Review: Radiant Silvergun (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Radiant Silvergun
Genre: Shooter
Developer: Treasure
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: 09/14/11

So if you’re a fan of shooters, you probably know this, but for those who don’t, Radiant Silvergun is basically the Holy Grail of shooters. Whether it’s the best or not is going to be strictly a matter of personal interest and taste, but it’s certainly one of the most ambitious ever, and disc copies of the Saturn game routinely fetch between one and two hundred dollars on Ebay and similar sites, due in equal parts to a less than optimal print run and its mythical reputation. Microsoft had reportedly been almost begging Treasure to release the game on XBLA for quite some time, which Treasure seemed largely uncertain about doing for various reasons, but it’s hard to keep a good game down, and for the first time in, well, ever, Radiant Silvergun is available to anyone who wants it, at the low price of fifteen dollars. While this is likely to hurt the financial worth of the Saturn original, really, appeasing speculators at the cost of exposing the masses to any potentially great game is asinine, and as such, you too can now own one of the most desirable games, financially if nothing else, in gaming history. So, then, the questions that come up are two: first, is the game itself worth all of the hype that surrounds it, and second, does the XBLA release appropriately emulate the experience of the original?

I could pretty much just say “Yes and yes” and call it a day, but let us press onward all the same.

Surprisingly enough, Radiant Silvergun actually has a storyline to it, and it’s a pretty decent one at that. In the year 2520, humanity discovers a weird artifact alongside a robot that matches the serial number of a robot on-board “Tetra”, a spacecraft in the employ of the Earth’s defense forces. While studying the robot found with the large stone-like object, it’s discovered that the object is some sort of advanced machine… shortly before said machine comes online and wipes out the entire planet, save for the Tetra and crew. Oops. The game picks up one year later, as the crew of the Tetra has to revisit Earth to resupply, and said advanced machine is none too thrilled about the Tetra’s arrival, which it expresses by basically attempting to atomize the ship. The Tetra, however, has a few tricks up its sleeve, namely three of the titular Silvergun fighters on-board, which it deploys to combat the assaulting hordes, in hopes of resupplying and, later, discovering what, if anything, can stop these invaders of humanity’s rightful home. As stories go, it’s solid, and while it has a bit of silly eighties throwback elements stuffed into it, the plot is surprisingly well-developed for a shooter and is actually pretty engaging, if a bit bleak. Outside of the plot, there are also a few play modes in the game to work with. The game offers two major modes, Arcade and Story, with the former being a straight-up arcade shooter and the latter giving you the full story as you play through. Both modes offer full on and offline multiplayer support, as well as normal and Score Attack play, tutorials, and replay saving options, as well as various adjustable gameplay options depending on the mode, so you’re definitely getting a lot of options to play with, no matter how you want to go about playing.

The visuals in Radiant Silvergun have been cleaned up a good bit, and while they’re not the prettiest on the console by any means, they’re visually impressive enough to be enjoyable. The game makes use of a hybrid 2D/3D system, where the player ship and enemy scrubs are hand-drawn 2D sprites, and the bosses and some special effects are fully rendered in 3D. The 2D sprites hold up quite well at this point, while the 3D looks a bit blocky compared to modern standards, though it’s still quite serviceable. The game itself is quite colorful and easy on the eyes, and makes great use of its color palette, and the stages you fight through and enemies you face are all different, making for a game that has a lot of visual personality to make up for its lack of technical prowess in this day and age. Aurally, Radiant Silvergun holds up as well as it ever did, thanks in large part to an impressive and well composed soundtrack. Now, granted, saying that a shooter has a great soundtrack is a lot like saying that water is wet, but what’s interesting with Radiant Silvergun is that the score is more of an odd orchestral-sounding score than the traditional electronic themes one expects from the genre, which actually works pretty well, and lends the game a surprisingly epic feel it might not otherwise have. There’s also some voice acting in the game, and though it’s Japanese only, the voice cast does a good job here and is easy on the ears. The sound effects are typical of the shooter genre, so you’ll hear lots of explosions and futuristic firing effects on your way to the end of the game, and none of them sound bad or out of place in the least.

