The shmup lives on, questionable pricing notwithstanding, in this newest installment in the classic arcade series.
There’s an undying segment of the core gaming crowd that couldn’t live without a regular dose of punishing, instinctive reflex-testing shoot-‘em-up action. These are the gamers who burned through a pocket full of quarters in their heyday at the arcades, studying the patterns of their adversaries and pushing for the high score simply for the sake of conquering. And it’s these same people who will appreciate Raiden IV, and whose passion for such a demanding (yet rewarding) form of gameplay probably invalidates any need for an introduction like this one you’ve just read.
But for the sake of due diligence, I’ll continue in form. Raiden IV champions the usual variety of top-down, vertically-scrolling, high-action ship shooting, and it features all the staples of the genre: scripted enemy patterns from start to finish, a grueling difficulty, massive bosses, and mesmerizing arrays of enemy bullets filling the screen. I’ve always found it fascinating how when you “get” these games, you are able to simply zone out and absorb all of the action taking place on the screen simultaneously—an action which eventually leads to some crazy subconscious maneuvers that amaze even the player himself (“I can’t believe I just did that”). If you’re familiar with the formula, you’ll find no surprises here (something that may or may not qualify as a positive). In contrast, of course, the inexperienced will find Raiden just as insanely unforgiving as any other classic arcade shooter.
The Xbox 360 version of Raiden IV provides the typical assortment of options and additions: along with the characteristic ever-so-short main game, you get two additional levels (totaling seven), difficulty selection and a versatile arrangement of options, a boss rush mode, leaderboards, and a few other extras like a ship model gallery. It’s the usual package with a regrettably unusual price: 40 bucks, which is twice as much as any of the previous reissues for the 360 (and even worse when compared to comparable downloadable games). But we’ll come back to that in a moment.
First, let’s go over what’s here in a bit more depth. In the new Xbox 360 mode, you’re given a choice of play style (Solo, Dual, or single-player Double), starting stage, and difficulty level (of which there are eight, including Practice, where enemy ships don’t fire back at all). In case you’re wondering, three of the selectable difficulties (Hard, Very Hard, and Ultimate) are above that of the arcade version; four others are below it. If things still aren’t easy enough for you on the easiest, or if you just want a little more control over the flow of the game, you can also adjust your lives up to 5 and bombs up to 7.
Then there’s the Arcade Mode, which is, as you might guess, precisely what you would play in the arcade; there are two difficulties for this mode as well. One odd choice is that while you can save high scores and replay data throughout all of the game’s modes, you cannot upload any of that data to the leaderboards unless you first start playing through the World Rankings option. Presumably, this is to prevent people with tampering with settings and such, but it would have been nice if this had been made clearer from the main menu.
Finally, there’s the requisite Boss Rush mode, and Score Attack, which is the same as Xbox 360 Mode but with different enemies.
All of the modes feature the same tried and true style of play—upgradeable weapons of three varieties (one of which is a cool homing beam which wraps around the screen and mows through enemies) and varying incremental levels of power, a couple different subweapons, and some interesting score modifier pickups as well. And, of course, there’s a combos system in place, as well as end-level bonuses and other awards.
An unusual price
While there are plenty of different play modes, the fact remains that this is your typical, short-lived shmup with under a half-hour of actual gameplay. If you’re really into this stuff, you’re likely to spend quite a bit of time memorizing all the enemy patterns and working to perfect your strategies and boost your scores, but replayability hardly compensates for the—overall—thin amount of content in the title. Longevity is no issue if you’re hanging out in an arcade environment or you’ve paid $10–15 bucks for a downloadable title of this variety, but spending forty bucks on a game that lasts under half an hour (plus a few extra variations on the theme via other play modes) is a hard thing to swallow no matter how you slice it.
Regardless, no matter what’s said about pricing, if you’re a serious fan, you’re likely to keep this one on your list. And honestly, if you forget about the price, this is one heck of a great shooter. It’s intense, it’s deep, and it’s a lot of fun in co-op. There’s enough room for customization that it never feels out of your league, even if you are relatively bad at shooters. (But at the same time, completing the game with seven bombs and over 30 lives really doesn’t feel like much of an accomplishment—believe me, I did it.) Nevertheless, it’s hard to criticize a game for offering more options. Raiden IV ensures you get what you deserve in this category.
The soundtrack fits the series like a glove. It’s a collection of in-your-face, high-energy melodic techno/synth-rock that really gets your pulse pumping. Limited edition early copies of the software also feature a soundtrack pack-in CD; the disc itself is a bit less enthusiastically produced, featuring a couple of careless edits (lacking fade-out s and the like) and a number of mediocre remixes, but it gets the job done. Overall, it’s great game music.