the same time we have to grant the game the benefit of the doubt that the developers are able to keep the core design and mechanics at the forefront and not overshadowed or hindered by the new additions. I’ll probably end up buying the game for a review rather than out of joy to get a new Umihara Kawase.

Innovating a game’s core gameplay to the point of changing a genre can also impact the consumer reception rather harshly, as was feared with Metroid Prime. While taken against the larger FPS crowd, Metroid Prime isn’t stellar material, but against the 2D Metroid titles it made the transfer to three dimensions all the while making stuff work as intended was nothing short of on point. We can argue whether or not Prime actually innovated anything or if it simply moved dimensions, but the rest of the series’ entries have been iterative. Nevertheless, the genre change the game had to carry with it was received relatively well. This might not go so well with niche franchises with a cult following. Shububinman as a series might’ve been changing with each entry, and despite being semi-popular in Japan, the series effectively died with the end of the 16-bit machines. Personally, I’m afraid the management mechanics and story emphasize in Umihara Kawase Fresh will effectively kill the game, though it might as well bring it to a larger audience that can’t handle a straight-up platformer nowadays. Perhaps this is one of those cases, where the developer thinks their game is “just” a platform game, that it needs to be more and slaps everything on top of it. I doubt many would choose a well made meal over haphazardly made five course dinner with raw bits everywhere.

The danger of innovating a product in a way that it backfires is rather common. Ultimately, very few corporation do straight up innovation without having multiple product iterations under their belt already, though some new companies make their breakthrough with something newfangled innovation that hits the consumers’ wants and wishes just right. Games are like any other product though when it comes to sentimental values and emotional attachment, and this extents to the gameplay, mechanics and even visuals. You can innovate something to be something completely new and you might even test well, but if you make an error in what the consumers value in your games and change those elements, you’ll end up like New Coca-Cola. Not every game franchise can innovate itself step-by-step and so many of them are expected to have only incremental changes in their iterations. If you play the first Super Robot Wars now, and then move to the latest one, you’ll see that almost thirty years of iteration upon iteration has transformed the game to something rather different, but still has that familiar game play. While companies have a large amount of research in how people attach themselves to names and faces, brands and such, I’ve yet to see any research on preference on game play mechanics and how they’re presented. Perhaps this is significant part enough for the game developers and publishers to put more attention into, and would possibly explain why Call of Duty and Battlefield titles alongside EA’s sports titles sell year after year despite their most common criticism being in not changing anything. The consumer just has that preference for it, and even positive innovation is met with a cold shoulder.

Got a hand and an eye?

The times I worked with product design for people with limited range of motion, like folding chair chair design for a person with arthritis, there was one thing a person with a serious hearing impairment told me face to face; Treat us like any other people, we’re none different. Since then, whenever I had my spoon in the pot of design for people with some sort of disability or the like, the only thing I cared about was how to serve them in the same manner as any other person. I’ve mentioned the increased weight of the Western population few times over and how that has impacted e.g. bed design and how cremation houses have to have added safety precautions due to possible grease fires, and the approach with those things have been largely the same. You serve the intent and purpose on the same level. However, people with disabilities can’t exactly be dropped into general fields of design, as they are an aberration from the standard. While it is possible to design a product to cater overall certain kinds of problems, like the lack of the other arm or inability to walk properly without the help of a cane. We can’t foresee all the kinds of disabilities that can come out with the human body. There are too many cases that we are required to approach case by case basis and see how we could improve the quality of living.

Of course, standard design doesn’t fit all. There are multiple sizes of clothes, though these sizes often are by standard in their own category. Even then, you most likely will find yourself thinking that you’d like the chest region to be wider or the sleeves bigger. Things like that are within standard deviation, which is why game controllers fit so many hands. Be it bit or small, a game controller fits a normal hand as long as it is not baby hands. Whatever the size is, the user is left to their own devices on the usage, as all it really takes is some time and effort to be able to use a game controller. That’s where all video game playing really starts, as you can’t get good at a game before you get comfortable at using a controller.

The first problem we come across here, which is the most significant, is what if you are not able to use standard controller for whatever reason?

Sekiro has brought the discussion of including Easy Mode or some sort of assist mode back into discussion, which never was really that relevant to begin with. You know how this blog views this sort of thing; if you regard games as a form of art, the original creators have no reason to jeopardise their vision for the game. If we want to view games as a product, adding a mode that would allow more players to get into the game without losing anything in the transition would be beneficial. There is always a golden path in the middle of course, but certain games are simply designed to punishingly difficult from the get go as a core tenant, e.g. Ghost and Goblins. If that game had an additional mode to make it easier or to add some sort of invisibility assist, the game’s design would effectively be ruined. GnG‘s difficulty is legendary, and extremely overstated throughout the years. Much like any other game, it simply requires the player to approach it by its own rhythm rather than allowing the player to just charge in. However, none of that really matters if you can’t handle the input device.

