“R-Type” Review (ZX Spectrum / Arcade Conversion)

You’ve stuffed 10p coins into its hungry slots, you’ve fired the ROM up in MAME, you’ve bought into every iteration of the series over smorgasbord of formats; you’ve absorbed the hype like a thirsty sponge. YOU love R-Type.


But settle down to write a review of the game and you realise the threadbare storyline makes less sense than a bowl of squeaking soup. “Save Humanity from The Evil Bydo Empire”? There isn’t a single human artefact in the entire game of R-Type! And as the for the “Evil” nature of the Bydo clan, their crimes are limited to flying around beautiful alien scenery, happily going about their business until you either shoot them, or crash into their pretty formations with a thundering SPLAT!

To understand, we must explore further, seeking out the truths of this most hallowed of franchises. So come all, join hands as we cry;

Oh, holy R-Type,
Guide us to your secret place
Reveal the true nature and shape of your Bydo.
Even a peep at it would be nice!
(I’ll quit whilst I’m ahead)

R-Type

R-Type

(1988, ZX Spectrum 48k)
Licensed by Irem
Published by Electric Dreams Software
Authors: Bob Pape, Mark A Jones, Robert L Hylands

R-Type is a side scrolling shoot-em-up produced by Japanese developer IREM in 1987. A contemporary of Gradius, R-Type’s primary innovations were the ability to charge up a super-shot and a detachable pod which could be used to ram enemies who wandered into its path.

The game was graphically stunning for its day featuring bizarre alien landscapes and end of level bosses who unnerved the player like only undulating blobs of space flesh can. In fact this wobbly-ness was very much like the cuisine I sampled whilst travelling in Asia leading me to believe Bydo is ancient Japanese code for “food”.

After researching the arcade release on the interwebs, its reception is tricky to gauge. The reviews featured on WIKIPEDIA all pertain to home conversions and score favourably. I certainly remember the machine sitting there in the arcades in my youth, but was it a popular machine? I don’t remember much playground banter on the subject. If anything we mostly discussed how shit C64’s were at vector games.

Bob Pape, developer of the ZX spectrum conversion had this to say in his (free) book
“Its Behind You – The Making of a computer Game”,

“Nowadays it’s called everything from Innovative to Classic but at the time there really wasn’t anything that special about R-Type that was making an impact in the arcades. To most people it was just another minor horizontal scrolling shoot-em-up, albeit with a few extra bells and whistles. If it had been that popular then I wouldn’t have had to travel to London to play it, Southsea itself boasted a number of excellent video arcades and it wasn’t to be found in any of them.”

Well enough of this watery-eyed and senile conjecture (I am nearly 36 after all), LET THE GAMES BEGIN AS THE TAPE SLIDES IN.

We slip gracefully into the first level like a fresh pair of nylon stockings to be cheerfully greeted by the first baddies of the game who die like all first level baddies do without whimper in a hail of rapid-fire bullets.

Once these tragic butterflies are blasted back to “Bydo” we seize an opportunity to bask in the majestic scenery of the R-Type universe. And what scenery! Gorgeous full colour backgrounds creep past one pixel at a time while incredibly detailed sprites whiz overhead without a hint of colour clash.

A moment later and a glorious revelation seeps in; this is a spectrum masterpiece! It’s exactly like the arcade! There’s the spinning thing with the blue eye! Oh yes! I have the 3 way laser zapper thingy etc.

R-Type Level 1 Boss

The iconic Tandoori King Prawn level 1 boss. Delicious!

Before you know it you are confronted by the instantly recognisable Level One Boss I like to call “number 34 with mushroom pilau and a keema naan.” Why instantly recognisable? Well because IREM and every other publisher chose to capitalise on this particular baddie for his resemblance to the alien from, well, “Alien”. (duh!)


Personally, I think he looks more like a giant king prawn. A prawn stranded in deep space when the remnants of his crew were scattered in an accidental spillage at the Raj Palace, Saturn.

After a clunky multi-load we embark upon level two and its brain capsule vista unfurls upon the screen like a brainy unfurling thing.

R-Type

Brains. Crabs. You know the rest. (?)

Again we bish bash and bosh our way through waves of achingly beautiful sprites, with rotating brain monsters and yellow crab beasties darting around the screen in an arguably non-confrontational manner.

R-Type

Now stand still and cough, this won’t take a jiffy!

Lacking in the set-pieces of the first level, the second culminates in a battle with another familiar friend whom I like to call “The Space Anus”.

Also a poster boy for the release, this baddie’s attractive openings were used as a lure to entice the average punter into a stab at interstellar domination, and maybe a lesson or two in alien anatomy.

And so on and so on through clunky multi-load after multi-load; probably the game’s only bugbear. Entirely excusable given the lavish graphics crammed into the speccy’s limited memory, and the arcade-perfect choreography.

R-Type

Bydo Daises. Evil.

Oh, and the sound. The sound is pretty dire ranging from the ubiquitous “Putt Putt” to a slightly more decadent “zoop” when the supercharge blast is deployed. Little tid-bits of music here and there fail to arouse the eardrums and feel like an afterthought tagged onto an otherwise flawless experience.

We could trawl level by level throughout the game but in all honesty the best gameplay is to be found back on level one. Given the extreme difficulty of the game few arcade players would ever have progressed further than this; a facet the designers were well aware of. Maybe the rationale went, “Okay if they make it to the prawn fair enough, but if they get past the anus we’re f*****.” (finished)

R-Type End Level BossI’ve included an image of the last few moments of the game, just after you have “zooped” your last “putt” into the Evil Bydo’s bonce. This is primarily to save you the effort of doing it yourself, but also to prove how adept I am at utilising the invincibility option in my emulator.

Well, if now is the time to muster conclusions then so be it; without denial R-Type on the Sinclair is a feast for the senses. An all-out smash on the system as it was equally amongst the other home systems it appeared upon.

A success perhaps for the quality of its conversion rather than its gameplay, it nevertheless represents the first chance we got at well-known blast through a rather strange and enduring world indeed.

Retro Yak Dave says: I think I walked in to an arcade in the 80’s and said “Oh look there’s an arcade version of the brilliant ZX Spectrum game R-Type” … Great review of a great game, perhaps “Space Anus” is the result of eating too many Tandoori King Prawn level 1 boss’s.