R*Type is a sideways-scrolling shoot-em-up in which the evil Bydo Empire rules the galaxy through fear and intimidation and it’s up to the player – piloting their heavily-armed R-9 space ship – to battle through eight tough levels to the heart of the Bydo stronghold and defeat them.
The game’s revolutionary weapons system is its real stroke of genius. The first of numerous innovations that R*Type bought to the genre is the beam weapon: when the fire button is held down, a ‘power meter’ starts to charge up; once the meter is full, releasing the fire button unleashes a very powerful plasma burst capable of inflicting much greater damage to enemy ships or even destroying numerous enemies simultaneously. The trade-off is that charging the weapon takes up valuable seconds, giving the Bydo ships time to attack.
The most significant addition to R-type’s arsenal is the now-legendary ‘Force Pod’. This takes the form of an invincible, detachable laser-firing pod that can be attached to either the front or rear of the player’s ship, or can be detached completely, after which the pod sits some distance either ahead or behind the player’s ship, tracking its movements and providing additional fire power. When attached to the R9 ship, the pod acts as a shield. This forms a crucial part of R*Type’s gameplay and has to be fully utilised to navigate certain sections of the game, such as the huge mothership that comprises the game’s 3rd stage.
R*Type’s levels are designed to make full use of its unique weapons system, making for very linear and demanding gameplay in which losing or picking up the wrong weapon at the wrong time often leads to an instant death. Its intelligent, precise and demanding level design, gave the world its first truly ‘strategic’ shoot-em-up.