This is doubly pronounced in competitive gaming, where beating the core rules and playing the game bit by bit isn’t enough; your opponents will throw a monkey wrench into the standard gameplay. Street Fighter has few notable players with some sort of disability. Osataro is a wheelchair bound player, who can’t hold a controller. In fact, he has to control his wheelchair with his chin, and this applies to his gaming. Checking some of his videos, his controls mostly compose what looks like an arcade setup, and he’s pretty good overall speaking. He even had a rather even match Daigo in an online match. BrolyLegs, a nickname, is another SF player, but unlike Osataro, he uses a standard X360 controller and moves the stick with his mouth. His is a condition that most people can’t even imagine living with, and yet he’s making the best of it. Killer Instinct has high-tier player as well, Dayton Jones, nicknamed Wheels, who barely can hold a standard controller and yet is a wrecking machine in tournaments. All these three might benefit more if they were given a controller that was specifically designed for their condition. Nevertheless, to see any of these three to work an arcade stick or a pad just as well as any in their own way should remind anyone playing games that all it takes is some effort and patience. They don’t require the game itself to cater to them.

To use a more standard example, Sven is a blind Street Fighter V player, and while he can hold a controller just fine. His handicap in a fight really comes from the fact that games are three-tier medium; audio, visual and touch. Him lacking the ability to see what’s going on puts him in a bad situation, but he nevertheless has become a relatively notably ranked player as he plays the game by hearing. He does have the benefit of arguably having the better source of reaction, as humans react faster to sound than to visuals. While he would like to work with developers to have more games made for the blind, the best way to work with this really would be in a rich sound environment and how to use them. It’d be an enormous task, as simply designing games for the blind is far too easy to use as a starting point and effectively make a boring game overall, like Enemy Zero, an interesting game that was mostly designed around using stereo sound, but turned out to be rather lacklustre in pretty much every regard.

Saying that a person with less physical ability to handle a video game to the same extent as a healthy one is, in majority of the cases, talking down on a matter they know jack shit. All these are largely unique cases. The games overall don’t need to consider them as anything special, but their playing could be made easier and less cumbersome if there was some sort of improvement in how they input controls. Hell, look at the rig RockyNoHands has. All it takes practice and control of your movements, but a swell set-up helps too. Sometimes I don’t think even a rig could help all that much, though even limbless gamers probably put professionals to shame through sheer determination.

If this post comes through as if I had something personal in it, it is because I do. There are people who may find some use for extra help in-game for various reasons, and even then these can be build into the games themselves without separately making it obvious. Ultimately the input method matters more to accessibility than looking down on people and telling they can’t handle “a normal” kind of game, that things need to made easier via modes. Lift people up, don’t dumb down.

Review; Darius Cozmic Collection Special Edition box

There has been some interesting development in regards of certain video game packaging as of late, if you’re someone who has a thing for package designs. Mainly that there has been a large movement to unify them under a generic design, especially if they’re from Limited Run Games or by a Japanese company. Two could be a coincidence or style chosen by a certain corporation. Three’s a company, but five starts to say there’s a standard going on. Game Paradise Cruisin’ Mix Special, Dariusburst Chronicles Saviours both JP and Limited Run Games release, Senko no Ronde 2, and now Darius Cozmic Collection all use the same kind semi-slim box design that can be used to house multiple types of objects by changing the inlays. With this basic design, the thickness of the box is easy to adjust as well to offer more room. People who like uniform shelves will like this direction quite a lot, as the boxes now are of same height and width, with some changes in thickness. Still, an evolution from the widely and stupidly different kind of collector’s editions boxes that just don’t really fit anywhere. I can’t help but feel that this homogenisation of boxes takes something special from these special editions.

If you read the review on Dariusburst Chronicles Saviours box few years back, you should mostly know already what to expect.

 

As you’d expect from the front, Darius Cozmic Collection Special Edition looks rather spiffy. Sure, the logo’s taking a lot of room from the cover, but all the six main images try to come through in a good balance. The only bit that ruins the Switch logo on the top left, with it being the largest logo on the box. Taito’s and CERO logos at the bottom are perfectly sized in order not to mess with the layout, but the Switch logo just hits your face. It’s a box front, and the back’s as you’d expect it to be. The layout’s nice, uses some of the game graphics and rather than trying to sell the game with overtly just vomiting text, the graphics are there to sell the package. They do that nicely. The usual required legalese at the bottom doesn’t interfere with the rest, as it functions like a some sort  pedestal for the rest of the back.

When you first open the package, you’re greeted with the miniature marquee plaques. This is an absolutely beautiful set, even if its just bunch of transparent plastic with layered printing on the back. The printing is sharp and of high quality. Nothing less would really suffice, if we’re honest here. Most often Japanese companies don’t sacrifice quality when it comes to limited editions, and know that the perceived value gained from putting the effort into stuff like this is enormous benefit. It works, and you could attach these to anything you’d wish. There’s a not much weight to them either, so just throwing some bluetac behind them would keep ’em in place, though they’d truly shine if you had something to light them from behind.

After lifting the plaques and two spacer sheets around out, the main book of the package reveals itself. Darius Odysseys have always been great source material books with some slight change in emphasize, with the previous Dariusburst collections emphasizing on listing enemies. This time we have emphasize on production, both the actual cabinets, prototype artwork to layout the screen scenes, packaging scans, preliminary sketches and all the that good stuff yours truly loves to see. Hell, even the scans for the game packaging are of great quality and highly appreciated in the wholesome box form they’re presented. It’s a nice and thick book with great production value to it. The only thing that could’ve made it better would have been hard covers. This is the kind of material we rarely see, and it’s a marvel to see production material like this.

Lifting the space the book is recessed in reveals the last bit at the bottom of the; the bog standard Switch game case and the soundtrack slot. Funnily enough, this game with two soundtracks, and only one fit inside the box. The other was just laying inside the box, but seeing that was more or less a seller’s special, it should impact on the value of the core box. It would’ve been better to use a different cover for the Limited Edition and standard edition cases, but I guess this sort of unifying look to the whole package has its benefits too.

