Reports of the genre’s death were greatly exaggerated, of course, and in recent years a cottage industry has risen around this most humble breed of shooting games. Pick up a Switch and you could fill its storage with some of the all-time greats – Esp.Ra.De! Gradius 2! Darius Gaiden! – alongside modern classics such as Devil’s Engine or Rolling Gunner, making it one of the best platforms for lovers of the genre since the PlayStation 2.
It’s fertile ground for a comeback for one of the grandees, even if this isn’t exactly the grandest of comebacks. R-Type Final 2 comes off the back of a modest crowdfunding campaign, bringing together some of the old team headed up by Kazuma Kujo at Granzella, and it is a more modest thing – there’s a creakiness to its Unreal Engine powered levels regardless of what platform you’re on, a flatness to its models and textures that goes beyond mere tribute to the PlayStation 2 original.
Through all that, though, R-Type Final 2 does retain the all-important atmosphere of the originals, a solemn strangeness that undercuts the desperation of your plight battling against impossible odds in the hostile void. It’s what makes R-Type special, as do the exquisite mechanics that have served the series so well ever since the 1987 original. Irem’s original template delivers shooting that’s slow and strategic, the tempo pinned back by the charge cycle of your beam – told with the brilliant sci-fi whine that’s as much a part of R-Type’s appeal as anything else.
They’re fundamentals that have barely been touched for over 30 years, and rightly so – there’s something deliciously mechanical about R-Type’s combat, your ship collecting floating pulses and with that Force you can detach at will, pinging it off into enemy formations or right at the heart of a boss’ weak spot. In R-Type, you’re the hard-edged machine tunnelling into the bio-flesh of the Bydo, a duality that’s at the heart of some of its deepest, darkest lore, and it’s all served well in Final 2 where you’ll also have access to Delta’s multiple speed settings alongside a dizzying array of screen filling charge beams.
That’s all intact in R-Type Final 2, making for a shooter that still stands apart from others in its genre. It’s exacting in an entirely different way to bullet hell shooters, its pieces set out to be navigated as if you’re playing a hard-edged platformer. The challenges on offer here lean heavily on what’s gone before, and go some way to living up to that heritage too – the stages here are shorter, offering more condensed action than the languorous and frankly fairly tedious levels of the first Final. It’s a better shooting game in many regards to the original, then, even if it does occasionally suffer from poor readability when it comes to the fundamentals of what’s going to hurt you and what’s not.
Still, for all its grace R-Type Final was never the greatest of shooters, and for all its ambience and old school challenge neither is this. It still feels special, though, in part from what else it lifts from Final. The meat of that game was in the meta, and in the giddy unlocking of so many ships. It’s the same deal here, those dozens of ships with their myriad load outs are told in glorious detail and there to be pored over in the museum. Taking a freshly unlocked ship out for its first ride is a thrill that never dulls; it’s the collectathon of Gran Turismo transposed to the far reaches of the galaxy, and can be every bit as compelling as that concoction implies.
I won’t pretend to have made too much meaningful progress in unlocking the whole lot, and nor does R-Type Final 2 pretend it’s as comprehensive as its predecessor just yet. There are welcome new customisation fetures but overall it’s a strange patchwork at present, some of the unlocks understandably also tied to backer tiers for the crowdfunding campaigners who made this possible, with the suggestion of DLC further down the line. Through all that, though, there’s still a meticulous attention to detail here, and a chronicling of it all worthy of a series of this stature: tour the museum and you’ll be able to enjoy not just the ships that serve as tribute to R-Type’s rich history, but also histories of each enemy you encounter, complete with the damage it’s dealt you and the damage you’ve dealt back.
It makes for a sequel that sits neatly alongside its predecessor, and one that’s infused with just enough spirit of its own to justify its existence. R-Type Final was a sorrowful thing, its melancholy often becoming morose in its more ponderous moments. R-Type Final 2 feels like more of a cheerful commemoration, a spirited thing that sprints through the series’ history in wide-eyed wonder at it all. It’s another way to say goodbye, or maybe it’s more of a warm welcome back into the fold. Either way, and for the occasional rough edges here, against the odds Kujo and his team have created an R-Type that does the series’ name proud – and that’s something worth celebrating.