Over the years, I've amassed a rather large collection of retro computer systems, game consoles, games and more. The Retro Reviews will feature my personal take on some of these games, systems and consoles. After all, what good is a retro computer/game themed website without some stuff about the games we used to play back in the 80s and 90s?

For my second game, I'll be taking a look at Super R-Type, a horizontally scrolling shoot em up game made by IREM and released on the Super Nintendo in 1991.
The title screen of Super R-Type (source: Jeroen Knoester)
Above: the title screen of Super R-Type.
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Game
Super R-Type
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System
Super Nintendo
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Year
1991
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Region
PAL / NTSC-A / NTSC-J
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Players
1
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Saving
None
Super R-Type is an old school horizontal scroller. You get to fly a R-9C fighter ship which you'll use to save humanity from the Evil Bydo Empire™. Being a shoot em up, you achieve this lofty goal by shooting (or avoiding) the many different enemies you encounter during the game.

Like in most shoot em ups, the situation is dire. Humanity is on the brink of being annihilated by the Bydo empire and it is your job to save us all. To achieve this, you get all of three R-9C ships, all of which explode instantly when colliding with just about anything. Bullets, enemies and scenery are all instantly lethal.

In fact, the only things that are safe are empty space, power ups and the Force (an invincible semi-robotic, semi-biologic drone you can attach to your ship - or let fly about on its own). The Force is particularly useful.

When attached to your ship, it stops most enemies and bullets and grants powerful weaponry - such as a big, red wave laser; blue rebounding lasers; yellow chain laser (this one follows the terrain); etc. When left to fly about, the Force will fire small bullets (whenever your ship fires) and seek out enemies on its own.

Your ship then, can get pretty powerful. This is a good thing, because even on the easiest setting, Super R-Type is hard. Really hard... Joypad smashing hard.

Partly because there are many enemies and you just can't kill them all (so you have to choose what to engage and what to avoid), partly because the path you must fly is (on occasion) very, very tight and partly because you need to know which weapon to pick up at what time.

And then, there is the elephant in the room. Whenever you die, even if it is when you are about to score the final hit to kill the end of level boss, you get sent right back to the start of the level. Without any extra weapons or speed ups. In essence, Super R-Type is like R-Type/R-Type II - but without any of the checkpoints the original arcade versions did have.

Now, there is some good news. Because the levels, enemies, etc are always exactly the same, you can learn what the correct path is to fly through them. Given enough practice, you will get further and further into the game. Until you either finish the game, or until you admit you're just not good enough and pray for mercy from the big meanies at IREM.
In Super R-Type, you die often (source: Jeroen Knoester)
Above: gameplay in Super R-Type involves dying. A lot.
The game starts out with a small cutscene which shows your ship departing from a space station into space itself. Then it's on to seven levels of blasting. Apart from being hard (did I mention it's a hard game yet?), the levels are varied and interesting and feature lots of different enemies. All levels are short and all end with a boss fight, most of which are quite good and some of which are just dull or irritating (I'm looking at you, mr. level-1-endboss).

Controlling your craft is easy enough, the gamepad moves it about, the B button shoots a single bullet at a time and charges up the beam weapon (when you keep it pressed), the A/L buttons attach/release the Force and the X/Y buttons gives you rapid fire. Your ship is (until you pick up some speed ups) very slow though, so you do have to plan your route ahead of time.

Enemies come in large numbers and quite a few need to be hit more than once to be killed (even with power ups). You do have a charge beam which can take out several smaller enemies or do significant damage to the bigger ones, but it takes a while to charge up so you need to know it's safe to use.

Level design is inconsistent. Some of the stages (notably the ones that originated in the arcade version) are quite good, some of the stages are not so good. Level one in particular is a bit of a downer, it's bland, it's not much fun to play and it doesn't show off the quality of the rest of the game in any way. Luckily it picks up quite a bit after level one, so if you stick with the game you'll get to play a rock-hard but good shooter.

The game features clear, well designed and animated graphics, but does tend to have quite a few slowdowns - especially when things get busy. Sprites are nice and big and the end bosses are impressively large. Backgrounds are done very well and most stages are instantly recognisable as being part of the R-Type universe.

Sound design is good, the music is done very well and most of the sound effects are quite good. The explosions do sound rather odd, but then again, so did the explosions in the arcade version.

Presentation is quite basic, but workable. You get to choose the difficulty level (if you have completed the game you get an even harder mode), mono or stereo sound and get a background music/sound effects preview function. There is no on cart save and there are no passwords. This also means that the unlockable harder difficulty is locked every time you start playing.
Super R-Type features flying robo-fish (source: Jeroen Knoester)
Above: Super R-Type has many strange aliens to blast, such as these flying robo-fish.
Super R-Type is based on R-Type II from the arcade: it has four of the six stages from the arcade version and it adds three more stages unique to the game. You start out on one of the stages that where added for this game, then it's on to levels one and two from the original.

In an ironic twist, the newly added first level is actually harder (and the end-boss has a more involved pattern to learn) than the first level from the arcade, so if you make it past level one, you're very likely to also clear level two.

Personally, I'm a really big fan of R-Type, I own many of the games in the series and some of them on multiple platforms. To me, the original R-Type is still one of the best entries in the series (and one of the best shoot em ups ever made) and R-Type II was not quite as good. Super R-Type is mostly based on R-Type II and for me, the new levels in the SNES version are not improvements over what R-Type II offered.

That said, if you are a fan of shoot em ups and/or R-Type and can live with the (at times) brutal difficulty and slowdowns, this game is quite good. Varied level design, hard-but-fair bosses and tactical gameplay are staples of R-Type and this game delivers all of these in spades.

The big draw of this game, then, is seeing yourself progress from not being able to finish the first level to (hopefully one day) finishing the game. But, because it is so hard, it's easy to get rather frustrated and just giving up on it. If you do manage to finish it (without cheating) - congratulations, you're better at it than me!

The single biggest issue with the game has to be the lack of checkpoints, which makes no sense at all. Even the arcade version of R-Type II had them. The game really is Nintendo hard...

All in all, Super R-Type is a solid entry in the R-Type series, slightly marred by being unnecessarily hard and having some questionable level design here and there. It is still a good game though, especially for fans of the genre. A diamond in the rough, if ever there was one.
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Conclusion & Rating
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My Super R-Type cartridge (source: Jeroen Knoester)
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Graphics
Simple title screen and cutscene. Varied and detailed in game graphics with large numbers of sprites on screen. Sadly, there is a lot of slowdown.
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Sound
Great tunes, solid sound FX. Strange explosions though.
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Controls
The game controls well and precise, but your craft is very slow to begin with.
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Personal take
I like shoot em ups and love the R-Type series. Given that, the game has some flaws, such as the lack of checkpoints.
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Overall rating

6½ / 10 (7½ / 10 for SHMUP fans)