A package like this really lives through prestige. Most of it is sturdy, can take a hit or two just fine, just like the rest of the boxes like it. Nothing’s flimsy here, not even with the spacers. It’s a bit weird that one of the two CDs, even if it was just a seller exclusive item, had not slot designed inside the box. Now it’s just floating around somewhere on my couch among all the other stuff. Still, a package design like this might be somewhat dull, but it’s extremely well thought out for multiple intended uses. If this has become the standard for limited editions in Japan, guess this is the golden standard we should compare the rest of the gaming packaging we come across in the future.

 

Short series introduction; R-Type

R-Type is a name that should be associated with two things; fine tuned game play and absolutely terrific level of challenge. Next to Konami’s Gradius, R-Type can be argued to be the second pillar of mid-80’s shooting game, the generation that grew from Space Invaders. Its pace, especially compared to modern shooting games and most 1990’s titles, R-Type has a slower scrolling speed and meticulous pace that allows you to absorb the surroundings and the enemies. Secondly, the stage design and enemy positioning is extremely important to the series, as it is one of those that require the player and the designer to put their best. Unlike with Gradius, where you can remove most of the stage hazard elements and such without losing anything from the core mechanics of the game, R-Type requires them. This is due to the core mechanic and game play element that is the Force Pod, an indestructible orb that can attach to the front or back of your ship, or be launched for physical contact with the enemy or use its multiple angle weaponry to at least weaken the incoming volleys of enemies. To control the Force Pod’s position close and afar is essential, as the stages have covers and slots where you can damage and destroy enemies with relative safety, or required to position yourself with the Force Pod in order to keep yourself alive. All stage bosses are also designed to have specific method of weakness how the Force is used, often with the game’s final boss requiring to sacrifice the relative safety the Force Pod gives as a shield.

Outside this core of R-Type, giving the player the feeling of being invincible yet so easily destroyed, other universal elements in the series follow in form of standard weapon upgrades. There are three types of weapons to choose from based on colours; Red for forward directing firepower, Blue for weapons that attack in an angle and sometimes bounce around the stage’s walls and ceilings, and Yellow that functions as air-to-ground most of all, skimming across both ground and ceiling. Upgrading these weapons by collecting more coloured orbs also upgrades the size of the Force Pod. There are also Bits, a semi-Force pod like spinning additional cover that is as indestructible as the Force Pod itself, but is stationary both above and below the player’s ship. They also add to firepower by additional shots. All these power-ups are obtained through POW Armour ships that fly in the stages, and naturally choosing the right weapon for the right stage is highly important. There are also missiles of various kind, but they can only help so much, homing or not. For the first few games, player’s speed was controlled with power-ups as well, though this was later ditched when the series went full console and allowed the player to choose speed at the press of a button. All these are necessary additions to the player’s standard arsenal, which is a rather dinky pellet shooter, that can be turned into a larger charge shot. This Charge shot would later gain new forms and functions as the series goes by. All this compounds to a game where your main mission is less about clearing the screen of all life in an efficient manner with the firepower in your hands, but a game where numerous enemies are thrown at you from multiple angles in closed quarters and trying to survive.

To further understand the series’ popularity despite its low number of entries and effective franchise death with R-Type Final, we have also consider the setting. While R-Type is one of those game series with effectively no bad game in the series, discounting some ports and modifications, the series’ end followed two trends; the death of shooting game genre as a whole in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s as consumer interests moved to other genres after the last vestiges of the arcades were lost to time, and to the parent company’s, IREM’s, falling sales within video game development and publication. In 2011, after the Touhoku Earthquake, IREM effectively stopped video game development and reorganised itself into dedicated pachinko and pachislot company with little other side business. Most of the game staff effectively moved out to create their own independent game company named Granzella, which for example finished Zettai Zetsumei Toshi 4 Plus: Summer Memories that IREM put into ice back in 2011 and are now in charge of developing a new entry for the series with R-Type Final 2. 

We’ll cover the main games in the series, skipping compilations and ports, though the important ones will be mentioned. For now, let’s cast our eyes back to 1987.

I’ve wanted this flyer since forever

When discussing games series with no real weaknesses in entries, R-Type sets an extremely high bar. For its time, and even now, the visual flavour is nothing short of terrific, and even terrifying. While the game’s first stage is a rather drab standard space shooting game stage, the iconic boss Dobkerators, as seen on the flyer on the left, waves its tail while the player slowly creeps in. It is clearly inspired by H.R. Giger’s Alien fame Xenomorph, and the series’ base point of mixing biological and technological points spins itself off from here to somewhat unique direction, albeit something that was relatively common and even popular in the 1990’s Japanese pop-culture. Nothing really makes this point hit home like the second stage, where the first things you see are glass vats filled with something biological, while the ground and ceiling are composed of various creature body parts, mouths, teeth, glowing eyes, flesh, ribs, exposed organs and electronic cables. Live things attack you from these parts, while something that looks like orange flying eyes swim at you en masse. At times fleshy flowers rise from below and above, releasing mushroom-like creatures with green brains and pink tentacles. At the end of the stage, a biomechanical worm with head at each end swims through the screen and leads you to the second boss of the game, Gomander. If we take the Xenomporph, and to some extent Dobkeratops, presenting the fear of rape with all the dick imaginary they have going on, Gomander follows the same line of thinking, being a massive construct of vaginas with protrusions coming out of it, all the while the aforementioned mechanical worm, Outslay, swims in and out while attacking the player. Gomander’s weak spot at the very top, a pearly blue eye among all that pink flesh, that only on occasion reveals itself.

