While the Super Nintendo library has a big variety of quality titles, one well-known weakness is the shooter genre (also known as a shoot ‘em up or shmup). Shmups were most popular in the early ‘90s, right around when the SNES was launching. As a result, the SNES had no shortage of shmups in its early days. Unfortunately, the SNES’ relatively slow processor speed, coupled with developer inexperience with the new hardware, resulted in many early SNES shmups suffering from some serious slowdown.
What does this have to do with Super R-Type? Well Super R-Type is an early SNES shooter, developed and published by Irem in 1991. It’s also a title in the venerable R-Type series, one of the most polished and popular series of horizontally scrolling shooters.The game itself is a hybrid of R-Type 2 with some SNES exclusive levels (7 levels in all). Does Super R-Type avoid the slowdown that plagued so many early SNES shmups? Read on to find out!
Super R-Type is a horizontal shmup, meaning the background automatically scrolls horizontally forward. Like most shmups, the game has one-hit kills and a preset enemy pattern. Memorizing the latter is the key to avoiding the former!
What sets the R-Type series apart from other horizontal shooters like Gradius and Darius? Well, the series is known for having two main gimmicks. Firstly, you have the ability to charge your beam by holding down the fire button. The beam can be charged to 100% and 200% levels. Unfortunately, the 200% charge only lasts for a brief moment, after which the charge gauge reverts back to 100% and slowly begins to build back up to 200%. This mechanic makes it unnecessarily difficult to use 200% charged shots as part of your ongoing strategy.
The other gimmick present in the R-Type series is the indestructible Force Pod power-up. This instrument of war is a small, indestructible drone that can be affixed to the front or back of the ship or sent out on its own. When attached to the ship, it will absorb most types of enemy shots, acting as shield to the player. Better still, the Force Pod allows you to fire lasers when attached to the ship, provided that you have collected one of the four possible laser power-ups. When detached from the ship, it will shoot its own stream of bullets, provided that you are holding down the fire button. Knowing where to position your Force Pod is of the utmost importance if you want to survive in Super R-Type, making this game feel much more strategic than your average shmup.
And strategize you must, as this game is relentless in its difficulty. Like all shmups, memorization of enemy placement and patterns is crucial to get past some of the more challenging areas. There are also a number of environmental hazards, as the game will frequently have you navigating some pretty tight corridors.
Unlike most other shmups however (including other entries in the R-Type series), this game has no mid-level checkpoints. In other words, you have to complete each stage on a single life, without taking a single hit. Get hit once, and it’s back to the beginning. Unless you are playing on the easiest difficulty setting (there are four settings total), you’ll also lose all your power-ups.The game does offer unlimited continues however, so you’ll have no shortage of second chances. That said, the lack of checkpoints borders on unfair as it can be extremely frustrating to play through a level flawlessly; for example getting close to taking down the boss and ultimately having to do it all over again because you took a single hit. If you’re going to tackle this game, prepare for a lot of repetition.
The lack of checkpoints is one of two big problems with this game. The other main problem is the slowdown, which happens just about anytime the screen gets filled with enemies, obstacles and even your own weapons. This happens more often than not, resulting in the game sometimes feeling like it is being played in slow motion. To be fair, the slowdown can actually be helpful, since it gives you more time to react to danger. Nonetheless, the slowdown definitely detracts from the experience, as it becomes clear that the game isn’t able to handle what it is attempting to do.
Those who can look past these issues will find a very fun, albeit extremely difficult shmup. The game controls perfectly and while you will inevitably lament the lack of checkpoints, death ultimately feels like it was your mistake, not the game putting you in an unfair situation. R-Type plays slower than most shmups (even without the slowdown) giving you plenty of time to plan your next move (especially if you know what direction the enemy is coming from). You’ll also have plenty of firepower at your disposal, including missiles and the aforementioned charge shot, lasers and Force Pod.
The game looks great for any early SNES shmup. Both the player ship and enemy sprites are large and detailed (especially the bosses, many of which can take up the entire screen). The enemies in particular have a great style, with an interesting mix of mechanical spaceships and organic aliens. Stage backgrounds also sport a good level of detail.
The music is very well done. Most levels have a high-energy track that mixes elements of rock and techno. One small exception to this is the fourth level track, which, while still good, feels a little too upbeat and happy given what is happening on screen.
Sound effects are competent, but nothing spectacular.The enemy explosion sounds are satisfying though.
Super R-Type has the makings of a great game, but is ultimately held back by two major flaws. One of these flaws, the slowdown, is forgivable given the time the game was released. The other, the lack of checkpoints, is a baffling design choice that ultimately holds the game back from greatness.
While I had a lot of fun with the game personally, I cannot recommend it to everyone as the lack of checkpoints will be a deal-breaker to many, especially those looking to tackle the higher difficulty settings.
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