Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tech: Raiden Fighters Aces

The Japanese-style scrolling shoot-em-up is a strange genre when you really start thinking about it. Japan was, after all, involved in some of the most harrowing real-life aerial combat ever seen; the consequences of those bloody dogfights over the Pacific must still linger in the country today. Now consider that Japanese shoot-em-ups are often set in WWII (like Capcom's famous "1942" series), with squads of enemy fighters that can be mowed down with a single burst from the protagonist's aircraft. As Penny Arcade once quipped:

I don't see what's so odd about it. The people of modern Japan are simply taking on the role of foreign soldiers, killing their fathers and grandfathers in a grisly pantomime of history's greatest tragedy.

The "Raiden Fighters" series by developer Seibu Kaihatsu is set in the modern era, so it neatly avoids disturbing those ghosts. The entire series (Raiden Fighters, Raiden Fighters 2, and Raiden Fighters Jet) was recently released in an Xbox 360 disc anthology called "Raiden Fighters Aces." How do these classic shooters fare in an age of high-definition graphics?

Pretty well, I'd say, if you like intense, balls-to-the-wall action. Like in most shooters, you have overwhelming firepower at your disposal but extremely limited stamina - one enemy shot can destroy your plane in an instant. The high-risk nature of this setup guarantees taut sequences of bullet-dodging, especially when enemy fire floods the screen in pixelated death.

Sometime it can get hard to see enemy bullets when the screen gets busy, but that's more a limitation of the aspect ratio of modern TVs than it is with the game emulator code. The Raiden series has always used a vertically oriented TV screen, so an HDTV playing the game has big borders on both sides of the playfield, shrinking the actual screen size considerably.

No, where I'd have to dock the game points is in its longevity. These were all arcade games, designed to be completed in around a half hour at the most. The scoring system isn't as elegant as Ikaruga, so repeating the same levels time after time to improve your collection of secret items is less engaging. If you're in the shoot-em-up mood and you have an extra 20 bucks to spare, though, "Raiden Fighters Aces" is the ticket.

Rating: 73/100


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