We've had quite a mix of classic arcade games hit Xbox LIVE Arcade since the Xbox 360 launched. Some, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, arrive more or less as they were; others, like Double Dragon, have received less than brilliant makeovers; and some, like Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, have had more care and attention than we ever expected. So which category does SouthEnd Interactive's R-Type Dimensions fall into?
Without wanting to beat about the bush, it's definitely the latter, but at the same time it suffers from a few omissions that prevent it from ranking alongside the service's very best. This collection of the first two games in the R-Type series is far more than a simple port, with a full graphical makeover that will impress those wearing rose tinted spectacles as much as anyone coming to the games for the first time. Steps have also been made to make the game accessible to these newcomers, although decisions elsewhere are quite baffling in this respect.
For those completely unaware of R-Type, the original side scrolling shoot 'em up was released in 1987 (before arriving on numerous home platforms in the years that followed) and set itself apart from the rest by including a pod-like pick-up known as the Force. This weapon add-on will fire in whichever direction it's facing, and can be upgraded during play as you collect weapon power-ups.
Although such things aren't uncommon these days, the Force remains a device that opens up numerous tactical options during gameplay. While you can't directly control the Force, it can be detached and recalled to your ship. By moving your ship while recalling it, it is possible to control the Force's movement across the screen. There are also moments when the Force can be used to directly target enemy weak spots, if you can detach it with enough skill. You also have a Wave Cannon, able to unleash a very powerful blast when fully charged - something that is split into two stages in the sequel.
R-Type is certainly somewhat slower than many modern shmups, but it's by means a walk in the park. This XBLA version is actually even harder than the arcade original by default, and this is where the first glaring omission rears its ugly head: there is no option to change the difficulty. SouthEnd has included a traditional Arcade mode, with three lives and continues (continue and your score is wiped), and an Infinite mode, which lets players simply plough through without worrying about lives, but neither make up for this quite bemusing decision.
The included leaderboards reflect how many lives you took to make it through if you played Infinite mode, so there's a definite push to make players play through the more hardcore Arcade mode. It's a shame then that it's going to take even more skill than what was required to play the original arcade game - something only a small proportion of gamers will be able to manage. An option to set the difficulty, gradually getting better and eventually tackling the default difficulty would have been preferable.
Another issue, and one that is likely to be a problem for veterans rather than novices, is the lack of control customisation. In this XBLA game the Force is mapped to X, which could be a real problem for hardcore fans. If you're coming to the game having never played it before it'll likely be of little importance, but why there's no option to set your preferred button layout is baffling in the extreme.
For many people these will be slight niggles rather than fatal flaws, and the rest of the package is so well put together that they really are easy to forgive. Visually you now have the option to play using what resembles the original's 8-bit graphics or a brand new isometric 3D - you can even warp between the two at the push of a button and add numerous filters. There are a handful of co-op modes too (both online and offline), including one in which you share lives that will require two rather excellent players to work together.
R-Type Dimensions is a very well made and highly recommended XBLA game, combining the original games' brilliance with a touch of modern presentation. 1200 Microsoft Points might seem a tad high, but we doubt too many people would be moaning had this been an enhanced port of the original game for 800 points - considering you get the sequel too it's well worth its price tag. For a 22-year-old game it stands up remarkably well, but it's a shame that a few omissions prevent R-Type Dimensions from being all it could have been.