The galaxy is in deep peril: foul creatures from the evil Bydo Empire have warped across space to invade and conquer our planet! There is only one hope for victory. The Earth Defense League has chosen you to pilot R-9, a nuclear-powered space fighter that can cut through invading aliens faster than a light saber through butter.
Fly R-9 through many exciting levels of high-powered action. Use your plasma gun to rip through armies of nasty creatures and their deadly machines. And when the going gets really tough, pick up Droid Units to make your ship even harder hitting!
You’ll be up against creatures so mean and ugly they’ll make your hair stand on end. But Earth is depending on you. So strap yourself in the cockpit, put your fingers on the triggers, and blast ’em out of the skies!
I was a Master System kid. When it came time for the family to buy a gaming console for the first time, my brother was a major influence in what was bought. A close friend of the family had a Master System, and we had been at their house several times playing the likes of Spy Vs. Spy, After Burner, Hang-On and Safari Hunt.
My next door neighbor, friend down the street, and best friend across the street all had Nintendos, so I ended up getting really good exposure to both worlds.
While R-Type wouldn’t have been my first ever shoot ’em up, (that distinction would probably go to Omega Race or Demon Attack on the VIC-20), it’s certainly one of my favorites of all time. It was one of the first games our family bought for the Master System, and still remains one of my favorites to this day.
So why am I talking about it now?
I’m talking about it now because I only managed to finish the game recently. As a kid, it was one of my favourite games, but I was never able to get past stage 4. August of last year I set out to finally finish it, and it took me roughly a month of attempts on and off.
R-Type is infamous for its relentless difficulty, but fortunately for me, the Master System version runs at a slower pace than its arcade counterpart, mostly due to slow down on the system.
The game is a side-scrolling shoot ’em up, consisting of 8 levels. On the Master System version they managed to squeeze in an additional optional bonus level that can be found with a secret entrance point half-way through stage 4.
As far as shoot ’em up games go, the mechanics of R-Type are, on the surface, quite simple. There are only three weapons to choose from, and they can not be powered up any more than their base levels. You can switch between them by picking up the power-ups that are obtained by destroying a POW Armor Unit.
You also obtain homing missiles that shoot out in pairs and lock onto targets for you, as well as small orbs called Bits. They are small floating orbs on the top and bottom of your ship that will damage anything they touch.
The real calling card for R-Type is what’s called the Force Unit. It’s the fundamental mechanic that makes up all R-Type games. It’s a larger orb-like power-up that you can attach to the front or the back of your ship at will, as well as shoot out in either direction. There are lots of different ways to use it effectively in battle situations, and getting used to moving it around and shooting it out when necessary are paramount to being proficient at any R-Type game.
As the game moves through the levels, the difficulty increase certainly doesn’t take its time. Level two takes place in a Bydo Cave, where you will have a constant barrage of Bydo creatures coming at you, but the stage overall is manageable. Likely due to colour palette limitations, the background in the Master System version is blue, yet the original arcade version is grey. This stage really hilights some of the limitations of the port, which include the lack of overlap in the background and the bottom/top of the level, leading to dark blue blocks around all the surrounding tiles. There is also significant sprite flickering on the Death Snake in the later part of the level.
Stage 3 takes place around a large Bydo Mega Battleship, and this marks the first time the game really impressed me as a kid graphically. The massive ship is at least 2-3 times the size of the screen, and you fly around it destroying the many guns and lasers mounted to it. It’s an easier stage than the arcade version though, due to the lack of top and bottom walls. The ship can crush you into the walls as it moves up and down throughout the stage.
The fourth stage is where the difficulty is really ramped up, and this serves as a hard block for many players trying to progress through the game. There are dozens of Suotrons, which are small units that fly throughout the stage in many different directions, leaving a trail of cells that will destroy you if you come into contact with them. Dodging the Suotrons, destroying the paths of cells they make, and also dealing with all the other enemies will prove to be a punishing test. Memorisation of the enemy patterns and keen use of your Force Unit is a must to stand a chance.
"dealing with all the other enemies will prove to be a punishing test"
As the game progresses through the 8 levels (9 if you want to take on the bonus stage), the game does not stop for any free rides on the way to the top of fuck you mountain. If you die at any point during the game, you will lose all power-ups, and the struggle to get any momentum going can be very arduous. In the later stages, any death is almost certain to end your run, as your ship will be too slow to dodge the incoming attacks from the Bydo.
As I was working towards a 1CC (One Credit Clear, finishing the game without using a continue), I found that if I were to die at any point after stage 3, there would be no point in continuing at all. I must have died 20-30 times on stage 6, more on stage 7, and then maybe 10 times on stage 8 before finishing the game. This means a complete reset each time from the beginning of the game, because I would die over and over again trying to get my power-ups back.
In the end, I was only able to complete it by not dying at all. It sounds like a pretty impressive feat, but in reality it was a matter of consequence. I could not progress any longer if I died, so the only other way to continue the play was to beat my head against the wall of punishment until I eventually prevailed without a death. The satisfaction of completing a game that I love and had been playing since I was a kid is very special, and it only feeds my desire to finish more games from the system.
The port certainly has its flaws, and the TG16/PC Engine version is clearly regarded as the best of the bunch. However, I’m not sure I see the reason to play it over the arcade R-Type, as they are almost identical. The Master System is a slightly slower paced journey, one that is still rife with challenge, but perfectly playable. It’s not a broken mess as many of the other R-Type ports are, and the bonus stage is a new experience for fans of the series.
Developer: irem, Master System Port by Compile
Released: Oct 1st, 1988
Platform: Sega Master System
MSRP: $49.99 USD
Genesis controllers are your friend.
– Varied level design, colourful graphics, and great controls
– Good boss battles, lots of varying types
– 9th bonus level is a great addition to the Master System version
– Punishingly difficult
– Slowdown during gameplay
– Lots of sprite flickering
– Punishingly difficult