Genre: Vertical Shoot “ËœEm Up
Developer: Moss Ltd.
Publisher: UFO Interactive
Release Date: 09/08/2009
I’ve already disclosed my relationship with the Raiden shooter series in our preview of Raiden IV. After 10 years of silence between my treasured longbox The Raiden Project and Raiden III, the industry has been rather kind to the shmup genre as of late. While Gradius and Salamander are what pulled me into the shmup scene when I was younger, I would have to say Raiden is what hooked me on the genre after I was exposed to its attention to detail, memorable music and satisfying challenge. However, a lot has changed since 1990, as we move from pumping quarters into a stand-up cabinet to spinning a disc around in our Xbox 360s. After nearly 20 years does Raiden still have the punch needed to keep it at the top of the genre? Thankfully, yes, it does, but its means of achieving this definitely isn’t suitable for everyone.
Oddly, Raiden IV has no story to speak of. The instruction booklet fails to humor us with the typical alien war scenario that banks on the might of a single ship to take down an entire enemy armada, but given how cliché and drab this has become, perhaps it serves as a sign that UFO Interactive understands that fans of this genre know what the game is about coming in to the experience. I’ll take a stab at crafting the scenario, though, and state that players once again man the Raiden series of ships, the Fighting Thunder ME-2, in order to fight off an alien menace to Earth – a red crystal being launched into space in order to power up an ultimate weapon of destruction in space. The stages do transition about halfway through to showcase the entry of an enemy base, the launching of a craft into space and players tracking down the parts of the craft, so if you look hard enough, there is some semblance of a story, but most players aren’t going to dig that deep beyond the sparse CGI videos that attempt to convey a plot.
On that note, recently, I came across a situation where it took me a couple of days of sending messages back and forth on a community site to explain to someone that the Seibu-originated Raiden series had nothing to do with Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid series, so maybe I do have to step back for a second and explain this whole ordeal. The original premise of the series put forth a storyline taking place in the year 2090 where a ruthless alien race has targeted Earth. After putting up a desperate fight, humankind is able to salvage a destroyed alien craft and replicate its technology to create the Raiden Supersonic Attack Fighter.
Strangely, through five games in the main series (the third game in the series was an upgraded Raiden DX if you’re wondering “what’s up”Â with my counting), this is the only one that even attempts to tell a story, which is a disappointment when compared to an Xbox 360 shooter such as Cave’s excellent, Japanese-only Death Smiles, but I’ll make up for it with historical context. Raiden in Japanese literally equates to, “thunder and lightning”Â or a, “thunderbolt;”Â a fitting name attributed to a god of those two elements in Japanese mythology. During World War II, the Imperial Japanese Navy manufactured Mitsubishi J2M Raiden fighter plane (for your bonus Metal Gear Solid tidbit, Allied soldiers referred to these planes with the codename “Jack,”Â which is Raiden’s real name in the MGS series), after which the Raiden Supersonic Attack Fighter is presumably modeled after, albeit in modernized form.
Now that you no longer have an excuse to be unfamiliar with the Raiden shooter series, let’s break down the game’s contents. It is to be expected that many players will assume that Raiden IV, being a port of an arcade title, will be nothing more than a bare-bones transition of the five-stage original game. Thankfully, this is not the case, but when you boil it down, these features are par for the course with any home shooter port: You’ll find an arcade-perfect mode, an original mode, a boss rush and score attack. On top of this, however, you’ll find a few unique features in the online ranking mode and the dual control mode that puts the control of two ships into the hands of one player via dual along controls. To be fair, however, the dual mode was introduced in Raiden III and the online ranking mode has the same gameplay as the other modes but it regulates players to default settings and prohibits continues to promote fair competition. Raiden IV does give players a lot to do if they want to experience some variety in the way they play the main course the title offers up, but a lack of online gameplay and originality does take the overall offerings down just a notch.
