R-Type III marks the first entry in the series to be developed specifically for a home console. It was also the last SNES shoot ‘em up to receive a North American release way back in 1994. By designing this sequel specifically for the SNES hardware, was developer Irem able to fix the slowdown and balance issues that plagued Super R-Type? Read on to find out!
The title screen says, “Blast off and strike the evil Bydo Empire” and that’s enough motivation for me! I hope it’s enough for you, because it’s about all the story you’ll be getting (in-game anyways). Let’s move on to what shmups are really all about; the gameplay.
R-Type III is a horizontal shmup that oozes with the series’ signature style of slow, methodical scrolling with a heavy emphasis on player memorization. Irem also made some significant additions to the R-Type formula to keep things feeling fresh.
Right off the bat, R-Type III offers its most exciting new addition; the option to select one of three different Force pods before the first stage even starts. Each of these Force devices can be attached to the front or back of the player ship to act as a shield for incoming bullets, or sent out as a satellite to deal extra damage. The classic R-Type Force pod (now called the Round Force) returns with its familiar assortment of air-to-air, air-to-ground and reflecting lasers upgrades. New to the series are the Shadow and Cyclone Force pods. The Shadow Force gains a pair of rotating turrets that fire in the opposite direction of the player’s last movement. The Cyclone Force does not fire when detached from the ship, but instead grows a large Saturn-like ring that deals heavy damage to any enemy it comes into contact with. Better still, it can be pulled towards or pushed away from your ship while it is detached, allowing for some neat player strategy. Each of the new Force pods also have their own unique laser upgrades, making the game feel wholly different depending on which Force pod you select. My only complaint with having multiple Force Pods is that you can’t select a new one between levels or after continuing from a game over.
In addition to the aforementioned laser upgrades, the player can collect speed upgrades, missiles and floating “bits” that shield the top and bottom of your ship. Rounding out your arsenal is a standard shot, which can be fired rapidly or charged-up. The standard charge-shot the series is famous for is still available, but the player now has the option of using a charged “hyper” beam. When charged, the hyper beam allows you to rapidly fire powerful shots for a short period of time. To balance this out, the hyper beam quickly overheats and must be cooled off before it can be used again.
With such awesome firepower at your disposal, the Bydo empire must not stand a chance right? Well, no. R-Type III is extremely difficult. If you take a single hit, you lose a life and are sent right back to the last checkpoint you managed to scrape your way to. That’s right, each of the game’s 6 stages is filled with multiple checkpoints and getting to the next one feels almost like an entire level in and of itself. That’s because R-Type III throws everything from environmental hazards to enemies that spawn in all directions in your path between each checkpoint. For the first time player, this quickly becomes overwhelming. However, with repeat playthroughs, what once felt impossible soon becomes manageable and even exhilarating.
And therein lies the beauty of R-Type III; this game will beat you down and have you coming back, even begging, for more. Each death feels like it’s your fault and every obstacle, no matter how daunting, feels passable. By giving the player unlimited continues and with each continue starting you from the last checkpoint you’ve reached, Irem has allowed the player to retain every inch of hard fought progress while still punishing them relentlessly with new obstacles to be learnt and overcome. This brilliant mix of tough-yet-fair gameplay allows for a game with roughly 30-minutes of unique content to be fun for hours and hours of repeat playthroughs of small, incremental progress.
R-Type III boasts a fantastic variety between its stages. During your assault on the Bydo Empire, you’ll dodge flying space-debris, navigate rotating tunnels, flee from lava-filled tubes and avoid acid-dripping ceilings while fighting off an army of mechanical and organic baddies. This variety extends to the boss battles as well, with each screen-filling end boss offering a unique challenge. As a neat throwback to the earlier entries in the series, some of the bosses from the first R-Type game have returned for a rematch.
Tying the whole package together is the fantastic, near perfect controls. Your ship handles extremely responsively, which means you can handle everything the game throws at you, provided you’ve got the right strategy and fast reflexes.
It’s also worth mentioning that R-Type III features an alternating two-player mode. While this is a cool addition, those looking for a two-player shmup experience would probably be better served by SNES shmups that feature a simultaneous two-player mode, such as Darius Twin or Firepower 2000.
R-Type III is a late SNES release and it shows. The game features some of the most gorgeous sprites you’ll see in any 16-bit action game. Both the player ship and enemies are large and highly detailed. R-Type’s signature style of organic monstrosities coupled with mechanical spacecraft really shines through here. The only knock I have against the graphics are that some of the stage backgrounds are a little sparse.
The slowdown that plagued Super R-Type has been all but eliminated. Minor slowdown does creep in on rare occasions, but for the most part the game maintains a smooth frame rate throughout.
Aurally; the game is a real treat, featuring a high energy, rock inspired soundtrack that is quite unique for the genre. The standout track to me is the first level’s heavy metal remix of the original R-Type’s intro stage music.
In addition to the top-notch graphics and sound, R-Type III also makes use of the SNES’ scaling and Mode-7 capabilities quite well.
R-Type III looks and sounds great, plays like a dream and isn’t afraid to beat you into the ground. With its brilliant use of mid-level checkpoints and unlimited continues, Irem has crafted a game that will have you coming back again and again, despite its crushing difficulty. More than any other game I have ever played, R-Type III just nails the perfect balance between extreme difficulty and low frustration. It’s my personal favourite shmup for the system and comes highly recommended.
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