Other R-type console releases such as 1991's delicious 'R-type Complete CD' for the Japanese PCEngine, R-types for the PSOne, and R-type DX for the Game Boy Color were not forgotten, but just weren't worth mentioning as they did nothing to further the series and were basically just compilations of previous R-type games, specifically R-type 1 & 2. None of them brought forth a true update to the series so weren't really worth mentioning in the above trip down memory lane.

Fast-forward to 2003, R-type Final is the culmination of 16 years worth of shooting love from Irem. After the long, glorious voyage into the next-generation, R-type Final is here as the final chapter, closing the book on this venerable shooting series.

The controls of R-type Final consist of the usual maneuvering with the D-pad or analog stick and shooting. You can also adjust your ship's speeds with the left and right shoulder buttons of the Dual Shocks. You can adjust the speeds from Speed1 to Speed4. The pulse blast which has been a staple of the R-type series "like for - ever" returns in very fine form. There are two firing settings for your main shots. There's the automatic firing which saves you the trouble of tapping away at the fire button, but isn't useful for trying to charge up your pulse shots.

The manual firing, while slower than auto-firing, allows you to charge your shots up several levels and then unleash powerful pulse blasts that'll destroy or weaken anything that dare stand in your way. The three ships available from the start can only be charged up to two levels, the first level being the regular beam, which can wipe out a group of smaller enemy ships with one shot, holding down the button for twice as long will have the charge meter breaking past normal beam into high mode where it emits a more powerful blast that can wipe out more enemies and even kill some bosses with a single shot. Even though the default ships are limited to two charge shot levels, there are other ships you can unlock that can charge up to 3, 4, and higher levels after holding down the fire button for a month, the results being most devastating for Bydo's armada.

Other weapons of mass destruction are your ship's bombs. Unlike other shooters where a super bomb or ultra destructive special weapon is available at the press of a button, R-type Final's super bomb uses a different system in which you'll have to absorb enough enemy fire with the force devices in order to fill the bomb gauge. Once the gauge is full, you can activate the bomb and wipe out plenty of on-screen enemies and seriously injure powerful bosses.

The game supports both analog and digital controls and while the d-pad is definitely much better to use, I still feel as if the Dual Shock 2's d-pad is still pretty bad and unusable with most shooters. Unfortunately there are times when the controls tend to feel a little sluggish even at the highest speed settings as a result of the slowdown encountered in some of the levels.

To use the force device is to properly understand the mechanics behind it. The force devices are indestructible orb shaped objects that serve both offensive and defensive purposes and can be attached and detached from your ship at will.

You collect force devices and other weapon upgrades from "Alboss", the flying drones encountered throughout each level. They're harmless but can still be dangerous if you crash into them before destroying them. After destroying them, they'll release different types of power-ups that you can use to supplement your firepower and missile chamber. Normally when you first obtain a force unit from them, it's a bare bones unit that has no firing capabilities when separated from your ship, but can still be used to shield the front or rear of your ship from low level enemy fire. They can also be used to ram into smaller enemies, destroying them instantly or damage larger foes. A good rule of thumb to remember while using the force devices to shield you from enemy fire is that small bullets are easily shielded, but never try blocking lasers or energy beams of any kind as they'll just penetrate and destroy your ship.

There are multiple power-ups you can collect throughout each level. The power-ups come in red, yellow, and blue colored sphere shaped objects that can enhance your firepower up to different levels if you collect enough of them. The different colored power-ups all have their advantages and disadvantages but traditionally I've found the yellow ones to be utterly useless as they only emit surface to air beams while a force device is docked with your ship. Although useful in situations where enemies are crawling on the ceiling and floor of small spaces such as caverns, it isn't very useful against enemies heading straight at you. The blue power-ups are cool as they unleash various types of lasers, including reflective lasers that continuously bounce off of surfaces until either bouncing off screen or hitting an enemy. The red power-ups are my favorite as they unleash more focused beams that combine blue and red laser discharges

When powered-up, the force units also become highly offensive and defensive units when detached from your ship. Equipped with their own firing mechanisms when powered-up, the force units can be launched to cover either your front or your rear, clearing the path for you to make safe passage onto the approaching areas. Most of them start off with single shots and after powering up once, they're upgraded to twin shots.

