Review: Raiden Fighters Aces (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Raiden Fighters Aces
Genre: Shooter
Developer: Gulti
Publisher: Valcon Games
Release Date: 05/07/2009


Ah, Raiden. Back in the early nineties, when shoot-em-ups were somewhat popular and arcades were not uncommon, Raiden was one of many shooters trying to carve out a niche in the market. While the franchise isn’t as notable as something like Gradius or R-Type, it’s still one of the biggest and best-known names in the shooter genre today, mostly because the franchise produces solid games and has managed to stick around for nearly two decades. The Raiden Fighter series is kind of a spin-off from the main Raiden series, focusing on offering lots of ships to choose from instead of the old classic Raiden fighters, but don’t let that fool you: this is still a classic Raiden product in every sense. It’s fast-paced action most shooter fans need to own, no questions asked, and while it’s not a perfect shooter in the strictest sense, it’s pretty damn good all the same.

There IS a story to the games included with Raiden Fighter Aces, but as it mostly boils down to, “Here’s some bad guys, kill them” or, in Raiden Fighters JET, “Here’s a simulation of bad guys, kill them.” As such, let’s talk about the game modes instead. You’re given three games on this disc, Raiden Fighters, Raiden Fighters 2, and Raiden Fighters JET, and while each of the games are noticeably similar to one another, they have enough different enemies and such to make them worthwhile. You can take on the stages of each game in different orders, and you can also play through Boss Rush and Expert modes as well, just to make things more interesting. There’s also local multiplayer, Xbox Live score ranking, a whole lot of ships to play through each game with and numerous difficulty modes to play around with in each of the three games, meaning that shooter fans will have a WHOLE LOT to do with the game to get the most from it.

Visually, Raiden Fighter Aces looks arcade perfect, and runs smoothly no matter how much is going on on-screen at any time. There’s no noticeable slowdown to see no matter how many enemy ships and bullets are on-screen at a time, except when beating bosses, and in that case I believe it’s intentional. The visuals are made up entirely of 2-D sprites, and they still look clean and vibrant nearly a decade later, though they’re obviously not as impressive as more modern 2-D shooters. The game also offers numerous visual effects to modify, including the frame rate, the screen size, the sprite cleanup, and in an odd but amusing addition, some screen filters that allow you to play the game in black and white or sepia tone, among other things. By default, the visuals are fit right into the center of the screen, because of the layout of the original arcade games. This can make the visuals look squished on smaller TV’s, and the bullets can occasionally get lost in the visuals when too much is going on at once, which can occasionally result in some unnecessary deaths. Aurally, the sound effects are very powerful, but the star of the show is the soundtrack. I’m guessing there’s a law in Japan that says if you release a shooter, it has to have a fantastic soundtrack, because most every one I’ve played does, and Raiden Fighters Aces is no exception to that. The music is pulse-pounding and fits the experience beautifully across all three games. Nearly every track in mostly every stage is a joy to listen to.

If you’ve ever played a shooter, you probably have a rough idea how Raiden Fighters Aces plays, but if not, here’s the gist. You fire your guns with one button and launch super bombs with the other. You use these two things in conjunction to wipe out wave after wave of bullet-spraying enemies, in hopes of both wiping out the enemy forces and surviving to reach the next section of the game. Along the way, you collect power-ups, which upgrade your guns, give you additional ships that shoot along-side you, and add bombs to your arsenal, to give you a fighting chance. At the end of each section, you fight some sort of gigantic boss ship/boat/tank/super-computer/whatever, blow it to hell, and then move on to the next mission until you beat the game or run out of continues. The core objective, aside from blowing up everything, is to earn as many points as you can until you die or beat the game, whichever comes first.

Of course, all of the above will be old hat to shooter veterans, so let’s talk about how Raiden Fighters Aces does things different. One of the most interesting parts of this iteration of the Raiden franchise is that each game offers you multiple ships to choose from, each with different strengths and weaknesses. The game rates the ships based on numerous categories, but all you’ll really need to worry about is how fast/slow the ship is and what and how it fires. The various ships all have different weapon layouts that increase in power and craziness as you collect power-ups. You might end up filling the screen with projectiles or firing a flamethrower or launching a purple lock-on laser or other fun things as you max out your power-ups more and more. Weapon power-ups come in two flavors, “Laser” and “Missile,” which may or may not mean a damn thing, depending on your ship. Some ships only have one firing weapon, like the Raiden MkII, so whatever you pick up is fine. Other ships may have drastically different attack patterns depending on the power-up, allowing you different combat options depending on your power-up choice. Each ship can also grab secondary option units, called “Slaves” here, that can also assist you in filling the screen with plasma death. They can also be upgraded, depending on the ship, to spin around you, home in on enemies, and other fun stuff. Since each ship has different settings for such things, it’s in your best interests to play around with all of the ships until you find one that best matches your style of play.