Explaining the mechanics of Radiant Silvergun, in theory, seems like it wouldn’t be too hard given the genre, as it’s mostly a matter of moving around and shooting things, and with the left stick and D-Pad handling the movement, well, the shooting shouldn’t be too hard to sum up, right? Hah, joke’s on you there bud, because Radiant Silvergun has a whopping SEVEN shooting buttons, depending on the control schematic you use, and each has its own uses. A fires your standard straight-firing Vulcan laser, B fires a long-range homing shot, the right bumper fires an explosive angled spread bullet, X employs a perimeter field that fires homing lasers at anything that breaches the field, Y fires a wide reverse shot, the left bumper fires two beams that lock onto enemies in front and fry them, and the right trigger uses the Silvergun’s sword, which does heavy but short-range damage, absorbs some bullets, and can launch a “smart bomb” after absorbing enough bullets. Crazy, right? Well, that’s one of the big elements of Radiant Silvergun: you have seven awesome weapons, each with their own strengths and drawbacks, and some are more useful in situations than others, so you can use whatever weapons you want at whatever time you want to handle a battle, depending on the needs of the moment. It’s a gimmick shooters in general don’t really do too often, and over a decade later it’s still incredibly fresh and different from anything in the genre.

If that were the end of Radiant Silvergun’s tricks, though, that’d be a bit of a letdown, but the game has some other tools to work with. The game uses a combination scoring system to track your high-scoring, which can be used under Classic or Ikaruga rules, depending on your preference. The gist is that enemies come in three colors, yellow, blue, and red, and killing three of one color in a row fills a Chain bar on the left that adds bonus points to your score. Using the classic rules means that you’re basically trying to stick to one color period for the best possible scores, as shooting an enemy of a different color resets your Chains back to the beginning, while Ikaruga rules allow you to switch off on what color you shoot after every instance where you fill the Chain bar, though the score profits are somewhat lower. The Ikaruga rules are the easiest to work with, but the classic rules are more rewarding in the end, so it’ll be a matter of what you as the player want to do to earn the most points. Making good use of the Chain meter doesn’t just jack out your score, however. Each of the weapons you use falls into one of three types (save the sword, which counts as all three): Vulcan, Homing or Spread, and using the appropriate weapon to jack the score up adds experience to the meters tracking those weapons. Earning higher levels in those meters in turn adds to the power of the weapon type, and this carries over when you die and continue, which makes things easier as the game continues forward and the enemies get rougher.

In another interesting twist, the story and stage progression is strictly non-linear, as you’ll start at Stage 3 before backtracking and jumping forward, depending on the mode you play and the choices you make when applicable, and while this is purely an aesthetic choice, it’s a fine one all in all. Arcade and Story Mode don’t just handle the level choices differently however. In Arcade Mode, you can set your lives and score limit for extra lives by default, and when you lose your last ship you’re welcome to continue until you run out of credits. In Story Mode, however, you get no continues; instead, you play until you run out of lives, at which point it’s Game Over… and you are then allowed to save your weapon levels for your next playthrough. You got that right, it’s a shooter that allows you to grind yourself to higher levels. While that might sound weird, hey, you’re going to be dying a lot anyway, right? You might as well carry over your progress from one session to the next anyway, so your session isn’t a total waste. These points only apply to the Normal mode of each game type; in Score Attack, you’re instead given a specific amount of lives, no continues, and no ability to load your weapon levels; you just play until you die and post the earned score on the appropriate leaderboard, to put everyone on an even playing field.

