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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Raiden Fighters Aces (Xbox 360)

This collection of vertically scrolling shooters includes three Raiden Fighters titles from the 90's on a single disc. Each comes in the traditional 2D mode with allusions to the classic Raiden series, though with some impressive enhancements and changes. The most significant of these is the inclusion of drone fighters, which aid you as you battle foes. Each game offers intense shooting action, though not of the overkill variety seen in many recent releases. Raiden Fighters Aces' extra features include different screen modes, high score rankings and achievements to name a few. While it's old-school trappings might seem dated visually, the gameplay itself has held up well and all three games remain challenging and enjoyable.
While many gamers are probably familiar with Seibu's classic Raiden series, which was released for numerous platforms over the years, the arcade Raiden Fighters remained largely unheralded thanks to its limited distribution and lack of home ports. This situation has changed dramatically with this release of an excellent compilation, coming stateside via developers Valcon games. Consisting of three releases, the games represent a crash-course in the classic shooting genre, with an uncompromisingly old-school approach to their gameplay. The three games included are the original Raiden Fighters, it's follow-up, Raiden Fighters 2: Hell Dive and Raiden Fighters Jet. Of the three games, the first Raiden Fighters has the simplest approach in terms of graphics and style and feels the most like the original Raiden games. Raiden Fighters 2 has sleeker graphics, many more ships and more complex levels overall, which makes it more challenging. Raiden Fighters Jet is the most difficult of the three in terms of boss battles, but its extensive roster of fighters also makes it the deepest title on this compilation. Unlike the original Raiden titles which confined players to a single fighter, each Raiden Fighters title allows you to select a different fighter at the select screen, which you'll use in the main game. What makes this system cool is the fact that each of these fighters has a unique set of attacks and different speeds. As usual, you begin with a lightly armed ship and add more firepower by collecting power-ups as you play. The extra drone ships can also be collected in these pods as well as the traditional Raiden medals, which earn bonus points as well. One of the key things about Raiden Fighters is its use of the drone ships to increase the range and strength of your firepower, giving you a much bigger area of attack that helps to increase your firepower. Each ship has a unique roster of weapons which range from standard shots and missiles and the trademark super bombs that you can use to clear out a stage. Raiden Fighters' different ships offer several variations on these trademark burst attacks, ranging from a huge circular explosions in a single area to smaller dispersed shots that attack a larger portion of the screen.

This plays a key role in how you attack each level, with different strategies presenting themselves for each fighter you use. Some of the fighters are faster but have less firepower, while others have concentrated fire that isn't as effective in the regular portions but very powerful against end bosses. Using these different approaches allows the player to fight through the game's stages in their own unique style. This approach gives Raiden Fighter Aces more flexibility and gives this release a broader appeal amongst shooter fans. The level designs are fairly straightforward and you attack various enemies, collect power-ups and medals while learning when to use the super attack bombs. The twist in Raiden Fighters is the fact that you are given two drone fighters that accompany games' replay value since you can go back and try to beat your high score with different ships. Raiden Fighters Aces' single-player mode is quite good, and this is only enhanced by its multiplayer mode, where your ship, increasing your fire-power and making for some truly massive attacks. You can set up their attack patterns and configurations, which adds to the strategy. In the first game, there are only a couple of these available, but as you go on to its sequels, the roster of available ships swells to a dozen. Not only does this give players flexibility in terms of strategies, it also increases the another player can join and play co-operatively with you. It's not the most innovative feature in the world, but it's a definite plus. In addition, you can sign in to Xbox Live and post your high scores onto a leaderboard and see how you compare with players from around the world.

The little extras help to make this a more appealing package, some of these might seem incidental, but they'll appeal to hardcore gamers. You can set the game up to display in several modes. Raiden Fighters' standard presentation is decent, though the letterboxed play is somewhat small, even on a large monitor. You can adjust the screen size manually for a slightly larger viewpoint, which improves things slightly. In addition, the game offers a cool Tate mode where the action can be viewed sideways and helpfully allows you to adjust the controller to this perspective as well. Additionally, you can set visual filters to reduce the blurriness of the aliasing, for a more authentic look, add over-sampling of sprites for a more traditional pixellated look and even change the frame rate to best suit your monitor. Playing the game with its maximized screen area and graphics makes all the difference, and makes what could have been standard ports stand out from the pack. Controlling the game is fairly easy and the standard Xbox pad does a decent job, though things seem to flow smoother using the analog stick for some reason. Response time is excellent using either, and while an arcade stick would probably be ideal, its not necessary to enjoy the game. RFA's visuals can definitely be categorized as old-school, but the simple approach to its 2D gameplay and classically straightforward visuals mean it doesn't look dated. It moves at a fast pace and there are some impressive moments when the screen fills with bullets and fire that should bring a smile to anyone who grew up on these types of games. Musically, the games' soundtrack consists of aggressive techno. It fits the action nicely and helps to keep you motivated during battles. Despite this, Raiden Fighters Aces should give players excellent sense of arcade history and its presentation and options menus are above-average. The games themselves are solidly entertaining and deliver the classic shooter thrills that older players loved about the series. The tweaks and adjustments are great additions and should please those who've never played these titles in the arcades. Given its value price, above-average emulation featuring an extensive list of options and, most importantly, its solidly constructed gameplay, Raiden Fighters Aces is an outstanding game that should please fans of classic shooters.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B

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