When powered up to the max they're equipped with four-way shots of various kinds that can go a long way in covering you during intense battles. Even though you're not provided with complete control of the directional movements of your force units while they're detached from your ship, they'll still try to maintain parallel movements with your ship, so if you move up or down, so will your force units.

With R-type Final's enormous amount of playable ships comes a variation of Force units, each of which has their own attributes and characteristics. Most of the force units perform the same functions but a few require different play strategies than the others. While all of them can be used for defensive purposes, not all of them are readily equipped to take out an armada of enemy ships headed your way, You'll have to make use of each ship and their equipped force units wisely and try to compensensate for whatever shortcomings others ships and force units may have in order to explore every ship in the game and unlock others.

Before starting a new game you're provided with several options and modes to choose from. These include Arcade, Score Attack, and AI vs. Player. The arcade mode of course is the main play mode, so after selecting it you're taken to a hangar where you can select 1 of 3 ships, a selection process that grows immensely later on as you unlock more ships. Each of the ships have their own strengths, weaknesses, and wave cannons, so it's up to you to decide which ones are best suited for the job at hand.

What adds a little more depth to R-Type Final over most other shooters are the customization features that allow you to select different missiles types as well as orbital bit-devices. You can also change the color scheme of your ship's hull and canopy. After customizing your craft and selecting one of five difficulty settings ranging from Baby, Kids, Human, Bydo, and R-typer, you're then ready to blast off and take the fight to the Bydo Empire.

The gameplay of R-Type Final is standard 2D side-scrolling shooter fare but with 3D graphics. There are 7 stages to play through as well as a few hidden ones you can access with certain ships, adding a great deal of replay value to an already solid game. As you make your way through each level, you'll come across various power-ups that will arm your ships with homing missiles, orbital bit devices that serve as extra firepower, as well as the previously mentioned force devices.

While the gameplay remains mechanical like that of its predecessors, unfortunately it's also a lot easier. The enemies all have definitive patterns, and it doesn't take much effort to learn them and breeze right through the game. After going a few weeks without playing R-type Final, I fired it game up the other day, set it to normal difficulty and finished the entire game without losing a life or breaking a sweat. Things like that should never happen in a shooter, especially one with such a legacy. There are no screens filled with enemy bullets for you to dodge, and no risk of crashing into the ground or turning into a ball of flame after hitting a wall since you're allowed to make contact with them without any sort of penalty, which eases the tension of maneuvering through tight spaces and dealing with enemy attacks. About the only risk factor comes in if you crash into enemy ships or get trapped between an object and the scrolling, only then will you be destroyed.

Bydo doesn't really throw that much at you in R-Type Final and the few that they do throw at you are either too few and far between or just not enough. Although not a horizontal shooting game, a great example of a shooter that tosses everything and the kitchen sink at you would be Capcom's Giga Wing, where you're inundated by wave after wave of enemies. However, the boss battles are certainly something else. The strategies involved in defeating these beasts adds the only real challenge to the game but not by much. Regardless of that, some boss battles are very memorable especially due to the nostalgic value they contain. For example, like the third level of the original, the 3rd level of R-type Final pits you against a giant warship. Taking it apart piece by piece until reaching its core and destroying that in order to complete the level. A personal favorite of mine, which actually gave me goose bumps was the level 6 battle against the mechanical worm first made its appearance in the 2nd stage of the original R-type. While newcomers to the series might not understand the sentimentality and goose bump inducing nostalgia that such a moment could produce, only fans of the original can truly appreciate the homage paid to R-types of the past.

What R-type Final lacks in one area, it partially makes up for in another. While the level designs are disappointing and aren't as intricately designed or challenging as those from previous R-types, it's the cool alternate levels you can access that make's some of the levels stand out. Using certain ships and meeting the requirements to do so will thrust you into some of the alternate levels available throughout the game. You'll battle on a post apocalyptic Earth setting, a colonized Moon, Mars, and battle through the solar system until reaching the Bydo Empire. But while these levels may look and play somewhat differently, with the exception of one, they all lead up to the same end bosses you normally encounter during those levels.

After completing each level your scores are tallied and depending on how well you did you may get awarded newly unlocked ships that you can select before or after each level so you're not stuck with the same set-up throughout the entire game.

