Raiden is one of those shoot-em-up series that has been around for quite a long time. Oddly enough, the last time it saw a home release was in the early PSOne area, despite many entries in the "Raiden Fighters" offshoot series. Seibu Kaihatsu has handed off the rights to developer Moss, who has resurrected Raiden once again. Running on their new Type-X arcade board, it’s made a perfect transition to the PS2, courtesy of Taito. In keeping with its bloodline, Raiden III feels like it stepped out of the early 90s arcade era, but with a complete graphical overhaul.
The overhead shoot-em-up scene has been dominated by so-called "manic shmups", which delight in filling the screen with innumerable bullets. Raiden III has its fair share of this, but the danger lies more in speed of the bullets, rather than the number. Enemies don’t blindly fire shots, they fire right at you, so constantly movement is imperative. There are several difficulty settings, with the easiest being well suited for rookie pilots. The harder difficulty levels prove a sufficient challenge, though hardcore shmuppers may still find it a little too easy. Unlike most shooters recently, Raiden III limits your credits, at least until you beat the game. At seven stages in length, it’s also a bit longer than most games of its type, though a playthrough will still take only twenty minutes or so.
There are three primary weapons on your ship – your standard spread machine gun, a forward-focused laser, and a bending beam of light that you can whip back and forth. The latter is a variation on the famous "toothpaste" laser from Raiden II, except it doesn’t home in on enemies or bend around in weird directions. Each of these can be upgraded, and their firepower is completed by a series of missiles. You also have the traditional screen-clearing bombs. A combo system challenges you to dispose of enemies as quickly as possible, but otherwise, the scoring and weaponry system is fairly shallow.
While the graphics are fully polygonal, the visuals aren’t very impressive, as the landscapes are made up the standard recycled shooter fare – cities, canyons, outer space, etc. The ships and bosses are astonishingly well modeled, but it’s only something you can appreciate in the graphics viewer. Still, to its credit, there’s almost no slowdown, and consistently runs at a full 60 frames a second. The upbeat synth music would fit almost perfectly in a Mega Man X title, and is surprisingly catchy.
If that’s all Raiden III had to offer, it’d a passable entry in the shooter genre, but nothing particularly special. But Taito has implemented a feature so genius that you wonder why no one though of it before – using the dual analog pads and shoulder triggers, you can control two ships at once. As one might imagine, this can get extraoridinarly difficult, but properly coordinating the attacks of your two fights will create a super attack that showers your foes with energy bullets, effectively doubling your firepower.
While the lower difficulty levels are a bit dull in single player mode, you’ll thank Taito for including them in Dual mode.
Other than the aforementioned graphics viewer, the only real unlockables of note are Ace replay options of all of the levels. Considering that past Cave titles put them on separate DVDs and knocked up the price, it’s a fairly nice bonus to have them on the disc. There are a total of four screensize options. The default option is a proper emulation of the arcade resolution but puts huge black bars on the sides. The second option enlarges the screen but is still letterboxed. The latter two are tate options that require turning your TV on its side, but fills the entire screen.
Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 1
Almost all of the menu options, except for a few, are in English. Otherwise, there’s almost no Japanese to be found.
+ Pros: Solid shooter, dual shooter mode
– Cons: Designs and levels are lacking in imagination, one player mode is nothing special
Overall: The Cave games – Dodonpachi Daioujou, Espgaluda, and Mushihime-saga – are still the best overhead shooters on the Playstation 2. Despite being 2D, they feature much better visuals, have loads more personality, and are just better designed games overall. Still, Raiden III is a good antidote if you’re sick of manic shmups, and it’s definitely the next best stop. It’s one of those games that fans will probably enjoy, even if there’s little that stands out other than the Dual mode.
Written by Kurt Kalata.
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