Radiant Silvergun is one of the lengthier shooters out there, clocking in at around an hour total for a single run, though it’ll be a good long time before you get through the campaign unless you’re really good or really dedicated. Both modes are willing to throw you a bone to help you move forward, though; for each hour you play the mode, Arcade mode will give you an extra continue, while Story mode will give you an extra life, giving you more chances to plow through the game. You’ve also got Local and Online co-op play, with the former allowing you all of the normal options you’d have available, though online play limits your options a little bit. The game also has plenty of Achievements to earn, as well as two Avatar awards to unlock by playing both modes twenty times each (though Normal counts each continue as a “play”). In short: Radiant Silvergun in general is an innovative game with lots of neat ideas, and this version of it is crammed full of content to play around with, making it something that no shooter fan can possibly pass up, especially given its substantially lower than normal price tag.

The biggest complaints one can lay against Radiant Silvergun are twofold. First, the game is very busy thanks to the seven different weapons available, and while that offers up a lot more variety than, say, Ikaruga, it’s also harder to adjust to sometimes. The game helpfully puts a weapon legend on the right side of the screen in single-player so you can keep track of your buttons and what they do, but still, seven different bullet types mapped to different buttons is daunting, at first, and gives the game a bit of a learning curve most shooters don’t stress early on. Second, Radiant Silvergun gets a lot of its added length from its generally slow pace; unlike, again, Ikaruga, the enemy spawning and ship speeds, even for your own craft, are a bit slower than one might expect, and while the pace is about on par with some of Deathsmiles‘ slower stages, that game alternated pacing a bit, while this game is consistently at a bit or a reduced speed. The game can also be less than newbie friendly, especially if you’re the sort of player who prefers the infinite continue options of, well, Deathsmiles, as you’ll have to grind on the game for a few hours to unlock enough continues to make it through a full session. This isn’t terrible, as you essentially learn the patterns by way of pushing yourself through the stages over and over, but more casual shooter fans might be put off by the repetition as a result.

Really, though, when the worst things you can say about a game are “the pacing is a little slow” and “the game is a little too complex for casual gamers” that’s hardly a knock against it, and despite these minor gripes, make no mistake: Radiant Silvergun is one of, if not THE, best shooters ever released. Treasure was really firing on all cylinders when they made this game, from the surprisingly engaging storyline to the artistically pleasant visuals and outstanding audio to the diverse and interesting gameplay elements and beyond. This 360 port only adds to those excellent elements, cleaning up the visuals, adding in new play modes and options, as well as extras and unlockables, and the end result is a diverse and enjoyable shooter that’s full of content to boot. Yeah, the game can be a bit daunting in terms of sheer complexity and grinding needed for weaker players, and yeah, the pacing is a little slower than most shooters. If those things bother you, then you might have a harder time adjusting to the game than most. For anyone who likes or loves shooters, however, Radiant Silvergun is an excellent port of an excellent game and is easily one of the very best shooters to be released on the XBLA service, and there’s really no reason you shouldn’t buy it, unless you hate shooters or something, in which case, uh… well, there’s a Madden game out or something, I guess.

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

Short Attention Span Summary:
Do you like shooters? If you do, you should really be paying for and downloading Radiant Silvergun right now instead of, well, anything else. If you don’t… well, I don’t know why you read all the way down to the bottom of the review, but, uh, thanks for reading? I guess? Anyway, the game is a little more challenging than some less skilled players will be prepared for, and it’s a little slow paced, so if this somehow bothers you there are certainly other games you can spend money on. However, if you’re willing to overlook these incredibly minor flaws, Radiant Silvergun is one of the most conceptually interesting, diverse and well designed shooters on the market, and the XBLA port retains all of that charm and innovation and adds plenty of replay value and added content on top of that. Fifteen dollars is a steal for a game that routinely sells for triple digit prices online, frankly, and the game, for all of its hype, mostly pays that off in spades. If you have an Xbox 360, a hard drive, and an internet connection, and you’re not some sort of shooter hater, seriously, this should be on your hard drive as soon as it can be. You won’t regret it.

2 Comments
  1. Mark B.

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