Word has it that Raiden Fighters Aces, a compilation of the Raiden Fighters series of arcade shoot’em-ups, is coming to America (under the slightly less tongue-tied name of Raiden: Fighter Aces). Because shoot’em-ups represent one of the most intimidating niches in all of gaming, allow me to explain why this is exciting.
Even if you’re not a fan of the genre, you’ve probably at least heard of the Raiden series, and maybe even seen its trademark Plasma Laser snaking its way across a screenshot or two. But if you ever got past the spectacle of the “toothpaste laser,” you’d notice that the early games in the series are a bit simplistic, despite debuting several years after most of the other big names in the genre. Whereas Gradius has its unique power-up system, R-Type has the versatile Force pod, and Darius has branching paths leading to a variety of endings (and bizarre aquatic bosses), Raiden’s early installments are slow-paced affairs in the mold of 1982′s Xevious, with only a small selection of weapons to vary the gameplay. They’re not badly made, though, and provided a solid base for their eventual evolution — which came in the form of Raiden Fighters.
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Fighters augments the Raiden formula with an unusually wide selection of the titular fighter jets (eight in the first game, over fifteen in the latter two), each with a different balance between manveuverability, power, and rapid fire. In addition, each ship has its own set of unique weapons, which can be charged up to greater effect. Raiden Fighters 2 introduces the Hybrid Attack, a unique incentive for cooperative play in which two players can combine their charged shots in invincible boss-killing unison.
In response to your added firepower, the enemy’s bullet patterns are often lightning-fast, yet deceptively simple to weave through. While they’re mostly too restrained to be called danmaku, they’re true to the same ethos: the challenges imposed look harder than they actually are, allowing you, the player, to feel like freaking Superman when you survive. Finally, the fray is riddled with an abundance of Xevious-style secrets, which are uncovered when you fly or shoot (or don’t shoot) in specific places. Even if you don’t care about points, it’s a reward in itself when “DISCOVERED THE FAIRY!” is gleefully announced in text across the top of the screen.
Besides collecting all three games, Aces is significant in that it’s the first-ever success in bringing the series to home consoles at all, following a history of misfires over the years. And that shoot’em-up fans won’t even have to import it is a rare pleasure in a niche that usually goes sadly underrepresented in the West.
Of course, what this means for me is that it’s high time to buy a 360. Between this and Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection, you know you’re falling behind the times when even the retro compilations are passing you by.