As last we’ve reached the end of 1988 and Sega certainly closes the year out strong by landing another major title for their console. Ask anyone what the best 1980’s arcade shooter is, and some may say Konami’s Gradius series. Others may have fond memories of its main competitor, R-Type, Irem’s 1987 shmup which was similar to Konami’s titles but added its own twists on the formula and was a successful game in his own right, so a home version was a no-brainer. Sega was able to snag the license for this game and enlisted Compile’s help in bringing it to the Master System, but in an interesting twist Sega was able to make it an exclusive for their system. That’s right, despite the coin-op’s popularity R-Type was never ported to the NES, even though Irem was a third-party publisher for Nintendo (though the game would eventually appear on the Game Boy and TurboGrafx-16). So while NES gamers got to enjoy shooters like Gradius and Life Force, Sega fans were treated to their own space shooter, which was fortunate since the console was bereft of horizontal shmups (the first two Fanatsy Zone titles and the forgettable TransBot being the only examples at the time). Now let’s see how R-Type fares in filling that void.
As usual the galaxy is threatened by the latest evil alien force looking to make trouble for the people of Earth, in this case it’s the Bydo Empire and its army of cyber-organic creatures. Once again it’s up to you to save the day so you take the controls of the R-9 Starfighter and head out to blast the Bydo Empire (just as the title screen suggests). You wage your one-man war through eight levels which include different environments such as a space station, a vegetation cave, an underwater cavern and even a one-on-one confrontation with a giant battleship. Naturally you’re met by scores of enemies as you soar through each level and the R-9 is equipped with a particle cannon to blast them. Your ship can fire regular shots, but you can hold down the fire button to charge up for a super shot. Little drones appear throughout the stage and shooting them allows you to obtain an indestructable force pod which acts as your main ally. The pod can be attached and detached from the R-9 at any time, in fact the game’s main strategy is how to utilize your little buddy in different situations. You can position the pod in front of your ship to augment your firepower and act as a shield, you can launch it like a battering ram and let it fly freely, or you can attach it to the back of the R-9 to protect your rear. The pod also allows you to obtain more powerful weapons from the drones such as a triple laser, a ring weapon, missiles and others. A massive boss awaits you at the end of each level and you must somehow find the weak spot in order to slay them and move on to the next stage.
Despite the console’s technical limitations, this SMS port of R-Type is a very close replica of the original, with almost everything from the coin-op present and very few omissions. The graphics do a goob job resembling the arcade visuals as best they can, even with the expected shortcomings compared to the hi-res visuals of the original. The varied environments shine with good colors and details used throughout each stage and the spites are decent with some good animation, but the large monstrous bosses are especially great-looking and well-drawn. However the visuals apparently push the SMS quite a bit and as a result some showdown and flicker frequently pop up which can make certain objects hard to see, but it’s not too much trouble. Likewise the coin-op’s background tunes are here and though the SMS’s sound chip can’t mimic them 100%, each one is still fun to listen to and meshes well with their corresponding stages. As usual the sound effects are servicable but nothing special.
While the game looks and sounds good, R-Type fortunately has some solid and addicting gameplay to back up the visuals and audio, even though the high difficulty will test your prowess. Enemies and obstacles come at you non-stop, especially in the latter stages, so you’ll have to be on your toes at all times while learning to memorize where the attacks come from. The controls are responsive for the most part, though the R-9 can seem slow at times which can be a issue when you’re dodging everything coming your way. Your ship can only take one hit before getting killed, and your next life starts without any of your enhancements. Fortunately a drone usually isn’t too far away to reclaim your force pod, and each stage has a few restart points so you usually don’t have to begin too far back. The game never really gets unfair and can be beaten with some persistence, though it can get a little repetitive replaying the same sections over and over. A few continues are provided, but there are a few secret tricks that can allow you to obtain even more credits.
So the SMS version of R-Type does have a few issues but it still manages to emerge as a well-done release for the console. Compile did an excellent job squeezing the arcade came into a four-mega cart with some good graphics and sounds to boot, and even threw in a neat little exclusive bonus for this port, a hidden level that can be accessed near the beginning of the fourth stage. The game may frustrate you at times, but its addictive action will keep you coming back for more. All in all R-Type finally provides the Master System with that great horizontal shooter Sega fans have been waiting for, especially those looking for a more serious complement to Fantasy Zone’s cuteness.