When you’re taking time to consider the true greats of the shmup genre, a few names tend to crop up with alarming regularity. Darius. Gradius. Space Invaders, if you’re feeling particularly bookish. However, few shooters have had the same degree of impact that R-Type achieved when it hit arcades way back in 1987. The savvy combination of often grotesque visuals with the iconic Wave Cannon and Force Pod made for a shmup that played and felt totally different to any other – and over the years, a host of sequels have built on that reputation, right the way up to R-Type Final on the PS2, the supposed swansong for the entire franchise (not counting the turn-based R-Type Tactics / Command games on PSP, of course).
The recently-crowdfunded R-Type Final 2 proves that its PS2 predecessor wasn’t quite as final as Irem made out, and serves as the perfect companion piece to its 2003 forerunner. It’s a slow and often methodical affair, with rote memorisation as important as lightning-fast reflexes. The screen is rarely filled with bullets but you’re tasked with using the Force Pod as effectively as possible to shield yourself from incoming threats, while the Wave Cannon should be deployed carefully to ensure you’re never left vulnerable during its multi-stage charge-up time. To complicate matters, you’ll also need to use the speed setting feature (controlled by the left-hand shoulder triggers) to ensure you can navigate the often claustrophobic levels safely.
While the Unreal Engine visuals do look a little basic at times (this game’s take on R-Type’s signature ‘huge battleship’ level looks almost comically simplistic) and the music alternates from epic to slightly embarrassing (the ending theme continues the trend of amazing Japanese-made games having utterly terrible songs playing over their credits), R-Type Final 2 still manages to tick all of the boxes fans will want. It’s tough as old boots and requires many, many playthroughs before it clicks – and thankfully, there are so many ship variants to unlock that you’ll be coming back for weeks and weeks. These ships are ‘developed’ using materials gained from playing the game over and over, and while it’s disappointing that some are locked away as rewards for Kickstarter backers, the act of unlocking a new ship and then taking it out for a spin never loses its appeal.
Ultimately, R-Type Final 2 is exactly what you’d expect a sequel to R-Type Final to be like. It certainly doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel, and some may be a little underwhelmed by the fact that it lacks any massive gameplay changes from previous instalments in the franchise. Still, that’s rather missing the point; games like this aren’t as common as they once were and getting a shmup of such quality in 2021 is truly something to celebrate.