Retro Resolution Retro Review
System: ZX Spectrum
Developer: Bob Pape
Publisher: Electric Dreams
Genre: Arcade / Shoot-em-up
For the majority of gamers in the Eighties a rare and much-coveted visit to the amusement arcades provided exposure to truly cutting edge gaming experiences. Ensconced in dark, neon-lit caverns of alien sounds lay technology so advanced that it appeared to have arrived from another galaxy, perhaps one such as the setting for the 1987 arcade phenomenon R-Type.
Irem‘s horizontally scrolling blaster was a title of such finesse that it can truly be classed as genre-defining, due in part to phenomenal game mechanics and in part to the then state-of-the-art M72 hardware on which it ran. Producing a conversion on the infinitely less powerful ZX Spectrum was always going to be a tall order.
The history of colour in Spectrum games appears inversely related to that of cinematography and television. Early games were awash with hues, revelling in the polychromatic capabilities newly added to the Sinclair computing range. As time progressed the games market was increasingly pervaded by ports of arcade titles sourced from machines utilising ever more powerful hardware; the requirement for graphical verisimilitude saw colour sacrificed on the altar of attribute clash and the visual landscape of the Spectrum rendered increasingly, and ironically, monochrome.
Into this often dreary world of Spectrum conversions R-Type exploded like a glorious supernova, effecting a sudden switch from black-and-white into colour that was every bit as stunning to contemporary audiences as the transition from Kansas to Oz in Victor Fleming’s famous 1939 movie.
Bob Pape’s faithful recreation of R-Type on the humble Spectrum is an astonishing achievement, pushing technical limits in one of the micro’s finest hours, filling the smooth-scrolling screen with large, bold, gloriously colourful H.R Geiger inspired sprites, artillery and enormous guardian creatures.
As with the coin-op original the pace of the automatically-scrolling background is relatively sedate, playing host to a foreground miasma of enemy ships and weaponry which is anything but. The level design is intricate, almost maze-like, requiring not only fast reflexes but also keen skills of memorisation to enable progress deep into the heart of the Bydo Empire.
R-type introduced to the shooter genre the innovative beam weapon system; holding down the fire button charges your R-9 fighter’s unstoppable super weapon, but at the expense of forestalling rapid discharge of the primary laser cannon.
Aiding the fight is a surprisingly powerful, geometrically pleasing fusion of alien flesh and technology known as the Force (was the artefact in fact modelled on Sir Clive’s rubber-keyed wonder?) This invaluable drone acts both as an indestructible shield and versatile weapon, upgradeable through the collection of power-ups to provide refracting laser beams, wall-hugging flame bursts and forwarding-firing plasma waves.
Progress through the innovative and graphically diverse levels, including the much-emulated level-long mothership comprising the third, requires a skilled and tactically adept player. Knowing which armaments to utilise whilst avoiding collection of inappropriate firepower greatly aids progress. Measured deployment of the Force is a key to defeating this legendarily tough game; the orb can be attached to the front or rear of your ship, or detached and sent hurtling into enemies and boss creatures.
All too often the price paid for a journey to arcades was not simply monetary, it was also in the disappointment felt upon reaching home and loading a comparatively lacklustre conversion of the game which had held you in thrall all day; just occasionally, however, the home experience came rewardingly close, as is the case with the ever splendid R-Type.
Bob Pape describes the intriguing tale behind this conversion in his splendid ebook: It’s Behind You: The Making of a computer game, available free from bizzley.com
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