Once a player dives into these modes, though, instincts will no doubt take over as fans of the series will know what to do and the simple, two-button control scheme is easy enough for anyone, but regardless of your skill or Raiden familiarity, it’s not hard to understand the concept of “don’t die.”Â As is typical in this genre, that is far easier said than done, but players do have a scope of tools that haven’t changed in large since Raiden II – players can command a wide-spread Vulcan gun, a narrow, but powerful laser and players can choose to have the purple power-up award them a weak, but homing plasma stream and a branching, arching proton stream. These weapons can be powered up and supplemented with bombs as well as missiles that have various guidance and explosion properties. Pretty much everything from Raiden III is carried over with very few tweaks here and there, so there is really nothing too unfamiliar here.
The controls are as tight as one would expect from a game in the genre and, as stated earlier, are simple in nature. However, there are a few factors that deviate from the mindless shooting such as laying off the fire button for a brief time to allow your sub weapon to charge for a double dose of fire that awards the player bonus points and smart players will switch to different main weapons throughout the game as there are clear instances where one weapon is more efficient over the other to promote a little in-game strategy – the spread of the vulcan cannon is great when transitioning to outer space in stage four and the armadas in stage six are easily taken down with the plasma stream, for example. Still, player reflexes will prove most valuable when the screen is littered with enemy fire and with the speed of enemy fire increasing on the later difficulties, it won’t be hard for the player to become overwhelmed and hastily chasing power-ups will most likely find the player reduced to ashes. Luckily Raiden IV has a very robust difficulty set that even features a practice difficulty where the enemy ships don’t even fire, but where is the fun in that? Even the very easy setting will prove to be a challenge for most players, but the solid shooter foundation in Raiden IV will no doubt have them coming back for more every once in a while. For masochists, there is, of course, the ultimate difficulty and there is a decent spread in between, but this doesn’t help the balance progression at all as the enemies will start throwing everything they have at you as soon as the third level.
Watching the top replays, a lot of success in Raiden IV hinges on memorizing the enemy patterns (which differs very slightly in the Xbox 360 mode compared to the arcade mode), which will no doubt keep interested players glued to the game for quite a bit. If the enemies can’t make it on to the screen, they can’t fire at you and this is where the brilliance of the returning flash bonus feature comes in, rewarding players with bonus points for taking out enemies as soon as possible. If a player scores a 5.0x bonus, that means they have destroyed the enemy as soon as it entered the field, letting players know they are in the best position for that given situation. In order to ease the frustration of defeat, dedicated players will be rewarded with extended continues and level selects, so it isn’t unfeasible to clear the game in most cases and it really encourages players to give the modes one more shot. Also, once you get into the genre, it is quite compelling to see how far you can get into the game with just one ship or one credit, so it’s most likely that if you enjoy your first go with the game, you’ll come back for a little more punishment, but it is also easy to say that a good portion of gamers will be too intimidated by the difficulty.
As fun as the game can be, however, Moss did take a few shortcuts with the game, which is most notable in how the progression is set up. The Xbox 360 mode does reward players for their purchase a little by adding in two new stages to the original arcade lineup, but in Ghost “ËœN’ Goblins fashion, players will have to tackle the full seven-stage spread twice to reach the true final boss. This comes across as a cheap way to extend the longetivity of the title, but at least during the second playthrough, the bullet speed increases and the bosses get a few minor upgrades to keep players on their toes. Also, with no real story to the game, it becomes hard to care about the small cutscenes that occur after the seventh stage, so even though it won’t bother fans of the genre too much, the game’s progression is a little shaky, acting more like a throwback to retro titles as opposed to taking advantage of what can be done on the Xbox 360. Also, this new installment is pretty much Raiden III with a fresh coat of paint, meaning very little has been done to advance the series, let alone the genre. However, when you boil down the gameplay, Raiden IV does what is expected out of a shmup and anyone who has interest in the genre will no doubt find a satisfying playthrough with the title.
