The Raiden series carries a legacy of remarkably solid, well-designed shooters that never fail to impress, yet the individual entries never seem to make it into shooter fans’ Top 10 lists. DonPachi is pure bullet hell; Ikaruga, with its polarity-shifting gameplay, draws much praise; Mars Matrix‘ mosquito system turns the enemies’ guns on back on them. Flash and unique play mechanics have often overshadowed this series, but those that love intense ol’ school shoot ‘em ups will dig Raiden IV: Limited Edition, a subtly beautiful space war romp. The Moss developed shmup features rich backgrounds, satisfying high-octane audio, lots of firepower, and a number of additions made for this Xbox 360 port, but UFO Interactive’s nickel and dime tactics mar an otherwise excellent package.
Raiden IV: Limited Edition is presented in a vertical letterbox format that’s designed to emulate the series’ vertical monitor arcade setup. Die hard shumpies with swivel monitors may get a kick of playing the game in TATE mode (as Raiden IV: Limited Edition is meant to be played), but for those who don’t fancy turning their standard monitors and TVs on their sides may find the black bars distracting.
I clearly fall into that group; although there is an option to zoom in onto the action, you don’t get nearly close enough before edges of the screen are lopped off. I had to sit very close to my 22-inch, 1080p Acer H213H monitor in order to get a sense of the chaos that was taking place on screen, but after a few hearty sessions, I discovered that the close proximity to the warzone kept me in the zone as I was far more alert and focused.
Once you get a good view of the playfield, you’ll find yourself treated to a slick looking shooter featuring selectable ships that resemble MOSPEADA‘s transformable Legioss fighters. You may not notice it with all of the warheads racing toward your general direction, but if you watch the demonstration cinematic or unlock the photo gallery images (one of which looks like the mech in Armo Diver mode), you’ll get to see the badass designs that are totally ’80s mecha awesome.
As you soar over Raiden IV‘s many stages, you’ll be dazzled by the colorful backgrounds that contain loads of animations that you may not catch on your first few times through the game. These include ground-based enemy craft that take off and ascend to attack you, a black shadow that passes overhead only to reveal itself as an end boss, and visual level progression that sees the fight move from fields to cities to skies to outer space.
Rival ships explode with nice sparkle, and there’s a particularly rich thrill that comes with wrecking bosses, as their explosions are accompanied with shockwaves that blur the screen with their power. When you defeat an end-level boss, you simply feel like you’ve completed a job well done.
Although not particularly catchy, the soundtrack alternates between blood-pumping and heroic. If you do find yourself humming along to the tunes, you’ll be happy to know that this package comes with a second disc filled with in-game music.
Raiden IV: Limited Edition falls somewhere between a more traditional shooter such as Ikaruga, and bastardly bullet hell shmup such as in Mars Matrix. In fact, the game feels like Mars Matrix lite. The patterns aren’t manic, they’re smaller and the bullet wall is less dense, but they do fill the screen and require some deft maneuvering to make it through unscathed. Plus, the screen-filling bombs are reminiscent of the Gravity Hole Bomb as it wipes out everything on screen, both enemy craft and firepower.
The game isn’t incredibly long, but shooters aren’t a genre defined by hours of gameplay; it’s fueled by players’ desires to be the best damned space pilots possible. Gamers nursed on cutscenes, voice-overs, and the like may not get the idea of trying to memorize patterns and positions to most effectively blow up ships and topple their own scores, but this game isn’t for them. It’s for true genre fans that appreciate the simplicity of man vs. himself.
Besides the screen-clearing bombs, you get three primary weapons:
- Vulcan: A standard spread gun that increases in size with red power-ups
- Laser: A narrow, but powerful, beam of energy that grows stronger with blue power-ups
- Plasma/Proton: The iconic, thick and twisting beam that inflicts heavy, heavy damage/A single laser shot that can transform into three lasers shooting in multiple directions at once
You also get three sub-weapons:
- Nuclear missiles: A powerful missile that shoots straight ahead and has a broad area of damage
- Homing missiles: This weapon will seek and destroy enemies using its homing feature
- Radar missiles: A defensive missile that will destroy your enemies within your immediate vicinity
Raiden IV: Limited Edition utilizes the “Flash Shot” system which rewards gamers with bonus points for swiftly destroying ships as soon as they appear on the screen. This engine certainly isn’t new or breathtaking, but it does encourage aggression; an aggression that will see you rushing forward toward the top portion of the screen to strike down enemies while weaving through firepower.
Xbox 360 extras include the ability to save replays and upload them to the leaderboard (you can also watch others gameplay clips), Score Attack, Boss Rush, eight difficulty levels, and the ability to control two ships at once in “Dual Mode.”
On the topic of ships, your anus may feel like its been beat raw and ragged once you’ve realized that you’ve been bent over and given a stiff one. Raiden IV: Limited Edition offers two other vehicles to slaughter the enemy, but they have to be purchased from XBL. That’s the ultimate nickel and dime that someone who has plunked down the game’s $40 asking price will not appreciate. UFO Interactive should be ashamed for its actions; downloadable content shouldn’t be used to date rape customers.
Raiden IV: Limited Edition, like the Raiden Fighters Aces collection that was released earlier this year, is an essential purchase for fans of the series, and shooter/shmup lovers in general. The anger-inducing money-making scheme is one that’s best pushed to the back of the brain so that you can enjoy the fine presentation and package that Moss/UFO Interactive put into this otherwise fine space shooting title.