Gomander, another recurring boss in the series

All this is by design, as the series’s antagonist, the Bydo, are a combination of technology and organics, capable of integrating themselves or object into their own being. This makes the third stage in R-Type an interesting battle, as the whole stage is dedicated to a single enemy; a giant battleship. Other shooting games would later adopt this concept, like Darius. Here, the scrolling stage has no other enemies but a large vessel that simply flies near ground and ceiling, constantly shooting at the player and moving up and down. Much like other bosses, it reveals its fleshy weak spot only for a moment. It breaks the monotony of shooting games quite well, better than Gradius’ speed-up zones. The fourth stage ups the ante further, making the environment itself the enemy as enemies weave a green substance the player is required to destroy in order to advance. It would be an easier stage if there weren’t all the other enemy units appearing every which way and trying to shoot the player down.

The rest of the game’s four stages alternate between clear themes of flesh and technology, with sixth stage being a Transport System with electronics inspired background and music, which leads to a City Ruins and ultimately to the heart of the Bydo Empire. All of the stages have their own gimmick that the player has to be aware of, be it enemies that transport materials across the screen or semi-invisible small crafts that fly while a pair of centipedes go around and litter the screen with body parts when shot. The amount of design and care that went into these eight stages doesn’t only make the game rather lengthy, but it makes R-Type stand apart from its contemporaries to a significant degree. While its sound is rather tinny and no tunes really ever became iconic outside the first stage. They’re rather mundane, but work as standard background music. You might find yourself humming the boss battle tune though, mostly because it is so mundane, generic and short. Everything else on the sound department is stellar though.

R-Type was ported to a large number of systems, except the NES. It has a superb PC Engine and Master System port (which was ported by Compile of all people), and mostly never saw NES port due to Nintendo demanding developers to make their NES ports significantly different from other versions. R-Type is one of those few almost perfect games that you can’t really expand or mess with without losing the cohesive whole, unlike what Capcom could do with e.g. Section-Z and their other enhanced arcade-to-NES ports. R-Type doesn’t really bend itself to that.

Remember; when you fight against Subatom at the end of the first stage, shoot its “head” off for something familiar

As much as R-Type was a hit and an extremely significant entry not just in shooting games, but in general video game history overall with its sheer level of design and presentation, 1989’s R-Type II falls flat. While it is more of the same, it is more of the same. If R-Type was a massive success how it stood apart from the rest of the shooters, the second entry in the series mucks itself down by effectively being designed and published to be a sort of master’s version of the first game, intended for those who found the first game too easy and lacking in parts. While the game runs on the same arcade hardware as the first one, the graphics are arguably better with more detailed and interesting spritework, but at the same time everything has a white and beige colours to them and none of the intended colours in the stages pop out at all. Visually R-Type II is a very drab experience,

There are few new things that try to make the game stand apart from its massive predecessor. First, there are new weapon choices, adding two new Las Crystal; Grey for a shotgun effect, and Green, which shoots a beam that turns  45-degrees to hit the closes enemy. While Grey’s shotgun effect sounds fun to use, it ultimately doesn’t work as the enemy placement and stage designs lack any of the touch the first game had. Player could now charge their standard weapon longer, which allowed them to use a wider charge shot effect. Scatter Missile became optional as well next to the first game’s homing, but the fact that they just drop in a 45-degree angle and explode on the ground doesn’t get much used.

Credit where credit is due, the game does have some good moments and elements that would see better use in later games. While the first stage is effectively a repeat of R-Type‘s first stage, the second stage is half submerged with water with an interesting effect here and there. Third stage re-uses the battleship stage design from the first game as well, but this time you fight two of them. Music has a bit more bite to it, but again nothing to write home about.

R-Type II saw less home ports, and even its main console port Super R-Type is a remixed version, with arguably better sound, but due to SNES being shit for fast games, the game’s filled with slowdowns. Furthermore, it was made just stupidly hard by removing all the mid-stage checkpoints. After this, both R-Type and R-Type II have been bundled together as one package in mos cases, mainly in 1998’s R-Types for the PlayStation and latest being R-Type Dimensions. The main reason really why these two get lumped together really is because they’re more of the same, and the second game is a nice add-on next to the first game. It’s not exactly a title you’d want to specifically look for separately, but as a sort of duology the two work together just fine.

Ultimately, the game isn’t really bad, it’s just disappointing, especially in retrospective when we consider the rest of the series.

R-Type Leo (1992) is probably the most player friendly entry in the series, mostly because it doesn’t really play like R-Type game should. It was developed by Nanao, IREM’s parent company. R-Type Leo was title given to an unknown game in development for name recognition, and can be considered bit of a retcon. Thus, it lacks some of R-Type elements seen in the two previous games, mainly the Force Pod and the necessary field design. Visual design is cleaner with less dicks and vagoos around, as the enemy is not stated to be Bydo. The game is a prequel to R-Type II and is set on a planet called Eden, where a bio-computer goes haywire and begins to attack humanity on the planet with its own defence system. Game’s ending states that Paradise Plan was to create a quasi-mechanical Earth by using said bio-computer, the Major. Something went wrong, and the R-9 Leo was thrown in to effectively destroy the whole planet. The cause why Major went haywire is unknown, but considering this is part of R-Type we can infer that the Bydo infiltrated Major’s systems. A good reason to exterminatus a planet.