Perhaps the one area that R-type Final truly smokes ALL other shooters in is in the arsenal of ships you have at your disposal. Unlike other shooters that equip you with a single fighter ship or a small handful to choose from, R-Type Final goes all out and tosses a whopping 101 usable ships at you, each with different attributes, all of which can be customized while in the Hangar.

The advantage of having access to so many ships is that some have more extensive Wave Cannon firing capabilities than others. While most of the ships can charge their wave cannons up 2 or 3 levels, some of the more potent destroyers can charge their meters past those levels and unleash an enormous amount of destructive energy.

You start the game off with three selectable ships and after completing the game the first time around you'll unlock 26 other ships which serve as great starting points for unlocking the remaining ships in the game. Fortunately you don't have to play through the entire game with every ship in order to unlock the other ships. That can be accomplished by completing specific levels with certain ship combinations.

Unlocking the enormous arsenal of ships ties in closely with the hierarchical parent-child system in which you play through certain levels with certain ships in order to unlock others. For example, only certain ships can be used to unlock other ships within the same lineage. There are ships of various kinds that can be unlocked. All of the crafts from previous R-type games are present and accounted for as well as crafts based off of Bydo enemy designs. There are even a few ships that share similar designs to Konami's rocket shaped vessel found in their Twin Bee series. Most of the ships are clones of their parent ships with slight modifications, demonstrating the continued research performed on the R series ships. For the most part, the parent ships can unlock most of the ships in the game after meeting certain conditions. It's this type of hierarchy system that helps provide R-Type Final with an incredible amount of depth for a shooter.

If there's one thing R-type Final certainly doesn't lack, its extras. Irem apparently has gone all out with R-type Final providing fans with plenty of extras to explore. Players can access an art gallery showcasing more than 32 beautiful pieces of artwork. Most of them are great looking renders of ships from the R-type series as well as a few other Irem properties like Image Fight.

The R Museum as the name implies showcases all of the playable ships in the game, providing complete information about each ship's design and implications.

There's also an AI simulation mode, which records your performance against other ships. You can program your ship's AI script and then pit it against computer controlled AI opponents, advancing up in the AI league and eventually unlocking more ships if your fighter wins all of these bizarre looking duels.

The Tutorial mode provides you with a demonstration of how to use the force devices, special weapons, power-ups, Wave cannon, as well as utilizing the Fighter's Entry to add ships to your hangar.

Score Attack is self-explanatory, it allows you to play through individual levels while aiming to achieve the best scores. Interestingly enough, unlike the score attack of other games, R-Type Final's score attack mode equips players with a full set of lives, making it quite easy to rack up some really high scores if you're savvy enough to use up your allotted lives and replay the higher scoring sections repeatedly, milking the scoring system for all it's worth.

Graphically, R-type Final is an amazing piece of motion artwork. A lot of care apparently went into crafting some of the gorgeous backgrounds and special effects throughout the game. One look at stage 2's impressive water level should be a testament to that with its very detailed, lush backdrops containing beautifully textured vegetation ripe with organic life, it's certainly the most impressive level in the game. If you're lucky enough to play through its alternate levels you'll witness similar instances of graphical wizardry as you pilot your ship through a completely sun baked version of the same level, this time around the intense heat has completely dried everything out, including the water line.

The gorgeous light sourcing along with the haze effects do a great job of showing just how scorching the level is and if you're not careful you're liable to suffer from a heat stroke due to overexposure to it. To go from one extreme to another, you can also play through another variation of the 2nd level where you venture through a beautiful underwater environment filled with intimidating sea creatures that are well designed and animated.

Other graphical touches include the warping visual effects in the 5th level that produces an almost dizzying wave-like movement to the backgrounds as well as to all of the ships and objects appear throughout the level. Some found the effect a little irritating while I thought it added a nice distraction to what would have probably been another uneventful level. Those familiar with the background warping effects used in Space Megaforce and Thunderforce 3 won't be new to it at all.

There's plenty to be impressed with regarding R-Type Final's visual quality. The atmospheric settings throughout the game are quite detailed with limited interactivity allowing you to destroy objects such as buildings throughout the environments. Watch as falling debris litter an inhabited city below while you destroy sections of a giant heavily armed battle cruiser very reminiscent to the battle cruiser in the original. Other minute details include the cool rippling effects produced whenever your ship hovers close enough to water as well as the single and separate shadows your ships and force units cast over terrains and enemies below.