Each of the three games are laid out somewhat differently from the other. Raiden Fighters 1 and Raiden Fighters 2 are largely identical. Despite the larger variety of ships in Raiden Fighters 2, both games offer you a few stages and bosses to plow through, medals and power-ups to collect for points, and so on. Raiden Fighters JET is where things get really interesting. In this game, everything is treated like a combat simulator, where completing a stage sends you to a new stage that’s unrelated to the last, so you’ll end up bouncing through new stages as well as stages from the first two games. The medal collection system is where the game really improves a good bit, however, for those looking for massive scores. In Raiden Fighters JET, some medals will occasionally fly out that will simply hover around near your ship. By bumping these medals into OTHER medals, you’ll multiply the score of the floating medal, increasing its value by massive numbers. You can, quite literally, earn hundreds of thousands of points off of one medal by simply bumping that medal into every other medal you come across, which allows you, easily, to earn tons of points PER STAGE in Raiden Fighters JET. It’s also worth noting that there are some interesting and amusing strategic considerations to be made when playing the game with two players. You can obviously just pick your favorite ship and go to town, of course, but picking complimentary ships can mean all the difference between lots of success and lots of burned continues. Some ships use more directed straight-on attacks, while others use wide-area crowd killing sprays. So in two-player games, using the Raiden MKII and the Raiden MkKII Beta or the Beast Wing and the Flying Ray, as examples, can allow one player to focus big-damage attacks on the bosses and large enemies while the other player can saturate the screen with projectiles, taking out incoming enemies and reducing the bullet count dramatically, to make things easier on both parties.

There are three games on the disc, each with its own compliment of ships to choose from, and while many are repeated from one game to the next (the Aegis, the Raiden MkII, the Judge Spear), each has a few unique ships to choose from as well. Raiden Fighters 1 offers seven ships, plus one hidden ship, to play with, while Raiden Fighters 2 and Raiden Fighters JET offer fourteen ships, plus two hidden, to choose from, so you’ll have plenty of variety available to you no matter what game you play. You’re given multiple difficulties to conquer, as well as Boss Rush and Expert mode (which makes destroyed enemies expel bullets as they die, just to make your life miserable) to play around with, so you’ve got plenty of options of things to do with each of the three games. The game also allows you an Xbox Live mode, where you play under specific difficulty settings and parameters, and your high-score is uploaded to the leaderboards to compete with the scores of others from around the world. There are also plenty of achievements to unlock, and while some are as simple as completing a stage, others will require you to spend a good amount of time maximizing your point earnings and memorizing enemy patterns to earn them.

The biggest criticism against Raiden Fighters Aces is the lack of online play. Though the game is a blast with two players, you can only have two player games locally, as there’s no online play option here. That’s unfortunate for those who don’t have any shooter fans as friends, as some of the best fun to be had with Raiden Fighters Aces comes from you and a friend filling the sky with bullets. That aside, the games are a bit on the short side. While Raiden Fighters JET is reasonably long, it’s also made up of repeated stages from the first two games as well as original stages. The other two games are a good bit shorter and a skilled player can run through them in about half an hour apiece. The various adjustable options can increase the difficulty and change up the experience a good bit, but they can’t completely change the game, so once you’ve seen a game through to completion, that’s it. The way the visuals are set up can also present problems, especially on harder difficulties or when multiple players are involved, as it can be hard to see enemy bullets coming at your ship in time to dodge them, which can result in the occasional unexpected death.

Frankly, though, if you’re a fan of shooters, be you casual or hard core, Raiden Fighters Aces is a must-buy that you should snap up as soon as possible. The game is pure genre-exemplifying fun that anyone can pick up, play, and enjoy, no matter their skill level. It looks pretty good and sounds outstanding, even a decade later, and it comes crammed chock-full of content to play with, unlock and earn. This is more than enough to justify its budget price tag. It’s a little disappointing that there isn’t any sort of online play in the game, and it’s pretty easy to blow through all three of the games in about two hours or so if you’re just looking to complete them and be done with it, but these are honestly small complaints when compared to the overall product as a whole. Raiden Fighters Aces offers you three complete shooters, each of which is mighty fantastic, a ton of customizable options for each game, and local multiplayer, all at a budget price. Fans of the genre, both serious and casual alike, have no reason not to run out and buy this the second they get the chance, because you’ll absolutely get your money’s worth and then some from Raiden Fighters Aces.

The Scores:
Game Modes: GREAT
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: UNPARALLELED
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: GREAT
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Raiden Fighters Aces is a fantastic compilation of three outstanding games at a budget price that fans of shooters should make every effort to pick up as soon as possible. The visuals and audio have held up nicely in the decade since the initial releases of each of the games, the games themselves are fast-paced fun for one or two players. There are a ton of options available for each game that allow you to customize the visuals, gameplay and difficulties to match your personal tastes to perfection. The game also offers online leaderboards, some complex achievements, and multiple ships per game to bring you back for more fast-paced carnage if you’re a fan. The games are a bit on the short side and can probably be blown through in about two hours altogether, and it’s unfortunate that the game lacks online multiplayer, as that would have made a good game better. That aside, however, Raiden Fighters Aces is still worth the asking price and then some, and anyone who’s been looking for some classic shooter goodness need look no further than this.

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