Aside from the teeth-gnashing difficulty level, R-Type was memorable for the innovative Force orb. Again, a space game with an element called the Force wasn't particularly original, but the implementation of it certainly was. The Force orb was a sort of power up, and could be collected by attaching it to the front or back end of your ship. It acted as a shield when docked in this way, and could be used to slice through enemies it came into contact with. With a simple button press, the Force would shoot out in one direction, then slowly fall back, before orbiting near the ship, shooting randomly ahead.
But the Force was far more than just a shield or extra gun. Crafty players could position the Force orb in the weak point of bosses by releasing it at just the right moment. Once the Force orb was embedded within, even the toughest boss would drop in a few seconds, if not instantly. This task was easier said than done, and usually could only be accomplished after several playthroughs.
R-Type was a big success, and spawned all manner of sequels in arcade and for home consoles. The inaccurately named R-Type Final was released in 2003, yet the series went on, shifting genres into turn-based strategy, which is about as far removed from a shooter as you can get. R-Type Dimensions hit Xbox Live Arcade last year. It's a compilation of the first two R-Type arcade games, but allows the player to switch between the classic graphics and a smoother, semi-3D, more modern style on the fly. Besides the standard leaderboards and achievements, new gameplay styles are included. Infinite co-op allows two pilots to take on the Bydo at the same time, and instead of giving you a set amount of continues and counting down, you start with zero, and it adds them up as you run out of lives. I'm embarassed to tell you that on our first attempt, my son and I combined to use more than thirty continues ON THE FIRST LEVEL.
Shameful? Certainly. It was still a whole lot of fun, and really reminded me of how exciting a good old fashioned kick in the seat of the pants can be. The R-Type series is a demanding benchmark for shoot em up difficulty, and, even when tackled with a buddy, co-op style, is one of the most challenging gaming experiences you will find.