With Force Pod gone, the game’s main gimmick is with the Bit Devices; a pair of floating orbs that add to firepower, with them swinging towards front or back depending player’s movement. They also function as the game’s charge weapon of sorts. When used, these two Bits would fly out in an overcharged state and cause damage to the enemy as long they were in contact with it and depleting a gauge. If the player summons them back before the gauge is empty, they’ll do it promptly and begin the gauge recovers faster. If they’re allowed to spend all of the gauge, they’ll slowly slump back towards the player. It has a similar three-coloured power-up system to the rest of the series, but one capsule cycles through all colours, making picking up a specific weapon faster and easier. There’s also a co-op mode, first for the series and a very welcome one at that.

In terms of visual design, R-Type Leo is the opposite of drab colours of its predecessor. Leo may run at a lower resolution, but the amount of colours makes the game beautiful. Even if stage designs aren’t exactly inspired and stage hazards are non-existent, the fact that the game looks vibrant and simply looks damn good makes it stand out even with its contemporaries to some extent. Stages themselves run the usual course of desert-forest-space-cave theming you see everywhere, but they’re nice to look at. Enemies may be a bit hit or miss, but bosses have more care. Of course, the R-Type inspired gameplay is solid, it is what you’d expect.

The sound is terrific as well, with sound effects having a good hard hitting edge. Music is very different, mellower at places and upbet in others. It’s a far cry from the previous games and especially the first stage’s theme is absolutely fantastic just to chill to. I admit I have a full blown bias for the song, and it wouldn’t really work in the rest of the series as it becomes more and more gruesome and depressing as it goes on.

It’s a great swan song for the series in the arcades, as from hereon the series would only see home and portable console releases.

It should be noted IREM has a similar loosely connected Science-Fiction universe as Toho had during Showa, where many movies had similar overall motifs and character criss-crossing about. IREM had multiple games that were loosely part of R-Type’s continuity, retroactively or not. These included titles like 1998’s Image Fight and 1991’s Armed Police Unit Gallop. Even games like 1992 Undercover Cops and 1993’s Perfect Soldiers would see some lose connections to IREM’s SF setting.

R-Type III: The Third Lighting is a game that gets a lot of love and hype. Hitting the SNES in 1993, it was developed by IREM’s subsidiary Tamtex, who also handled titles like Metal Storm. Despite R-Type’s development changing hands again, this is probably the best entry in the series thus far, making use of what a game on a console can offer without losing any of the hard-hitting arcade elements that made the first game so phenomenal. Unlike R-Type II, this third entry takes care to bring colour to the game similar how Leo did, but with the same emphasize of stage design as the first game. Second stage is probably a good example how this game challenges the player, showcasing a cave filled with biological elements, acid dropping from the ceiling and eating away floors the player too can at times must destroy in order to advance. Third stage throws in some vertically scrolling sections, which forces the player to adapt a different kind of approach. The stage’s mid-boss is fought in one of these sections. Stage hazards have upped the ante further with flowing magma, huge pressing machines with only few safe spots and spinning obstacles you can’t destroy. Hell, even backwards scrolling is used for a good effect. Maneuvering through these stages is even more challenging than previously, especially with the enemies around, but the game has taken all this into notion and allows the player some new options.

The largest change in player’s selection of weapons comes in form of multiple Force Pod types to choose from. You have the Standard Force, the same piece of equipment from the two first games and is recommended for series veterans. Second option the Shadow Force, which gains a small satellite with each power-up for additional firepower. Its Red Laser Crystal shoots a reverse laser, in which it shoots a beam above and below the fighter straight back. It’s Blue variant shoots two lasers forwards, but each of the satellite shoots to the opposite direction the player has been moving. The Yellow laser shoots two bits forwards, and one above and below, which then skim the surfaces. Third option is the Cyclone Force, a Force with no metallic bits to it. It’s fame is the ability to spin like death dervish for extra damage on impact, hence the name. Its laser options more or less standard, with Red having an arrow shape forwards, Blue having a scattershot effect and Yellow setting a sort of timed bomb you can only have two on screen. Furthermore, the Charge system was overhauled. You can have the usual charged shot, a large one at that , but also enter a Hyper Mode that shoots slightly smaller shots in rapid fire. Both have their use and do more damage than any other weapon in the game, outside the constant damage of the Force Pods. After using the Hyper Mode, the weapon needs to cool down, but in principle you could just spam it, if it would be beneficial.

The music’s the best the series has seen since Leo. While still lacking some of the ear worms you’d want, some old tunes are re-used and all the new ones are simply great. They fit, they drive, they scare and most of all it feels like R-Type soundtrack should. The only problem is that the music is on the SNES, where it sounds like the samples are compressed to hell and played back from an empty tunnel.

Technically the game’s sound, there aren’t really much slowdowns to go around and different display modes have been used for good effect. This is one of those titles on the SNES that uses Mode 7 for a good effect rather than trying to be retarded with it. A lot of visuals pop up nicely, and the mix of organic and technological visualscapes returns with a revenge. All this really makes the game one of the best shooting games on the system next Super Aleste. That’s not much of an honour, seeing SNES’ shooting games were rather poor compared to Mega Drive’s and PC Engines. However, it is one of the best shooting games to date, and that honour doesn’t come easy. It is pretty good starting point for the series, if you’re wondering what to play first. Just skip the GBA port.

