I’ll begin with a confession: I have only seen the credits to this game once, and only after nine hours, yes nine hours of total play. On easy. Difficulty be damned, it’s a fine game – a doggedly old school shooter that is vastly out of sync with the direction the shmup genre went in during the late 90s (a path it’s still treading) – towards FAST, FRANTIC, BULLET-HELL ACTION. Instead R-Type Delta continues and builds on the tradition of its predecessors with an all-together slower, more considered, and ultimately much more tense experience as a result.
Delta is the Playstation 1 reboot of the R-Type series and the first console exclusive of the series. Of course, the early R-Types are the best known: the original was a defining moment in shmup history, becoming enormously influential for environments that are ever-ready to kill you, as well as the memorable floating invincible buddy you drag along beside you and have limited yet highly strategic control over.
In this game, pretty much all the enemies and obstacles move at the speed of a snail. It doesn’t sound scary, but it is. The slow-building tension is unique to this series. It steadily builds throughout each level as the environment and numerous enemies ever-so-slowly enclose your ship, forcing you to hide and desperately protect your tiny pocket of the screen. Only when the action finally lets up and you’ve successfully steered your ship around whatever environmental hazard is on-screen, do you become aware you’re holding your breath and your heart is pounding from the tension.
There’s more strategy than ever thanks to the choice of three ships, each with their own unique three weapon options and the titular Delta weapon. The Delta weapon is essentially a cool looking bomb that can be used once you’ve powered it up by touching enemies with your attachment/option thingy, the Force as they say. It takes some time to charge up so for a long ways into the game I’d only use the Delta bomb sparingly, but in later levels I wanted it pretty much all the time. With enough experimentation though you can find a way through every situation. Every ship is balanced differently, with a different type of Force, different missiles, weapon types, etc. It takes quite a while to get used to each ship, and to discover their advantages…and then longer still to really take advantage of those advantages. In short there’s plenty of depth.
Really, the game is extremely good. My sole issue is with the meta part. It took seven hours of play to unlock unlimited credits. That is absurd. There are several games I can name off the top of my head that adopt a similar approach, gradually upping the number of credits you have. In general I think it’s a good way to extend replay value and force the player to get to grips with the basics of a game before they’re allowed to brute force through an arcade-y experience. But seven hours is ridiculous, and by the time you’ve got there the early levels are overly-familiar to the point where they barely offer any challenge.
Having said that, Delta has better levels and is in general a better game than its bizarre sequel, the last R-Type game to be released, R-Type Final on PS2. They’re very similar games, using identical controls and the same “Delta” attack amongst other similarities. But Final has some really severe framerate issues (some extended sequences and boss fights run in slo-mo, even at times when there are no enemies on-screen!), plus the stages are overly long and not as fun as those in Delta.
For some inexplicable reason too, Irem removed a feature in Final that is greatly appreciated in Delta: the ability to touch walls and not die. In Delta you can scrape or even ram the walls as much you like and never lose a life. It’s great. Only enemies can harm you. Not that that makes the game any easier, but at least deaths don’t feel cheap. In Final, the walls kill you if you so much as brush against them. The best thing about Final is its smorgasbord of unlockable ships – over 100 – to unlock, compared to Delta’s slim three ships (plus one bonus ship to unlock). There’s a Super Smash Bros. vibe to unlocking ships in Final, viewing them in the hangar, and customising each’s weapons. Addictive as that can be, it’s not a huge consolation when the core game is not so hot.
R-Type Delta warrants a look and gets a definite recommendation from me, despite being the shmup equivalent of Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts, i.e. an utter bastard of a game. Also for anyone who’s interested, I still have a few PAL copies of this game to give away…