The R-Type franchise, in its 20 year run, has not been a friend to change. In the series’ eight previous installments iteration became the norm. The core game was the same time-and-time again, but to the devoted fanbase this was not a problem. No matter how many times players piloted a futuristic spaceship to blast away the evil alien forces of the Bydo empire, the 2D side-scrolling shoot’em up always delivered. With the release of R-Type Final a few years ago many assumed that it marked the swan song – the end of the line for a much appreciated series. Well, “final” doesn’t always mean “the end” in terms of video game franchises (just look at Square Enix’s Final Fantasy series), and the ninth entry in the R-Type universe is a definite change from the motif of previous games. In R-Type Command little has changed in terms of story: once again you set out to rid the universe of the Bydo alien menace. What has changed is the rules under-the-hood.
No more side-scrolling. No more continues. Irem has moved R-Type into the world of hexagonal, turn-based strategy. Instead of testing your reflexes and itchy trigger finger, the game awards patience paired with a calculated plan of action. Being a hex-based venture, R-Type Command shares more in common with classic table-top games than it does with console ones. Each level in the game is a static, 2D backdrop made up of tiles. Your ships are placed on the left, while the enemy is on the right. Taking equal turns, each side maneuvers its pieces in an attempt at victory (this usually means taking out all enemy ships, an enemy flagship or simply moving to a particular spot on the map). Seems like a good concept, right? Well, the execution is where things start to get a little rough.
There is no proper introduction to the game’s distinct rule set. Instead, you’re just thrown into the first few levels and left to figure out how the game operates. The first level, deceptively titled “Initiation,” does not serve as a tutorial – it’s more a frustrating starting point. Tossed into a small-scale battle, you’re told the time limit (which is measured in number of turns) and expected to win. It’s a very sink-or-swim mentality. You’ll be pressing random buttons trying to figure out what they mean while attempting to decode the game’s terminology. A rules book can be accessed at any time using the in-game menu, but it requires you to read through pages of text in order to figure out what particular terms denote. It’s almost less arduous to play the level a few times, learning from each defeat what exactly you may have done wrong or right.
Battles play out in a very slow fashion (some easily clock in at an hour), and this is largely due to the limited mobility of your ships. Each unit can only move a certain number of spaces per turn, and objects like space debris (that litter each level) further impede progress. Add to this the fact that moving consumes a limited supply of fuel and firing any kind of weapon requires using ammunition, and it becomes necessary to always have a resupply craft nearby to keep the fight going. What probably hampers the speed of battle more than anything else is the game’s annoying 3D battle animations. By default these randomly play every couple of attacks and take almost as long as an entire level to load. Seeing a missile fly across the 2D map is enough – you don’t need to see a polygonal rendering of it. Most players will opt to turn these off after seeing them the first time.
What seems to hurt the game more than the sluggish pacing (which can’t be criticized too heavily since the game is in the turn-based strategy genre) is the crushing difficulty. R-Type games have never been known for being easy, but R-Type Command comes off as absurd from the get-go. You’ll replay the first and second mission multiple times. With other strategy games like Final Fantasy Tactics you always had the option of somehow flanking your enemy. But that can never arise because of the 2D, left-right nature of R-Type Command. It’s pretty much whichever side has the most powerful ships wins, and since you start out the game with a small, underpowered fleet you’ll be cursing the unbalanced approach the developers took.
Tactics arise in the nature of your weaponry. Whenever an enemy attacks you’ll be given the option of evading or firing your weaponry in an attempt to counter. Unfortunately, these two options rarely pay off. The best chance at early survival rests with a series staple: the Force. In the R-Type universe the Force is a pod that can stand alone as a form of alien weaponry or can be attached to the Arrowhead ship for different attacks. While this device should be more helpful when used in tandem with a unit, it seems to work better as an independent unit to ram the computer’s ships.
To keep you interested in the overall story, each level begins with your character’s voice log. Despite their title, these logs actually contain no audio recounting. They are just pages out of a torn-up diary that continually emphasize how the odds are against you. They don’t really push you to go on and just feel like throw-in filler material. What will make some players want to push forward is the fact that you can find materials during battle that can go toward upgrades for your ships.
R-Type Command’s visual package is a mix of the stellar and lackluster. The game’s small number of cinematics are well done, and the 2D artwork pays great tribute to the series’ history. However, the polygonal work is sub-par, and it would have been nice to see the developers take an all-2D approach. Audio is another area the where the game falters. Aside from the aforementioned lack of voice in the voice logs, the music in the game feels uninspired. It all has a very synthesizer, spacey feel that isn’t very catchy or memorable.
The game features bonus content that unlocks after missions. Most of this is in the visual arena and only for die-hard R-Type fans. You can view the game’s cinematics again and browse plenty of artwork, but that’s about it. What could potentially hold player attention longer is the game’s multiplayer. However, this mode is Ad Hoc and requires two PSPs. Since only one copy of the game was available at the time of review, this mode was not tested.
It’s hard to call R-Type Command a successful makeover. To fans the game may just make them more nostalgic for past R-Type games and a proper, if by-the-numbers, sequel. For hardcore turn-based strategy fans nearly every minus (the slow pacing, lengthy campaign, etc.) may actually be a plus. Irem took a risk by moving to a completely new genre, but its seems that lifting R-Type out of its original mold took away what made it distinct in the first place.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.2 Graphics
The 2D work and cinematics are top-notch, but the polygonal ship models could have used some more time in the oven. 4.5 Control
The game’s simple, menu-based controls are quick to pickup and provide a solid experience. 2.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Most of the sci-fi tracks come off as rather bland. 3.0 Play Value
For the small but devoted hex-based fans out there the 58 levels, visual unlockables, and large unit selection will be more than enough. For others, the steep difficulty and long campaign will be an unfavorable combo. 3.2 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.