Charging 1,200 points for an old arcade game on Xbox Live Arcade is a real stretch at the best of times, but it's downright gouging in the case of Raystorm HD. This slight remake of Taito's ancient top-down space shooter adds little to the original game that first arrived stateside on the PlayStation in the late 1990s. Ships, levels, enemies, and modes of play are almost exactly the same here as they were more than a decade ago. Even the new graphics do nothing but turn a straightforward shoot-'em-up into a confusing mess.
The core of Raystorm HD is exactly the same as the original Raystorm, with the same R-Gray fighters to pilot, the same vertically scrolling levels to fly, and the same sci-fi storyline where you defend Earth from a bunch of cheesed-off former colonists looking to blow the place up circa 2219. This is really just another take on the classic top-down shooter that started to show up in arcades way back in the early '80s. The only real difference between it and predecessors like 1943 and Xevious is the use of a lock-on feature. That feature lets you target a bunch of enemy ships with a cursor and blast them with a one-button laser barrage. You can fire away with a standard cannon, too, but it's secondary to the lasers because you earn multipliers when you lock onto and incinerate numerous baddies simultaneously. Using lasers is also necessary due to sheer self-preservation. Enemies cover the entire screen with blasts of fiery instant death, so you're best off targeting multiple crafts with the laser and taking them all out with the single push of a button. Scrambling around and trying to manually shoot them with your main guns tends to get you killed a whole lot.
But even though this laser lock-on weapon gives Raystorm HD something of a unique character, the feature isn't enough to make the game interesting for very long in 2010. Levels are dull and short. Just eight of them are featured, with all of them pretty much boasting the same diving and swooping enemy fliers and giant robots. The levels are then topped at the end by pretty much the same boss with varied beam and projectile attacks. There is a lot of shooting, though not much excitement. This is partially because everything is so been-there, done-that at this late date, and partially because of the tinny sound effects that make blowing up a massive boss as exciting as hearing the toaster pop up your English muffin.
Action can be mixed up a bit by choosing from four different fighters or selecting between the Arcade and Extra modes, but there still isn't much depth. Two of the four ships have to be unlocked, and they differ in terms of weapons. One boasts weak, scattered shooting while the other boasts stronger, focused blasters. The Arcade and Extra modes look and feel very similar to each other, except for the fact that they have different endings. If you master the Arcade mode, you might find a stiffer challenge in the Extra mode, but by then, you'll be too bored with the whole experience to give the game another go. The same can be said about the 13 Players game unlocked by finishing both campaigns because all it does is take you through the same levels with the chance to fly limited numbers of different ships. No new ways to play these modes are offered. You're basically stuck back in the late '90s, with multiplayer limited to teaming up locally with a buddy to go through the campaign cooperatively. No online support is offered save leaderboards.
The most obvious new feature in Raystorm HD can actually be a hindrance to playing the game. The new, supposedly improved graphics blend the background with the foreground, which results in you getting killed constantly. Nothing is very sharp. Whether you're fighting on earth or in space, the visuals are indistinct, like something from the early days of 3D gaming in the late 1990s. Water effects on earth remind you of something that you last played when the Sega Genesis was king. This is a very bad thing in a game that moves this fast. Due to the speed of the enemy attack waves and the incredible number of projectiles onscreen at any given moment, it's hard to figure out which ships are on the same plane as you or what shots belong to you and which belong to the bad guys. By the time you finish asking yourself, "Hey, is that a missile or a ship way below me?" you're dead. This can lead to some intensely frustrating moments, particularly because your continues are limited, and the game is already tough enough without this added annoyance.
Raystorm HD is a quick port of a game apparently frozen in the mid 1990s--a game with 400 points worth of value being sold with a 1,200-point price tag. If you really want to play an old-school top-down shooter, turn to one of the many golden-age arcade classics available over XBL. Lots of comparable options come cheaper and offer more fulfilling shoot-'em-up action than this retread.