Released in the autumn of 1987, Irem's blaster was one of the early breed of games to utilise 16-bit coin-op technology - something immediately borne out by the sheer quality of its graphics. It was a coin-op which really stood out nestling, as it did amongst games with bland graphics adn similar themes. However, its visual sophistication was underpinned by a huge collection of ideas that would change the shoot 'em up for years to come. The quality that R-Type exuded proved to be a difficult task to emulate. R-Type had done everything perfectly, and the hordes of inferior, rival clones that appeared later, merely reinforced this. Even Irem struggled to match the quality of R-Type in its future incarnations. A cult was born, one that still bears fruit today.
Irem in creating R-Type had laid down the blueprint for shoot em up's, not just in graphical content but gameplay. R-Type presented the player with a unique (for the time) indestructable weapon - the force - which could be used to serve the R 9 in a multitude of ways. The seemingly basic process of blasting alien scum could now be carried out in many different ways, some putting your R 9 in extreme danger. A balance between attack and defence in utilising the force resulted in R-Type's levels becoming more than a collection of alien attack patterns. The gameplay possibilities were endless.
Julian Eggebrecht head of Factor 5, the team responsible for the Amiga conversion, commented 'I vividly remember the first time I played R-Type. It was a new kind of shoot 'em up with almost intellectual depth. I liked everything about it. I was also shocked by the amount of innovation and gameplay possibilities with the shield that I died a hundred times on the first level just trying to figure out different ways to play it. Also, graphically it was unusual because it was one of the first games to use pastel colours at a time when everyone else was using harsh greens and reds. It still holds up fantastically well compared to other shooters today.'
R-Type's success in the arcades meant that conversion to various home computers and consoles was a foregone conclusion. NEC's PC Engine (aka Turbografix 16) console that frst tok up the challenge. Fortunately for NEC (and thanks to the skillful conversion team at Hudson Soft), PC-E R-Type was virtually arcade perfect and was released on two seperate 'HuCards' - each containing four of the game's 8 levels. A code upon completeing card 1 allowed the player access to the later levels of card 2. In addition Hudson Soft added a boss at the end of level 6 not present in the arcade and no other home conversion featured this monster. It was a PC-E exclusive. R-Type not only boosted PC-E sales in its native Japan, but also ensured that many machines made their way over to these shores. In comparision the NES looked somewhat inferior. The grey import market was born.
Home versions soon followed, Spectrum, Amstrad, Atari ST and the Amiga. Bob, then a programmer for Catalyst coders, rembers fondly his time with R-Type, ' Catalyst Coders had a 3 game contract from Activision, R-Type, Time Scanner and another game. I'd just finished Rampage so I was asked which one I wanted to do. None of us knew what the games were so we all went down to an arcade in London to play them and when I saw R-Type I said 'I pity the poor sod who has to convert this on the Spectrum!'' Bob however decided to code the game with Activision publishing some copies with two level 7's and no level 8!!!
The Amiga version converted by Factor 5. Bob again 'R-Type on the Amiga was Rainbow Arts - if you recall Katakis was released and looked so much like R-Type that Activision threatened to sue. They ended up doing a deal with RA to produce the Amiga version and the C64 version in a short time (coz the C64 version was going nowhere and I belevie the Amiga version was going to be a port of the Atari ST version.'
That was 1988. A coin-op sequel arrived a year later in the form of R-Type II which appered on the SNES in the for of Super R-Type. ARC developments handled the Amiga version, while the final coin-op in the series, R-Type Leo, appeared a few years later to a decidedly lukwarm reception. It was also only released in Japan and resulted in the ending of Irem's coin-op development. Daytona USA and Ridge Racer ruled the roost and there was no place for shhot-em up's. A withdrawal from the console arena followed shortly afterwards, with Irem only returning briefly for the one-off release of R-Type III on the SNES in 1994.
Recently, however, Irem returned once more to the console market with the release of R-Types for the Sony Playstation. Irem Software Engineering was back. 'We were inundated with requests from fans of the game, so it seemed like a logical step to convert the games to the Playstation', revealed Irem's Keith Masauda. 'It was a difficult task despite the fact that the PSX hardware is better than the arcade board. We had to recode the games specifically for the machine, rather than running them under emulation (as is the case, for example, with Namco's Museum series) but its been worth it - the games have been translated perfectly.'
As a testament to its enduring appeal, it's extremely difficult to find fault with any aspect of Irem's original design in R-Type. It's one of those rare games that was virtually perfect from the outset, setting standards of excellence that no developer could hope to match. The graphics are sublime and amazingly detailed, even by today's standards, and the sound punchy and atmospheric. But it was the gameplay, packed with so many innovative ideas, that made it such a timeless concept - and one that has little in common with contemporary gaming design sensibilities. R-Type revolutionised the genere on so many levels it is difficult to list them all, but approaching the giant ship-which was stage 3-was a feeling filled with excitement and trepidation, feelings all to rarely replicated today.
'R-Type isn't so much a shoot 'em up as a memory test,' conceds self-confessed addict Fred Williams, lead programmer at Corrosive Software. 'But somehow it never got too samey. There are three heavy-alien-onslaught levels, three long corridor levels, and two odd ones, the alien mothership and the maze - and you have to memorize, really really well, two safe routes through all eight. One for when you are fully powered up, and another much harder one for when you lose all your weapons. As a result, R-Type was one of only two arcade machines I've put considerably more than a couple of quid into...'
R-Type stands up well against games of a similar genere, games produced as a result of Irem's genius. The PSX version -R-Types- has allowed a whole new set of gamers to try their hand as well ast their minds against the evil Bydo Empire. A feature on the cover of EDGE magazine showed the reverence to which these games are held. In releasing R-Type again, Irem has showed the lack of inovation demonstrated by many of todays games. In producing R-Type Delta Irem Software Engineering is back, back to show how blasters should be done. The only fly in the ointment is having the legacy of R-Type to live upto.
Where does Irem go from here...?