 

1998 saw what fans call the best entry in the series; R-Type Delta. It’s somewhat hard to argue against this, as it also serves as a breaking point in the series. Thus far the games have been relatively light in tone despite the visual gruesome stuff and design all over the place. Outside the white drabbiness of R-Type II, things have been pretty colourful too in a good way. Then you have R-Type Delta that reminded the players that what they’re fighting against is effectively cosmic horrors that are able to invade the very human soul and corrupt it. Delta is a dark and depressing game, putting more emphasize on the nature of the Bydo in the same vain as the first game.

There are few major changes to the game once more, first being that the whole thing is now in 3D. With the arcades collapsing after the mid-1990’s, many genres tried to find a new home elsewhere. Street Fighter effectively died and people played Guilty Gear X. Whatever decision lead into making R-Type Delta resulted into a prime example how to take a 2D game and turn it into 3D. While visually its not the top cast to some other PlayStation shooting games, the sheer amount of attention put into new enemies and bosses is nothing short of impressive. None of the stages feel old or recycled from previous titles either, but you do notice certain cues taken from previous games. Underwater sections return from R-Type II to an insanely good effect, with specific challenges and enemies designed just for these sections making their appearance. You even battle a huge walking mechanical menace for one stage, another take on the battleship-as-a-stage concept from the first game. Hell, you might even revisit some familiar landscapes in a completely different form the closer you get to the game’s end in Bydo Dimension. Despite having some of the best stages in the franchise overall, veterans might find some of the elements tiresome already.

Enemies overall have more disturbing look to them, with designs looking back less to Giger and more late 1990’s biomechanical horrors. There’s more splatter, enemies don’t just explode but also visibly bleed as you shoot them. The juxtapose between player’s no-nonsense design compared to some of the convoluted mechanical designs of the Bydo shine, when you remember that this is a life that can simply take over matter to itself. Machines that walk suddenly make more sense. Presentation is top notch too, with GUI being simple but effective, each menu and mid-stage screen conveying the same kind of seriously damaged atmosphere.

Considering R-Type Delta takes place soon after the original game, making it a prequel to R-Type II, these vials make more sense

Delta takes some cues from R-Type III, but instead of allowing the player to choose from Force Pods, the player can choose from three different R-Series crafts, and there’s a POW Armour as a hidden fourth ship as well. You have a standard ship that plays like the R-9 Arrowhead from the first game, the R-9A2 Delta. The second, RX, later renamed as RX-10 Albatross, is visually slightly fattier ship with a Shock Wave Cannon, a charge shot that causes a localised explosion of sorts. Its Force Pod is named Tentacle Force, with straight laser beam being its Red laser. When moved, the tentacles of the Force Bit opens and makes the laser beam wider than the ship. Blue laser similarly shoots a pair of straight beams, but when moved forwards the tentacles open and the beams shoot in an angle. Yellow laser gives a sort of extensions to the Force, which move back and forth as the ship moves. R-13A Cerberus is 1990’s black repaint with red trims. Its Charge Shot is a homing lighting strike, which comes in handy in many ways with all the enemies flying about. It has the Anchor Force, which can anchor into the enemy until it dies. Its Red Laser produces a single steady beam that leaves a shade that causes damage as well. Blue offers a familiar blue lasers that turn 45-degrees with a homing function. Yellow has a 180-sweeping beam, from down to up. Not really as damaging, unless you’re close enough to have the whole sweep hit the target.

As a universal addon to all player crafts, there’s the Delta weapon; a screen clearing super bomb that can only be used with a Force Pod. The series has steered away from the usual bomb mechanics that became popular after Tatsujin showcased it, yet Delta Weapon isn’t exactly that sort of last resort weapon. Instead, you have to collect a full Dose meter of it by absorbing enemy shots with the Force Pod, or have the Force Pod be in contact with the enemy. Because of this method of collecting a full Dose requires different approach and you’re never just outright awarded with it, its usage is relatively rare. The series’ design doesn’t really gain anything from it though, so its existence is one of the weaker parts of the game. Still, nice to have it anyway, just in case.

The music in R-Type Delta is interesting. The soundtrack was by Unlimited Sound Project, a team very few has every heard of. Their electronica score for the game is rather cinematic, specifically fit for the stages and are not any longer than what the stages are. You know when stage ends and so does the song. This means when you continue in the middle of a stage, the stage’s background music will continue from that spot as well rather than looping at the beginning. It’s a very atmospheric at places, very pumping at places like the game’s image song, but also extremely haunting in the last stage of the game. A far cry from the previous entries, even Leo’s, but works very well for the game. Hell, even outside the game the soundtrack works just fine.

Delta‘s visuals and soundtrack re-defined the series. It refined how to use horror with the Bydo, something that would later make an appearance in ‘final’ game.

For numerous years, R-Type FINAL was the last entry in the series. Sadly, in 2003 the shooting genre was more or less dead and arcades were just a memory. Japan had moved away their last bits away from NEC’s PCs and Sega had killed the Dreamcast. FINAL was made to be the final entry in the series, but it doesn’t deliver as much as you’d expect. If one would be generous, it could be described as Delta with more stages and ships. However, sadly FINAL’s stage design is rather lacklustre, with less delicate design decisions and more concentrating on setting pieces. The music follows in suit, insisting on setting the mood like a modern Super Hero movie instead of making memorable tunes or the like. It’s backround wash, elevator music at best. If you’ve played R-Type game, you’ve played this, with one exception; 101 ships to choose from.