The ship and enemy designs, while nothing to shout about, features a wide selection of well-designed playable ships and barely challenging mid-bosses and end bosses. While most of the enemies aren't really that impressive looking, some really stand out, especially stage 4's horrifying, genetic monstrosity straight from the Bydo Empire's science department.

One of the best things about R-type Final are the nostalgic elements throughout the game. The battle against the third level warship is a lot like the third level of the original, and just like in R-type II, R-type Final has a water level on the second stage complete with organic life forms. The most memorable moment in the game was seeing the mechanical worm boss from the original R-type reappearing in next-gen form complete with the same mound that served as the end level boss, this time around the battle takes place within the mound itself.

The high point of the scene being when you first enter the area and the camera angle switches to an overhead view, hovering high above the mound while the worm continuously exits and reenters the mound's wormholes. Accompanied by a beautifully orchestrated track, this had to be one of the coolest moments in gaming history and in a way felt as if IREM wanted this scene to touch a chord within fans that have been with the series since the beginning.

Overall, R-type Final is a great looking game with some very polished visuals, spectacular lighting effects, solid explosions, smooth textures and plenty of details all coming together to make it one of the best looking shooters out there. If you sense a BUT coming you're correct...

Despite the graphical goodness of R-type Final, there are some glaring faults. The game is riddled with some intense slow down during certain levels, especially the third level battle against the space cruiser. As a result the controls become noticeably sluggish, and unlike the slowdown experienced in other games where it doesn't detract from the gameplay, the slowdown in R-type Final does detract from it as it also screws up the controls. Sometimes there's a bit of slowdown even when there isn't much happening onscreen, making an already slow paced game even slower.

One of the most disappointing areas of R-type Final is in the audio department. While the sound effects are actually very well done with a wide range of cool explosion sounds, enemy growls, and a few distinctive force unit sounds among others, the music however is another story.

The soundtrack of R-type Final is quite an interesting anomaly. First impressions would have the soundtrack coming off as pretty disappointing, especially when compared to the more energetic tracks of its predecessors. For the most part, the music of R-type Final felt a little too subdued throughout many of the levels, especially the first and fourth stage which were a bit too silent for my liking.

Don't worry though, the music isn't a total lost cause when it does decide to finally pick up, it picks up in grand style during a few of the remaining levels with some beautiful and slightly dramatic orchestral tracks. My personal favorite was definitely the theme accompanying the very nostalgic, overhead view of the mechanical snake scene where your ship lowers itself towards the giant wormhole as the snake exits and reenters repeatedly. A very beautiful piece of music that adds a significant amount of impact to the scene, making it one of the most memorable moments in gaming history to me.

Unfortunately the quality tracks are very few and far between as the early parts of the game are filled with atmospheric themes that sound more like lengthy sound effects that would be better suited in sci-fi horrors. The boss battle themes do an admirable job of trying to pick up the pace with upbeat techno tracks and there's a beautiful ending theme to enjoy after striking the final blow to the Bydo empire.

R-type Final is wonderful finale to a legendary series and comes highly recommended to shooter fans everywhere. Although slightly flawed in a few areas (what game isn't?), R-type Final comes complete with beautiful graphics, a few great music tracks, solid gameplay, a huge assortment of ships and bonus extras as well as a healthy dose of nostalgia sprinkled all throughout the game, providing fans with a very fitting final chapter that properly closes the book on the R-type Legacy.

Those looking to import R-type Final will be happy to know that the game is out now and import friendly to an extent. With the exception of the saving features and a few misc. descriptions, all of the other important menus are in English, making it easy to navigate around R-Type Final's rich feature set without getting lost.

R-Type hits North America on February 3, 2004 and 'Q1 2004' in Europe.

Graphics Sound Gameplay Depth Presentation OVERALL
8.2 8.0 9.0 9.0 9.5 9.0


THE VERDICT:
With R-Type Final, fans of the series have a reason to rejoice and be saddened at the same time. On one hand, it provides a very solid shooting experience from start to finish, chock full of nostalgia, beautiful graphics and great gameplay. While the level designs and challenges may not be as strong as previous entries in the series, the enormous ship count, multiple endings, alternate levels, and wealth of extra features should keep shooter fans coming back for more. Farewell R-Type and thank you for the memories!

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