If asked to pick a single classic side-scrolling arcade shooter that brings players as much pain as it does joy, R-Type would be one of the first titles that comes to mind. First hitting arcades in 1987, R-Type has gained the dubious distinction of being one of the most difficult and unforgiving horizontal shooters of the coin-op era. It has gone on to inspire not only its own sequels but many other popular titles in the genre like Gradius. Over the years R-Type has been ported to just about every game system imaginable and now EA Mobile (along with developer DotEmu) have brought Irem’s classic to the iPhone. As a fan of the original, I am thrilled to say that EA Mobile’s release of R-Type is as unforgiving as ever, wisely choosing to leave a classic a classic, they have not taken it easy on today’s “gotta have it now” crowd.

If you’ve never had the masochistic pleasure of playing this true arcade gem, the story is as follows: You must battle an onslaught of alien creatures from the Bydo Empire by piloting your R-9a “Arrowhead” spaceship and laying down a barrage of bullets. Each level culminates in an epic boss battle which will most certainly have you begging for mercy. Always facing forward, most combatants will come at you from the right side of the screen, but you’ll have to be careful as some of the enemies that you pass will have a habit of sneaking back up on you from behind. Initially your R-9a comes equipped only with a small gun, that is not particularly powerful in it’s normal firing mode, although, you do have the ability to charge this weapon to build up a single, larger and more-deadly burst of energy.

As you progress through each of the games’ 8 levels, special ships will appear which, when destroyed, will release some (much needed) power-ups for your R-9. The first one of these will always be something called the” Force”. Not to be confused with the metaphysical power that “surrounds us, penetrates us and binds the galaxy together”, this Force is a little flying (and shooting) pod. Once released, you can either run into it, in order to attach it directly the front or back of your ship to be used a shield, or you can launch it off on it’s own as a projectile weapon, or as a separate ship to fire on enemies at will. There are other incremental upgrades such as bouncing laser beams, which you can collect to increase your ship’s defenses. Your success in R-Type relies heavily on quick reflexes, luck and having a good memory doesn’t hurt. Unlike many modern scrolling shooters, R-Type’s enemies do not attack in random waves. Instead, they follow a set and memorizable pattern. If you can keep track of these patterns, then on subsequent attempts, you’ll know exactly where to position yourself for the next wave. This is easier said than done, but with repetition comes eventual success.

The game contains three difficulty modes, unlimited, normal and insane. Unlimited gives you just that, unlimited lives, and the normal mode restricts you to three lives. As for the insane difficulty, I don’t have a clue what pain that will unleash as I haven’t unlocked it…yet. Don’t think just because you select the unlimited lives that the game will be easy to beat. The long distances between checkpoints and the fact that it only takes a solitary hit to lose a life will keep an easy victory well at bay. This could easily lead to frustration amongst younger players who are more accustomed to today’s friendly coddling style of gameplay which all too often allows you to use extra lives to coast through level after level of a game with very little effort and without really earning it. Tackling R-Type will give you true sense of accomplishment.

Players also have their choice of three control schemes, all of which can be reversed for left-handed players and all have an optional “auto-fire” mode.

  • Touch – Touch any where on the left 3/4 of the screen and drag your finger to move the ship. Buttons are available on the right to control your Force module and the fire button.
  • Tilt and Touch – Tilt your device in the direction you want to move, or if quick movements are necessary, it has the same control options as Touch mode, and includes the Force and Fire buttons to the right as well.
  • Coin-op – Looks like you are standing at a coin-op arcade cabinet and you have a virtual d-pad on the left and a Force and Fire button on the right.

While I found each of these control schemes worked well, none is without at least some issue, albeit a minor one. The coin-op mode’s cabinet view while a cool effect, really shrinks everything down too much, so I definitely favored the other two options. The tilt controls are very responsive, but are sometimes just not quick enough for the game’s more hair raising sections. That leaves the Touch option, which works perfectly, except that occasionally your finger can obscure oncoming enemies until it’s too late. All things considered, touch mode with auto-fire is the way to go!

R-Type’s graphics and sound are most decidedly and wonderfully retro. At times the color palate can look a tad bit over-saturated, but this adds to the nostalgic feel and authenticity of the game. That being said, all of the ‘Aliens’-inspired graphics look crisp on my iPhone’s display. The game’s chip music soundtrack and coin-op era sound effects are sweet music to my “child of the 80’s” ears. For retro gaming fans, R-Type offers a real feast for the senses.

In Conclusion

R-Type’s influence on other games is undeniable and the fact that it keeps getting ported to each new gaming device is a testament to it’s appeal and staying power. EA Mobile’s version of this challenging coin-op classic hold’s true to it’s roots and is a title that belongs in everyone’s iPhone gaming catalog. At the low price of just $1.99 there is no excuse not to pick this up!

NOTE: This review previously appeared on Games Uncovered.