FINAL takes Third Lighting’s and Delta’s options to their natural end by allowing the player to unlock and choose 101 ships to use, 12 Bit Device to add, 53 Force Pods to equip, 10 types of missiles to launch and 83 different Wave Cannons to charge. There are also wide variety of Delta weapons, but they’re ship related and have the same screen clearing effect. As you’d expect, there are some overlap within each category, yet the sheer amount of options and ways to approach the game is impressive. No other shooting game, or many other games overall, have this extensive selection of options. It will also take some time to unlock all these ships, as they require certain amount of flight time with each of the ships or certain ships taken into particular stages. Some of the ships are more or less joke ships, but that’s minority at best. Some reference and retrospectively tie a lot of IREM’s old shooting games into the R-Type continuity, making that whole IREM SF setting I mentioned earlier.

All this of course also means a lot of weapons behave completely differently from previous entries, and it’s great to test and see what things can do. The last two ships, R-100 and R-101, are ships that can equip any and all equipment, allowing the player to make their own kind combination. An interesting feature in unlocking the ships relates to the PS2’s internal clock, where each unlocked ships uses the real date, but adds 160 years to set it in-universe link to reality.

Despite the stages having somewhat lacklustre design overall, there is a system of alternative routes in play. Not exactly the first for a shooting game, and its usage is rather lacklustre, but throws an interesting punch how you want to tackle the game in your current run, and next time. In second stage’s boss you are able to see two rods, red and blue. By shooting one or the other, you will either dry up the stage or fill it with more water. This can lead a lush forest like stage to become completely submerged and even frozen, or alternatively make it a desolate wasteland next time you play the stage. If you take a specific ship to the third stage, you’ll jump into a hidden stage that was seen in Delta to see a familiar face, further unlocking ships. The final stages also split into three paths, depending where you want to go and what ending to get. One will see a rather normal ending, where the player’s ship is damaged in a void after defeating the Bydo, another sees the player become a Bydo ship and fight the humans, and third is time travel forwards to stop the creation of the Bydo.

There is also few new additions for the series, like Score Attack mode, which amounts to replaying stages you’ve unlocked, and an A.I Battle mode, where you can equip two ships and watch them fight each other to determine a victory.

R-Type FINAL was a massive send-off to the series, and despite its failings and shortcomings, it is an admirable effort.

R-Type Tactics, or Command if you’re American, is effectively a sort of reboot or re-imagining of the series. As the name implies, gone are the days of shooting, we are in for a serious, story driven strategy that’s honestly stupidly difficult, even more so than the R-Type ever was as a shooting game. Released for PSP in 2007 in Japan, the game didn’t really sell all that well in either Overseas market or in its home market.

If you’re into a hex-grid based fleet-to-fleet strategy with a challenge, this game is for you. It has a slow, meticulous pace that many found a detriment, especially when battle sequences had to load the animations from the UMD. Someone once compared its pacing to a real board game, and I would agree to that. Depending on the size of the stage, and the amount of units in play, a single stage can take up to hour or more if you’re not perfect in your play. 58 stages worth of content also means that this game will take a good chunk out of you.

Main feature are R-Type staples at this point; Force Bit, various kind of weapons, the Bydo and the sheer amount of units directly lifted from FINAL. The narrative plays a large part, as it explores the human Space Corps side of the war, until you unlock the Bydo Empire side and move back against the humans.

Rather than try to explain how the gameplay flows with tons of text, I’d recommend checking SiegfreidZ’s Let’s Play of the game. You can also check the manual Atlus still has up.

A sequel, R-Type Tactics II: Operation Bitter Chocolate was released for PSP in 2009 and never left Japan despite plans otherwise. I guess the low sales affected. It’s one of the more expensive PSP titles that there is, especially if you’re after the soundtrack limited edition package.

The game offers more of the same, a series tradition. It doesn’t exactly rework the orthodox space strategy the first game established, but there are some fine tuned bits here and there. The maps have been expanded as well, and some stages have massive space stations as objects. There is also an additional faction of humans, as the story is centered around conflict within humanity while the Bydo are looming about.

That’s about what I can say about these two, they’re strategy games with varying levels of quality, and mostly for the fans of the series and those who really like strategy games. Both of these games expand the lore in massive leaps, even introducing a new alien civilisation to the game’s setting, as well as exploring more about the reasons why the Bydo attack humanity.

 

 

I haven’t mentioned much about the setting, the Bydo or anything about them, but they are one of the many reasons the games are loved. While the first game in the series doesn’t indulge into t story outside the few sentences here and there, It Begins In Deep Space Warped by Evil Power and the game’s title screen telling the player to Blast off and Strike the Evil Bydo Empire!, the Bydo are not examined or expanded upon until later in the series. For the first game, they appear as utterly evil, horrific creatures that simply continue to assault the player and through him, humanity at large. Later games make a specific point that the player craft, the R-9 Arrowhead, is sent as a lone fighter in a desperate attempt to create a pin-point assault at the core of the Bydo Empire in a way a a fleet could not.