The presentation in the title is serviceable for the Xbox 360, remaining on par with a lot of what has been released on Xbox LIVE Arcade. While the detail isn’t extravagant in the title, it is definitely in the style of Raiden and, as always with the series, there are some key attentions to detail that do pop out on occasion. Most notably is the game’s use of lighting – explosions are glaringly bright, you can see particles flowing in your ship’s laser and the proton/plasma beams spark with electricity – and if you can somehow pay attention to subtle effects, there are different enemy kill animations that range from an outright explosion to their ship shorting out and crashing to the environment below and enemies destroyed over water result in the craft splashing down, especially the stage three boss where the huge craft creates a wake in the water.
The enemy fire doesn’t nearly have this same pop and the orange colored bullets can get lost on a few of the environments (which why a lot of games in this genre are heading toward vivid green or pink bullets), but you do still get a handful of unique spray patterns, such as the rings spewed by the stage six boss. The menus and transition screens are also a bit lively and give players very adequate visuals to carry them from one menu to the next. Also, while some of the enemies and environments do not have great detail, players can view models of each enemy in a gallery mode, which does provide a bit more detail and scale for the player. Perhaps the most glaringly negative aspect of the title is in its few CGI sequences, that get the job done and are perhaps trying to provide an animation, cell-shaded style appearance, but the lack of detail on anything other than the ME-2 and the slightly jerky animation make these entirely skippable.
Going on to more positives, though, Raiden IV features some quality sounds, which I would wholly expect from the title as the music and sound was one of the aspects that originally engrossed me into the series. While the music is nothing revolutionary, maybe intending to reflect the style of music common to classic shooters, it pushes the action along with some catchy melodies, with a portion of the tunes actually being remixes of classic Raiden themes. These will probably go over the heads of most players, but I just can’t be mad at the game over screen with that recognizable jingle ringing in my ears. As players mow down enemies, they’ll hear impressive booms from the explosions with the bigger enemies and player bombs providing some really deep, satisfying explosions. Outside of this, players will hear a lot of generic weapons sound effects that are pretty subtle, so it’s possible players will lose track of these effects among the intense action. The explosions and music definitely take center stage audibly, though, so the basic sound effects are no huge loss.
A lot of players will probably question the value of the title as it comes off the heels of Valcon Games’ Raiden Fighters Aces, which packs three full Raiden Fighters releases onto one disc, but you really can’t blame UFO Interactive for what Moss developed in Japan. It is clear that UFO has stepped in as a service to fans of Raiden and the shmup genre in order to provide them with a U.S. version that didn’t cost them a $75 import on top of a nearly $300 import system to play it on. While the average gamer might question the package, it seems UFO has a clear, intended target, and for that audience, Raiden IV is an easy recommendation. The title can be further extended for a paltry buck a piece to play as the series’ trademark Fairy as well as the original MK-II Raiden ship and both have more weapon variation than one might imagine. Sure, it would have been nice to have the extra ships on the disc or have DLC that extended the game with more levels, but the extra ships aren’t necessary to enjoy the game and they are excellent fan service to anyone familiar with the series. There are also some challenging achievements to reach for in the game, which will keep shooter fans striving for perfection in the title, however, it is a bit disappointing that the achievements discourage cooperative play with another person.
Graphics: VERY GOOD
Addictiveness: VERY GOOD
Appeal Factor: ENJOYABLE
The Final Rating: GOOD GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
While there are some weak spots that can’t be ignored in Raiden IV, as a shooter, the title excels in all of the areas it should – solid presentation stacked on top of intense and satisfying action. UFO Interactive is clearly catering towards fans of the genre and series with this installment and these gamers will no doubt enjoy their time with the title that now graciously comes at about half the price as the imported version. However, it would have been nice to see the series advance the shooting genre a little more as opposed to merely extending what players found in Raiden III and a few omissions such as online gameplay really prevent the title from being much more than an arcade port. Casual players will no doubt be intimidated by the difficulty balance even with practice and very easy modes and, unfortunately, Moss extends the replayability with a cheap repetition, but, overall, Raiden IV does what any shooter fan will ask of it. People unfamiliar with the series might want to approach with caution, but fans of the series and franchise should be able to pull a good amount of fun out of this sequel.