Radiant Silvergun Review
It's not often that you have to wait eleven years to play a video game, and before you get ahead of yourself, no, this isn't a review of Duke Nukem Forever. Developed by Treasure, masters of the shooter and sidescroller genres: Radiant Silvergun was first released in Japanese arcades all the way back in 1998, with a Saturn release following not too long after. The game quickly gained a reputation as one of the best arcade shooters of all time, though unfortunately, few were be able to testify to this fact, as Radiant Silvergun never saw release outside of its home country, and scarce import copies commanded such high prices on the secondary market that only the most diehard shooting fans could justify the purchase. The worst part is that the Sega Saturn's bizarre architecture is notoriously hard to emulate, and given the game's niche appeal it seemed unlikely the game would ever see release on a different console.
I've always been a big shooter fan myself, and once upon a time I often browsed through eBay, hoping for the day some moron would mistakenly list his copy as "Radiant Silvergub" and I could finally play this legendary game. And now, after ten years of waiting, I can finally say that I've played Radiant Silvergun. I must say, it was worth the wait.
The supposed XBLA release of Radiant Silvergun seemed like an impossible dream to many gamers, though it has finally arrived, and in glorious fashion. The game is a classic top-down arcade shooter, with waves of enemies approaching from every direction, firing increasingly complicated bullet patterns for the player to dodge. However it's the game's many features which set it apart from the numbing button-mashers that filled arcades at the time, and what's earned it such legendary status among arcade junkies.
For starters, the game features no power-ups. Rather, all seven weapons are available from the start of the game. The three main weapons are your standard forward-facing vulcan cannon; the (weak) homing shot, which automatically attacks the nearest target; and the powerful spread shot, which can be used to take down enemies on your sides. These attacks can then be combined into the three secondary weapons (all mapped to their own buttons in this console release). Vulcan + Homing creates the lightning beams, which lock-onto enemies like the proton beams from Ghostbusters (don't cross the streams!). Homing + Spread enables a powerful homing missile attack, while Spread + Vulcan forms the rear Vulcan, allowing players to attack enemies approaching from behind. This diverse range of weaponry forces players to constantly switch up their attacks depending on the situation. For instance, while navigating a tight corridor lined with gun turrets, I found that the side shot was my new best friend; and though the lightning beams were a devastating part of my arsenal against one boss, I found them constantly locking onto the wrong targets during a later fight, forced to resort to my trusty Vulcan cannon.
However, the most interesting weapon in the game would have to be the sword, a small blade extending from the ship when all three attack buttons (or R-Trigger) is pressed. The sword can either do a quick swiping attack, or if the sword button is held down, will be left unsheathed, swinging around the ship opposite the player's direction of movement. The sword is quite a powerful weapon, something which compensates for its incredibly short range. More importantly though, the sword can be used to swipe away the plentiful barrages of pink bullets, removing them from the screen. "Eating" this particular bullet type slowly increases the sword meter, which when full allows the player to unleash an incredibly powerful hyper-sword attack, which also makes the ship invulnerable for a crucial few seconds. The hyper-sword is comparable to the bomb mechanic common to other shooters, a special attack which acts as a "get out of jail free" solution to an otherwise inescapable bullet pattern. There's a lot of interesting "risk vs. reward" type gameplay that this mechanic inspires, and often times I found myself leaving enemies on the screen simply so I could continue collecting up their bullets. This proved even more true during many boss battles, forcing me to decide whether to stay at the edge of the screen away from danger, or to sneak inside a bullet pattern to try and fill the hyper-sword gauge. Many later shooters would copy this "bullet eater" feature, and given how well it works here, it's easy to see why.
Though it's the combination of these different game play elements that makes Radiant Silvergun so intriguing, what really nails down the experience is the frantic and exciting gameplay. Levels are always jam-packed with a variety of new and challenging enemies, your dodging skills constantly being challenged by complicated bullet patterns and various obsticles. Meanwhile, the game has a tendency to throw you into a new boss battle every minute or so, something that really sold me on the "holy crap we're the last humans alive and we are so impossibly dicked right now" storyline. Now to mention that the game's new HD visuals are gorgeous, showcasing a brilliant mix of 2D sprites and blocky old-school 3D polygons. The game even features a "low-res" graphics mode which downgrades the visuals to the chunky pixilated look of the Saturn release, and I often found myself switching between the two modes, amazed at how much Treasure has managed to crank up the level of detail, while still remaining true to the original graphics.
If there's anything worth complaining about here, it's that the game doesn't really do much to help out beginners. There's a small screen which explains the different weapons, as well as the chain scoring system, but I found myself checking GameFAQs for info more often than I would like. The game is also balls-out hard, and though you can crank up the number of available lives in the arcade mode, you're somehow expected to conquer story mode with the stock number of continues? Again, there may be something I'm missing, but I shouldn't have to scour the internet to know whether or not I can earn additional credits. Still, this is a magnificent recreation of a legendary game, and 1200 Microsoft points is a hell of a bargain considering the original is still going for around $150. Though a bit of additional hand-holding would've been nice, I can't fault the game for maintaining its hardcore cred and forcing me to figure things out on my lonesome. For the shooter fans and arcade die-hards among us, there really is no questioning this purchase. Go buy this one now! Be Attitude for Gains!