As the opening of R-Types states, in the beginning of the 22nd Century, humanity was at peace. Then, the Bydo appeared, ravaging every planet in their path until they arrived at Earth. They act like parasites to all life forms, minerals and technology, able to assimilated them into their own being. The Bydo are, in fact, a man-made weapon from 2501 AD, from time when humanity was in an interstellar war with an unknown civilisation. The Bydo were made to be a self-replicating creatures using at least parts of human DNA, giving them the same double-helix structure. They have physical mass, yet exhibit properties of wave. A Bydo’s body can diffuse easily, and fill any space it meets, taking over it, converting it and becoming a weapon. While humanity was ready to send the Bydo against their enemy, a miscalculation with the delivery vessel caused them to become active within our solar system, and were dumped into a dimensional void. There the Bydo lived for eons on end, evolving and changing, until they were at the point where they could break dimensional barriers and return. However, they emerged back into our dimension before their birth.

The Wave Cannon can decimate Bydo at their atomic level, as it was originally designed to destroy meteors and other stellar object through harmonics. A Wave Cannon was found to be the only real weapon able to destroy the Bydo. That, and the Force Pod. Force Pod is selective grown Bydo tissue held in stasis with control rods. This gives the Force Pod its adaptability, durability and ability to grow. Were the control rods damaged, the Force Pod could simply become an active Bydo in itself. Many of the games’ ships have something to do how to control or interact with the Force Pod, with some creating psychic link with the Force Pod. This is also why most of games’ climaxes have the player sacrificing the Force Pod; fight monsters, with monsters.

However, the Tactics shed more light how Bydo think. All the Bydo campaigns are done with the player’s human side characters, as they are absorbed, and converted into Bydo themselves. R-Type FINAL has a descriptive log entry from a pilot who was, or was about to me, assimilated; Familiar faces, familiar places, but why? The Bydo can interact and consume human thought, and ultimately only core elements and drives seem to direct their actions. They’re made into weapons, and as weapons they shall act. At the end of Tactics, the Bydo captain simply wished to return home, but not recognising it anymore. His fleet simply loomed over Earth. Perhaps the Bydo, at their core, simply wish to return home after so long, but are twisted and out of time to recognise past Earth. If they’re even the weapon that humanity created. At the final stages of Operation Bitter Chocolate, the Bydo are absolutely terrified against a new faction under the Solar Envoy, which simply can slice and carve the Bydo without any harm, then recycle and spew new Bydo under its control. Perhaps the Solar Envoy was the real weapon humanity made, and the Bydo are simply its “bullets.” Nevertheless, FINAL  hints that the creation of the Bydo was based on the Force Pod the player takes into the future in order to stop their creation, creating a self proofing time loop.

Whatever the Bydo’s true nature is, the games’ visuals make most sense when we take these into notion. Human sexuality plays a large role in the Bydo design, from the usual Giger-eaque designs to flying sperms as enemies, or in case of FINAL, a silhouette of man and woman having sex. Hell, the Bydo are less produced as much as they are birthed. Combination of steel and flesh is what the Bydo are.

As for where the series name comes from, that’s the R-Series, or Round Canopy Series, the ships the player uses.

The series isn’t over yet, as R-Type FINAL 2 is just above the horizon, hopefully bringing the series back to its shooting roots with glory.

Music of the Month; 3-2-1 Let’ Go

So, here we are, more than a decade since the last proper R-Type game that wasn’t driven by plot and tactics, and R-Type Final 2 has been announced. Seeing that there are a whole generation who seem to have missed the franchise as a whole, I’ll be giving it a similar short introduction post in the same manner I did for Aleste. The death of the shooting genre might be two decades old, but when a venerable name like this steps back into the field, a name that once wrestled in the same class as Super Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, Gradius, 1984,  and other heavy hitters, it should be noted. R-Type returns to its roots, even if for one title. More can’t be asked for. More on that when the post proper gets made.

As for posts that should or should not be made, I know work is a constant and recurring excuse I give out on being either late or simply not having time to do proper research for the longer posts I was so keen to make, but I have to resort to that once more. Sadly (gladly?) our production got ramped up by a notch again, meaning work needs to be done and yours truly is there to meet the quota. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise. Then again, I will have that full four weeks of summer vacation, all of which I can spend inside and write and scan stuff that I’ve missed. Like last week. Last weekend was a mess, as I was supposed to go out of town, but got sick thanks to cold nights with fever and all, and in the end couldn’t do jack shit. I’ll be doing double duty this weekend to balance things up, though I’m more and more convinced I’d need someone else on this blog to ensure content production keeps up in the schedule, but very few people are willing to do stuff like this out of joy of it all. Topics for those are already lined up, and interestingly both of them are shooting game related. Well, the above should give some strong hints on what the other will be.

I’ve put the third post about scanning on hold for now, as I need to track down some nice old games related magazine to scan, but it can’t really be any magazine. It needs to be from around the mid-90’s and of certain kind. A high-end publication won’t do, so I might try to find my old mag that covered Spaceworld 1996. I remember that being in a very busted condition and the overall paper quality being of semi-decent kind. It might be lost to time at this point, but I can always track down something else. Might be worth tracking down a random 90’s Japanese gaming magazine instead for record keeping. I’ve also asked a Youtube for his view on the matter for a third party view, and we’ll see if either of us remember to say about that when I get my hands on whatever magazine it ends up being.

Enjoy the music piece, and please remember to sharpen, hone and oil your knives now that a new month as kicked itself into a higher gear again. A sharper knife doesn’t just mean better cutting, but also safer cooking. A blunt knife slips and rips more easily, and is danger to all.