Those who follow and read my reviews on here will know that I’m a bit of an old-school gamer. I grew up gaming on a diet of Amstrad and Amiga titles. There were some classics that have stood the test of time there, and more so. Of particular note were some of the best vertical scrolling shoot em ups that I’ve played. Titles like the Bitmap Brothers’ Xenon 2 and the groundbreaking Battle Squadron are two that spring to mind. Anyone who played these two titles in particular will have had an indelible watermark etched on their gaming compass. How could anything possibly hope to match them?
Raiden V is a vertical shoot ‘em up that pits your super-powerful Valkyrie jet fighter against a horde of mutated crystal powered mech that appear to have spiralled out of control. You’re tasked with defeating the machines and saving the entire planet, if not the Solar System.
The game’s slow start hides the frantic action that is about to come. Initially, the text that gives you the background to your fight sort of rumbles on. I found myself strenuously resisting tapping through it. I wanted to soak this in, it’s been 25 years since the first Raiden after all. When the preamble finishes, it’s finally time to fight.
After choosing the most likely ship from three, with each having their own attack, speed and defence stats, you get to choose your loadout. This takes the form of choosing a weapon for each of three slots on your fighter. Each slot has three weapons to choose from. These all-important attacking options have, broadly speaking, three categories; a forward-firing beam, bullet-type laser projectiles and an automatically guided beam. Once you’ve picked your poison, it’s time to start dealing the death.
The main thing you’ll notice about the game-screen is that it’s divided into three distinct areas. The good thing about this is that the left and right sections, although separate, are not relying on you to keep an eye on either of them while things are getting hot in the middle area. Chill, you can concentrate on the enemy. In truth, the outer sections are a bit superfluous. The left section deals with your Cheer Rating and gives you information on the various in-game collectables and also displays your currently selected weapon and how much of your shield is left.
The right section of the game area switches between images of your flight-controller and commander and the text of the current in-game speech that is running in the background. The central section, though. Now that’s where all the action is.
The central section contains the real-time shooting action. Your ship is super-speedy as it flies around this area, dodging the hail of enemy fire as you attempt to deal your own version of death. Keeping in line with the original title, Raiden V is amazingly simple to pick up. The left stick controls your movement, the A button opens fire, B drops one of your limited supply of Smart Bombs. Easy, right?
On the face of it, you’d think so, but what you’ll notice is the sheer volume of enemies. At some points during some levels, you’ve got around 16-20 on the screen at once, all vying to fire that killer shot. Get them before they get you. Here’s where your weapons come into play. My favourite was the directional beam with auto-lock on. You get the opportunity to level these weapons up throughout the game with collectables that are dropped by destroyed enemies. These are coloured tokens that will, after time, change colour. When it matches the colour of the weapon that you’re using, go grab it and it will upgrade you weapon’s level. Alternatively, if you chose a different colour, it will change to one of your other weapons. Unlike some other games, shooting this token will not change the colour, thus speeding up the colour change. Bear this in mind when grabbing these.
The graphics are so much more than good, and the speed of the action in Raiden V is helped by the smaller gameplay window. This doesn’t stop the game from being bullet-fuelled chaos though. The good news is, unlike games like Xenon 2, the scenery does not cause your ship to snag. The explosions are again, well drawn and you’ll get some lovely medals to collect once your destroyed your foes.
So, the game is extremely engaging. There are plenty of levels to crack on your way to victory and each level or section is capped with the obligatory end of level boss to destroy. These generally take the form of a huge mechanised platform or device that will transform into a different configuration as the level of destruction progresses. These relate to the environment that each set of levels is based on, be that land, sea, air, space or even off-world.
Even though there are plenty of levels, the chances are that you’ll finish the story on the first pass. Not to say that the game is easy or that you’ll do this without losing some lives. On that subject, Raiden V doesn’t offer the player a set number of lives to lose. You have one ship with a percentage based shield system. Once the shield is depleted and you’re hit once more, it’s game over and you’ll be using that continue.
And you’ll be using that continue. The game is made in such a way that it makes you believe that no matter where in the level you died, you’ll know, or at least think, that you can beat it, no matter the odds. This makes the campaign feel a little on the short side, but your in-game choices take you down branching story paths, with a number of endings for the game.
This should then keep you coming back for more, and it does. The need to complete the full pyramid of levels is as heavy as Meat Loaf. This streaking through levels also means that there are some fairly easy gamer points on offer here too. The ping of gamer points overlays some catchy tunes that form the background to the usual shots and explosions that accompany shmups. This means, unfortunately, that the in-game speech is lost in all of this battleground noise.
All in all, Raiden V is a corking nostalgia ride through bullet hell. A must-have for any old-school gamer who is longing for a shooter that not only brings the memories of Battle Squadron and Xenon 2 bang up to date but also is an engaging and fun experience in its own right. The graphics are great, the gameplay is fluid and oh so fast. Moss have done a fantastic job. Even though the campaign may feel a little short, you realise that there are so many other branches of the storyline that are possible that makes the game replayable. Add the Blue Dragon and Fairy collectables into the mix and you’ll have hours of fun playing Raiden V. I don’t think it matters what else I write from here. I’m expecting you to be playing it.