Review: Raystorm HD (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Raystorm HD
Developer: Taito
Publisher: Taito
Genre: Vertical Shoot ’em Up
Release Date: 5/5/2010

Anyone who’s paid attention to anything I’ve written in the past couple years knows that I have a hard-on for anything that bears the Working Designs logo. Even bad games such as Silhouette Mirage sit on our collective game stand simply because of my love for that company and what they brought me for over a decade. One of the games that I own is Raystorm for the PSX, a great shooter on a system known for inspired shooters like Einhänder and light gun game Elemental Gearbolt. It was Xevious on steroids, with one of the best stages (stage 4, Earth orbit) I’ve ever played in a game. Taito has graced us with a port to the Xbox Live Arcade, with improved graphics.

It’s still the same game I grew up loving on the Playstation. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s the exact same game, with a very slight coat of paint.

There’s a very basic story to Raystorm: it’s 2219, space travel has been a reality for a century, and Earth has imposed its will on the space colonies via martial law. The colonies revolted, and won, but now they want to blow up the Earth. This is where you come in, flying an R-GRAY, on a mission to save the Earth. In other words, you fly for the bad guys, but now they’re not the bad guys anymore, so you’re the good guy, and… oh who cares, it’s a vertical shooter and the story doesn’t come into play once during gameplay. If someone can tell me how the story of Raystorm differs from the story of Mobile Suit Gundam and Gundam Zeta, I’m all ears, but it doesn’t obscure the main goal of the game: blow stuff up.

The way you commence the blowing up of stuff is by simultaneously using a standard laser and a guided laser which has to be locked on by a target in front of your plane. Depending on the plane you’re using, you can lock on to different numbers of targets, with the response being either immediate (multiple missiles fire at the same time) or delayed (one big missile that goes from target to target), working a lot like shooting in Rez. The two main planes have a nice balance between them, with each having strengths and weaknesses; the R-GRAY 1 is better for beginners, while the R-GRAY 2 and R-GRAY 0 are better for experienced players that want to rack up points. Furthermore, the lock-on mechanic is smooth enough that even newcomers to the game will want to go straight to “manual” fire.

The problem is that the mechanic is SO awesome that the game wants to shove it down our throats. In a game like Xevious and its many clones, there are two planes of action; the air and the ground. In Raystorm, everyone’s on a 3D plane, so there’s multiple levels they can be on, but they have to be *completely* parallel to you for you to be able to hit them with the main cannon. Furthermore, when you’re graded at the end of every stage, you’re graded on how many enemies you kill, and how many you kill via lock-on. Therefore, the game specifically wants you to use the lock-on mechanism as much as you possibly can, and holds your score up as a carrot to entice you to do it their way, with the fact that you can’t shoot anyone else regardless being the clincher.

Of course, to get a line on people to hit them, you have to get somewhat close, and therein lies the rub of Raystorm. This is one of those games where even experienced gamers are going to ask “what the hell hit me!?”. Bullets seem to come from nowhere, and they often change speed and direction, so learning when and where to dodge takes a lot of practise and rote memorization of each stage. Even then, that sometimes doesn’t help, especially against bosses who sometimes don’t play fair. The game also has a fair amount of graphical flair, which means bullets and enemies blend into other things – usually explosions – around it. Sometimes, it’s just not possible to see what’s coming at you until you’ve blown up, and because of what it takes to get locked on, getting blown up usually happens while trying to get close enough for a lock.

What sucks is that the constant need to concentrate on anything nearing your ship forbids you from taking in the really nice stages. Some of the earlier stages are rather plain, but some of them – especially the fourth stage, which takes place in space among a huge battle between an armada of destroyable spaceships – are really nice. Some of the environments are destructible via missiles, which is something I’ve always loved in shooting games; if I’m blowing stuff up, I want to blow it *all* up. But even the fourth stage isn’t perfect; you can’t un-lock yourself if you’ve locked onto something, which means you’re going to end up wasting missiles on far-off objects. This is especially troublesome if you’ve picked R-GRAY 2, which sends everything in a line; you’ll be waiting for your weapon to come back.

Ultimately, this is a good shooting game with some unfriendly elements that are going to scare away newer gamers. Shooting games aren’t meant to be easy, but here, there’s no difference between default and very easy difficulty that I could notice; enemies go down a little easier, but it doesn’t matter if you can’t see bullets to dodge them. With that said, the difficulty progression between levels is fair. In stage 1, it’s going to be smooth sailing for almost anyone, and by stage 6, it’s going to be a struggle to make it through without running out of credits. There’s also a heavy emphasis on memorization involved; you have to learn where and when enemies are coming, and how they shoot. If you rely solely on reflexes, chances are good you’re in trouble.

There are two main modes: Arcade and Extra, with Extra mode being a slightly harder remix for the consoles. There’s also a mode that allows you to play through the game with only 13 ships, spanning each different type, including the prototypes. Here’s my problem: this is exactly what the PSX version gave. They changed nothing, they added virtually nothing. The only significant addition is that of leaderboards, and I’m certainly not going to pat Taito on the back for adding something that should be compulsory at this point. I’m also going to kick their arses for for not allowing two-player play over the internet, something those crappy arcade ports from four years ago were doing just fine. All of this is in a $15, premium priced package. There’s simply not enough here to justify that price. There are better shooters on XBLA for less. Ikaruga is $10. Triggerheart Exelica is $10, and is much more rare ($120 on ebay vs. about $25 for Raystorm). The only other difference between the PSX and 360 versions of this game are the “high definition” graphics, and even those aren’t that impressive, because all they really do is remove the sharp edges that you would see playing the PSX version. In short, if that’s the only upgrade we’re getting – and it is – then it’s not worth it.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Below Average
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Poor
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
Replayability: Good
Balance: Good
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Decent
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Dreadful
FINAL SCORE: BELOW AVERAGE GAME


Short Attention Span Summary

While Raystorm HD is the same game fans have had for a decade and a half, that’s all it is: the same game. There’s nothing new here, and anyone that would pick this over better games like Ikaruga, Triggerheart Exlicia and Raiden IV still owns the original game in the first place. Taito didn’t do nearly enough to justify people purchasing this on the game’s own merits, especially for $15, considering the dated and cheap gameplay. I enjoy it, but there are better options for people that aren’t intimately familiar with the game.

If I didn’t receive this for a review, I wouldn’t have bought it. I can’t recommend anyone else buy it either, at least unless the price comes back down to $10.

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