The Laser Guide to Video Games - Review









In Memory
Sean Pettibone


The Laser Guide to Video Games

Raiden (PC Engine - 1991)
Super Raiden (PC Engine - 1992)

It would be easy to overlook these conversions of Raiden for the PC Engine, since the platform was home to many flashier and more elaborate shooter titles. Saibu Kaihatsu's Raiden was always a bit of a slow-building title with an appeal that sneaks up on the player, revealing its nuanced and deep gameplay after extended play sessions. Its approach is one of the key elements of this appeal. One of the key differences between Raiden and the many other shoot-'em-ups on the plarform are its aesthetics. It takes a slightly more realistic look at the genre, with a muted, almost monochomatic color palette. Initially, this approach might seem underwhelming, but Raiden's subtle visual-style works almost perfectly within the confines of the game. Raiden is proof that in some instances, looks can definitely be decieving. The grayish approach isn't completely flat, with extensive use of shadows that gives Raiden's levels a convincing sense of depth many of its more colorful contemporaries lack. This also has the subtle benefit of making enemies and power-ups visually straightforward, making it simple to locate them while their brightly colored bullets are easier to avoid against Raiden's subdued backdrops. The animation and design is above average, with an appealing style that brings a cool realism to the levels that maintains a dynamic flexibility.

The gameplay maintains a fairly consistent level of difficulty throughout. Earlier stages help set the stage with a good variety of opposing forces attackin you with a fairly standard set of attack pattern. While there are parts of Raiden that seem difficult to beat, the game's balance is fair. You should be able to get through a significant portion of the game without much effort, using mainly your reflexes. However. there are some predictable patterns that emerge as you play through the game. This is particularly true when it comes to the boss battles, where the end-stage guardians typically use the same attack patterns. Learning these patterns and finding their vulnerabilities is probably the best strategy. In addition, you can even the odds by memorizing their position and timing should help you get through some of the more difficult sections.

Standard shots are effective in most situations, but the game's power-up structure gives you the chance to build your powers up gradually. As you play, you'll find two basic types of power-ups. red and blue. Each one offers a different type of weapon, with the red boxes bulding up standard red bullets that gradually expand outwards until they scrape throughout the screen. Going for the blue boxes gives yo a laser that's more focused, but highly effective in sweeping through a focused section. Stacking these power-ups in succession gives you an incredible amount of firepower. but this isn't the full extent of your fighter's capabilities. Along the way, you can also fire a super bomb that unleashes a massive exlposion that destroys everything within its radius. When you unleash your super-bombs and other attacks, it makes their explosions feel quite dramatic, their massive explosions stand out in sharp contrast when unleashed. The attention to detail in these sequences is impressive, with the large craters left in their wake permanently scarring the landscaoe.

This marks a dramatic flourish during each stage but you only have a couple of these weapons to use in each level so you need to be careful and time them for release at the right time. You can't rely on them in every situation, either. The areas of the immediate explosion offer protection, but you're still vulnerable to enemy fire if your ship is outside the blast area. Carefully manueviring your ship to avoid enemy fire should allow you to get through most sections. Skilled players shpuld be able to hold off using their bombs until they encounter the boss fights at the end of each stage, but players occasionally might have to use them in some more challenging sections. Raiden's play balance is fairly consistent throughout and most players should have little trouble cutting through the normal sections of the game. There's an excllent balance between your firepower and enemy attacks, which makes playing feel challenging but not frustrating. There's a traditional shoot-'em-up structure that's implemented nicely, with each stage gradually building towards a final battle. One of the more unique aspects of Raiden that players should note comes after you defeat the end boss. You gain a bonus score that's multiplied from both the numbers of bombs you have left and how many bonus pods you've collected along the way. While not necessary to complete the stages, these scores give you an added incentive to play through the game repeatedly for a higher score.

Two seperate versions of Raiden were released by Hudson Soft an while they share superficial elements, there are some key differences. The standard HuCard offers an impressive conversion of the arcade game, with a decent soundtrack, impressive player animation and little slow-down. It controls beautifully and fluidly with the standard d-pad with excellent, faithful visuals that recreate the arcade title's design and structure to a very high degree. Its one of the better shoot-'em-ups on the plarform in terms of polish and gameplay but there's an even better option if you have the CD-Rom attachment or a Duo console. Super Raiden is an enhanced version of this game that improves on it in a number of impressive ways. The robust. fully-orchestrated CD quality soundtrack is more elaborate and richer, with robust arrangements of the game's score and enhanced sound effects.
Most importantly, players will also discover two additional levels unseen in the HuCard edition that further extend its replay value. Aside from this, the game engine appears largely unchanged, which isn't too much of a detriment, since the HuCard's presentation was already impressive. Both editions offer a fairly good, subtile an entertaining take on the genre. Raiden was never the most elaborate shooter but its depth of play, solid mechanics, challenging level design and strategic implementation of massive bombs are keys to its enduring appeal. Its a satisfying shooter that plays beautifully and smoothly throughout its many levels. Both editions are worth playing but the extra stages and enhanced sound make the CD-Rom edition the preferred choice. However, no matter which flavor of Raiden you prefer, you most likey will leave your session satisfied. This is an ever-green title with plenty of depth and challenge, creating high replay value. Its classic-approach to the genre means it has held-up well. This is one of those shmups what set the standard for other titles in the genre. It's maintained a well-earmed reputation as an essential shoot-'em-up title and an enduring standout in the PC Engine library.

- Michael Palisano