Arcade addicts old enough to have experienced R-Type in its natural environment in 1987 will find themselves right at home with R-Type Dimensions. This Xbox Live take on the classic side-scrolling shooter and its one and only sequel is a straight-up remake, with only snazzy 3D graphics and a few modern amenities separating new from old. However, both of the original games have aged surprisingly well, which makes this restoration project a worthwhile play if you appreciate classic coin-op and have no issues with the rather steep 1,200-point price tag.
In its essence, this is a total rehash of R-Type and R-Type II. Both games mimic their 20-year-old forebears so closely that you can actually hit the Y button on your gamepad to seamlessly morph between the original 2D graphics and the new 3D glitz. This is a rather nifty effect, although in the end it is little more than a cool gimmick that gives the game its Dimensions subtitle. It mostly underlines how modern visuals don't add much to an oldie-but-goodie like this one. Regardless, you can't experience the game's scene melts between the '80s and 2009 without wishing that all Xbox Live arcade remakes had this same feature. Who wouldn't want to see the same transitions in other updated coin-op gems such as Time Pilot and Scramble? Another visual frill here is the Crazy Camera, which offers a different perspective on the action. Again, this idea is sort of compelling to experiment with for a few minutes, but it's so obviously gimmicky that you likely won't bother with it for long.
Other than this splash of chrome, R-Type Dimensions is pretty much a carbon copy. You pilot a spaceship through side-scrolling levels, blasting away at the evil alien bad guys of the Bydo Empire until there aren't any more of them left to kill. The big weapon innovations remain the force ball that attaches to your ship as a combination shield and weapons array, and the powerhouse wave cannon, which is charged by holding down the main fire button. All of the levels in the two arcade games have been ported over, along with all of the Bydo, who still look like the Transformers as reimagined by HR Giger. Also present is the insane difficulty that was standard in '80s arcade games.
A combination of pace and pattern still makes the R-Type games stand out from back-in-the-day rivals such as Scramble and Super Cobra. Speed isn't as big of a deal here, so the real challenge comes from adapting to the game's often ponderous tempo and figuring out the pattern of the massive waves of alien attackers. Levels are often puzzle-like, with barriers that slide back and forth and enemies that zip around in crazy formations like they're auditioning for the Blue Angels. This approach is absolutely brutal in spots, which explains why the R-Type games were so legendary in their ability to Hoover your pocket of quarters in less than 15 minutes. Every level is dotted with intense choke points. One moment you're cruising along, cautiously blasting bad guys and collecting power-ups for the force-ball thingie; the next, you're sandwiched between dozens of murderous extraterrestrials and have to instantly zip to the one location where you can survive long enough to fight back.
A few new features help you deal with this stupid-hard level of difficulty. Cooperative multiplayer is the best assistance, considering that most of these levels seem like they were made for two players anyhow. Tackling the R-Types with a buddy either online or off is perhaps the best way to play the games because it makes it a bit easier to fight off the Bydo hordes, and it also adds something of a tactical element in which you tag off to tackle different parts of the screen or different alien attack waves. The only drawback of taking on the Bydo as a two-man team is how the frenzied action often obscures your ship. It's very easy to lose track of which ship is yours. Serious pain freaks can also enable collision detection that forces you to avoid running into both your buddy and the Bydo. As you might expect, though, this makes everything so spectacularly tough that you need superhuman coordination to stay alive for more than a few seconds. Some solo tweaks are also available to ease the overall challenge. Unlimited continues are available so you can keep slamming your head against the wall when you get stuck in particular locations. An Infinite Mode option is there for the taking if you want to play with an unlimited number of ships. And you can pick and choose levels to play as one-off challenges after beating and unlocking them.
As with most Xbox Live arcade revivals, R-Type Dimensions is a thorough and enjoyable blast from the past. It doesn't add much to these 20-year-old classics, and the price point seems a bit high at 1,200 points for a couple of fairly short games that are likely older than a lot of their prospective modern buyers. But these remakes are faithful to their inspirations, which can work wonders on fans of coin-op nostalgia.