R-Type is the video-gaming version of a one-hit wonder. Irem's genre-busting side-scrolling shooter made its arcade debut in 1987, a time when hydraulic gismos such as Sega's Space Harrier and Out Run took everyone's attention and subsequently their quarters. The game was a sleeper hit and went on to spawn a billion home conversions, sequels, and clones, but Irem had lost its way. While the company had a few mildly successful titles roll out the doors, none of them matched the classic status R-Type eventually earned. Irem quickly faded into obscurity and eventually finished operating a few years ago.
With only a standard cabinet and monitor housing the game, R-Type had to rely on its graphics and playability to draw in players. Like in Defender, another classic shooter, the longest game a first-time player will experience is typically no more than 30 seconds. Thirty confusing, crushing, and completely humiliating seconds. The key to successful play is precision, timing, and knowing the level ahead, rather than mindlessly stabbing the fire button and moving all over the screen. Every time you play R-Type you get a little bit further or learn a new technique that opens up more possibilities. It's basically the thinking-person's shooter, and it's here on the Game Boy Color.
R-Type is no stranger to Nintendo's handheld - the original arcade conversion and a specially crafted follow-up were released for the monochrome platform. R-Type DX contains both of these games in their original black and white glory and separate colorized versions. The "DX" in the game's title refers to the new DX mode, where both games are combined into one challenge, and the graphics are further enhanced. If that's not enough, there's a new level to work your way through.
As a Game Boy conversion, R-Type DX does an admirable job. The enemy attack patterns, level structure, and H.R. Giger-inspired graphic design are all here, albeit in miniaturized form. Boss creatures - who are still some of the most fearsome looking creatures to have been seen in video gaming - are intact and fill up the screen with consummate ease. Level 3, which takes place around a giant multiscreen battle cruiser, is particularly impressive and is one of the best ways to show off the machine. Not bad at all for a decade-old 8-bit gadget.
Oh, and before we forget, there's the music. Shoot-'em-up music is typically never that remarkable, but there's something memorable about R-Type's tunes. Not so much a soundtrack as an anthem to great gaming, the tracks have been reproduced here perfectly. The boss theme in particular is still one of the best tunes in gaming - foreboding and catchy at the same time.
Certainly, it's not a perfect package. The diminutive playing area means there isn't a lot of room to dodge bullets, which will probably make experienced players change their strategies. Further aggravating this problem is the unreliable collision detection. It's so slack that if it were a parent it would be up for criminal negligence. Sprites, which usually mean enemy bullets, power-ups, and moving objects, can make contact with you to no effect, while backgrounds kill you instantly from a distance.
While the overall package isn't as refined and full of cool bonuses as other "DX"-branded titles - Super Mario Brothers in particular - the core gameplay makes R-Type worthwhile. It's still one of the best shooters you can get for any machine, and the GBC version does the series proud. Excellent.