|Source // Arcade Museum|
The 1990s are upon us and still we're playing around inside alien technology against alien invaders in another futuristic shoot 'em up. The screenshot that accompanied Raiden's entry in the 1001 list was alright - nothing special - and the write up points out that, graphically, there isn't a whole lot to write about it.
You fly up the screen and shoot all the things. It's not overly colourful, it's like any other shooter. Oh. So why must I play this game then?
Because it's not all about the graphics, is it? Hell no. Get the right feel or the right set of mechanics, give off the right atmosphere, give a little polish to the areas that matter and the graphics can look as drab as you like, it just doesn't matter. And Raiden's graphics don't even look that bad anyway. In fact, I like them.
You are (and it's probably rather clichéd by this point) the last line of defence for an Earth under threat. In front of you are eight stages of alien threats, including ground and air vehicles of all sizes, with bosses aplenty. And when you're done, you can do it all over again, until you are finally defeated. Maybe that's a metaphor or something...
Whatever it is, I'm playing the Sega Mega Drive kinda-port, Raiden Trad, and I'm getting Game Over after Game Over, hitting Continue after Continue, in part because I'm not used to playing this at all, but mostly because it's so damn good to play.
Now, that might be because I'm trundling through on Easy, or maybe just because I'm trundling - Raiden is on the slower end of the shoot 'em up speed spectrum, but that doesn't mean it's a breeze. Some sections will appear pretty easy and you'll be wondering just where the challenge is, and the next section will have a swarm of alien ships emerge from the screen edges and dart towards you.
I wouldn't say it's a bullet hell, but there are small moments that can feel that way. Most of the time, though, Raiden is about putting yourself into a smart position to be ready for what may come, rather than in order to deal with the one-hit-kill shots that are coming your way.
It's reactionary, sure - it's a shooter - but it's slow and steady pace makes it feel a little different, and a little more to my tastes for the genre.
Though there are times where it felt like I was merely pressing A to continue. After a few deaths, I'd notice my weaponry rapidly change. Power-ups will add secondary weapons like rockets and homing missiles, as well as switch up your main cannons for a beam weapon of varying strengths - your typical shoot 'em up gadgets - but to spawn in with what is essentially screen cleaning weaponry without the need to deploy the screen cleaning bomb is a little too hand-holdy...
I assume this was a generous offering when I was playing on my last life, to help push me towards the next checkpoint, with any subsequent deaths at least restarting from there - should I reach it - but its effectiveness was a little absurd. The price you pay for playing on Easy perhaps.
Those checkpoints were fairly frequent through the stages, but there were times where death got the reaction 'I'm starting from all the way back here?', so my advice is to not get shot. You lose a life when you do. Nobody wants that.
I eventually ran out of continues on the boss of the second stage, and a good few of the deaths that contributed to all those continues being used were down to silly little errors, rather than unfair gameplay. I suspect things get rather different on higher difficulties, or even in the arcade original, though the differences between these versions aren't too great so far as I can see.
However you're playing Raiden, you'll have a good time with it. The subtle side-to-side scrolling of the screen helps give the impression that the screen is a window to the world, rather than the entire world, and the sound - especially the arcade version - is pleasing to my ears, certainly.
Perhaps playing more Raiden would serve as good practice to go back and reattempt earlier shoot 'em up. Whether it does or doesn't, I'll have a good time playing it anyway, and recommend you do the same.
Raiden and Raiden II would be good enough to be bundled together in a consort port, The Raiden Project, a PlayStation launch title in 1995.
Raiden, developed by Seibu Kaihatsu, first released in 1990.
Version played: Raiden Trad, Sega Mega Drive, 1991, via emulation.
Version watched: Arcade, 1990 (Martinoz O)