I've always had a love/hate relationship with shoot-em-ups (otherwise known as shmups). I love them for the sci-fi settings, the wicked ship designs, creepy alien foes, and the pure simplicity of the concept of you vs. them, shooting frantically in order to stay alive. I hate them, though, for the outright fist-banging, screaming-tough difficulty that many shmups are famous for. R-Type is one of the oldest series of shooters, and it has everything I love (and hate) in spades.
The first R-Type game was released in arcades in 1987. The title of the game itself was a bit mysterious. R-Type? What did it mean? The Alien-esque monster on the marquee and the impressive art on the side of the arcade cabinet indicated a space based shmup. That setting was hardly original, but once you plunked in a quarter and tried it out, you knew this was no ordinary Space Invaders clone. Your first clue that this was this case? Probably the fact that that quarter lasted you about 17.5 seconds before the dreaded GAME OVER.
Even for those of us who lived through it, it's hard to keep in mind just how difficult video games were back in the 80s. Arcade games, especially, were designed so that the average player would have to keep putting in more and more quarters after just a few moments in order to keep playing. If the average arcade game like, say, Gauntlet, has the challenge level equivalent to a housecat with a mean disposition, R-Type would approximate a Sabre-toothed Tiger pumped full of steroids and raised on a diet of meth-laced chili peppers.
Somewhere around the middle of the first level, the easy to follow patterns of enemies changed, becoming far less predictable. The wide open outer space backdrop closed in to a narrow, claustrophobic area. This made dodging enemy shots, and enemy ships themselves, much harder. If you were off by even a pixel or two, your ship blew up and the game rolled you back to the last checkpoint. Shmups in general have a steep learning curve, but R-Type's curve was straight up from the start, as if the entire Bydo empire were collectively flipping you the bird. I wouldn't be surprised if R-Type cabinets recieved more dented kick panels than the standard arcade game due to player frustration.