The game industry is fraught with a malady most aptly named "sequelitis." If a game enjoys even a modicum of commercial success, you can be pretty sure you'll be playing it again with a "2" tacked on to it the following year. It's unheard of for any game to proclaim loudly that, "Hey, this is the last one of me you'll be playing. No more after this." But that's exactly what Irem has done with its latest shooter, R-Type Final. In fact, the name of the game ought to clue you in that the company intends to wrap up its famous and long-lived shooter series with its first and last PlayStation 2 installment.
If Irem really wants to kill off R-Type, they've at least made a game that truly lives up to the name. Final gives you more, more, more of everything you've loved (or hated) about previous R-Types. Once again, you'll fly a lone fighter against the evil Bydo Empire in an attempt to save humanity--or something. Obviously, there's not a whole lot of story going on...as if you need an excuse to blast your way through wave after wave of Bydo scum. The game proceeds pretty much as you'd expect from any shooter and presents a linear progression of stages that are populated by tons of imaginative enemies and a really weird boss at the end. There's even an opportunity to experience different versions of some levels through a branching stage system, which helps keep the game fresh when you play through it repeatedly.
R-Type's always had a unique power-up system that focuses on the "force" ball, which can attach to the front or back of your ship. Of course, the force is, uh, back in force in R-Type Final. The ball absorbs enemy fire and takes hits for you. Furthermore, you can fire it off in front of or behind you to act as a sort of roaming free agent who will attack enemies on his own. Once the force is attached, you can gain multiple levels of three power-ups (red, blue, and yellow) that give you more powerful beams than your main attack. You can also get a "bit" that hovers near your ship and fires an extra shot, plus you can get a missile attack to round out your peripheral firepower options. Finally, as in all R-Types, you can charge a superattack by holding down the fire button. Then you can unleash it at the right moment and inflict massive damage on your enemy(ies).
If all this sounds like a lot of weapon variety, you can now multiply it by 100, since there are literally that many ships available in R-Type Final. You can only play with a handful of them at the beginning of the game, but as you soldier on through it, more and more ships are unlocked. The ship construction works like this: Your superweapon, force type (with attendant power-up weapons), bit type, and missile type are all modular, and each of the 100 ships uses a different mix. You can also customize a lot of the features of each ship, since the bit and missile types can be modified to suit your tastes. You can even pick custom colors for the body and canopy of each ship (by inputting raw RGB values, no less). This allows you to create the fighter of your dreams--with enough tweaking.
As this is the first (and sadly, last) R-Type game to appear on a next-generation platform, Final has far and away the nicest visuals in the series. The game really works the PS2's hardware muscle by cranking out dozens of screens that are full of laser beams, massive explosions, and bizarre alien enemies. There's a tasty bit of variety in the backgrounds on offer too. They range from a bombed-out shell of an industrial complex to a murky swamp to the skies high above a teeming futuristic city. This last level will see you battling against the requisite massive, stage-spanning battleship that's become a trademark of the R-Type series. Even though we're in the thick of our second round of consoles with proper 3D capabilities, we haven't seen too many of these 3D-graphics-with-2D-gameplay shooters over the years, so it's really nice to see R-Type carrying the torch one last time.
Playing R-Type Final is a bittersweet experience. Five minutes in and you know without a doubt that it upholds the tenets of the franchise beautifully. However, it's a little sad to realize that this is (probably) the last time we'll see the trusty, old shooter series making the rounds. Thankfully, it seems like Irem has packed enough gameplay into Final to make it a fitting and replayable end. R-Type Final is scheduled for release next week, so look for a full review soon.