Sunday 5 January 2014

R-Type - PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16 - 1989

Dobkeratops - The archetypal R-Type boss.

Along with Gradius, R-Type is one of my favourite shoot ‘em up franchises.  I have enjoyed every game I have played in the series, from the 1987 arcade classic to the excellent R-Type Final on the Playstation 2. 

In 1988 I had already dismissed the Sega Master System and 8-bit computer conversions of the original game.  Now in 1989 it’s the turn of the big guns – the Sharp X68000, the Commodore Amiga and the NEC PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16.  Each has major flaws compared to the arcade original so do any deserve a place on my blog?

I had great expectations for the Sharp X68000 conversion and knew it could handle a pretty accurate rendition of the arcade game.  Arcade quality graphics? Check.  Arcade quality sound? Check.  Fast moving, flicker free sprites? Check.  Accurate gameplay?  Erm…  Now, I like challenging games and R-Type is already a tough game so why make it even harder?  In this version you spend more time dodging bullets than you do shooting enemies which is not much fun.  There are also two difficulty levels – normal and hard.  The only difference I can see with normal mode is that the hit box of your ship is made smaller so bullets can pass through parts of it without registering.  Why mess up the collision detection when a reduction in the number of bullets would suffice?  Disappointing to say the least.

R-Type on the X68000 looked and sounded the part.  It was let down by the hike in difficulty level.

Contrary to the X68K conversion I didn’t have high hopes for the Commodore Amiga.  I used to own the subpar Atari ST conversion of R-Type and was expecting another lazy port.  To my surprise it turned out to be much smoother and faster than on the ST.  Having a limited palette, the graphics can’t hope to compete with the Sharp and NEC machines, and some backgrounds are missing altogether.  Additionally, with only one fire button you have to take your hand off the joystick and use the spacebar to control the ‘Force’ pod - not ideal in this shooter.  Having said that, the Amiga version of R-Type is a pretty good game in its own right.

A good shooter for the Amiga but out-classed in this company.

Finally we have the legendary conversion of R-Type for the PC Engine/Turbografx-16.  The Engine wasn’t released in the UK but screenshots of the game appeared in several magazines of the time and practically kick-started a grey import market on their own. R-Type on the PC Engine was released in Japan as R-Type I and R-Type II with the eight levels split equally across two Hu-Cards. Lucky Turbografx-16 owners got the game in its entirety.  The issue with this version is that instead of reducing the size of the graphics, the developers decided to have the levels scroll slightly in the vertical plane.  This is easy to become accustomed to but does mean you can’t see, for example, gun emplacements at the top of the screen if you are in the lower half.  Nevertheless, the game gets through since this blog is about my favourite video games, not how accurately they were converted.

The NEC console makes a good stab at the graphics.  Only a few shades are missing.

In the game you control an R-9a “Arrowhead” starfighter and must take on the mysterious Bydo – an amalgam of biological and mechanical components.  The R-9a is initially armed with a quick fire laser.  This weapon can also fire a powerful laser pulse by holding down the fire button for a few seconds to charge it.  The Arrowhead can also be upgraded by collecting power-ups.  Upgrades include ‘bits’ (help protect the top and bottom of your ship and fires weak lasers), speed ups, homing missiles and three different lasers (by picking up coloured crystals).  The most famous power-up has to be the ‘Force’ pod.  The ‘Force’ is an indestructible pod that follows the up/down movement of your ship and fires small laser bolts.  It can also be attached to the front or rear of the R-9a where it provides protection and allows the upgraded laser types to work. As it is indestructible it can soak up bullets and harms any enemy it comes into contact with.  Astute use of the 'Force' is needed to successfully navigate the eight levels of the game.

Each of the stages I completed ended in a boss.  The only exception was the third where the boss is a giant ship that takes up almost the entire stage.  Each has one or more weak points that need to be hit several times to take them down.
This boss splits into 3 parts.  The first one has just exploded

If your ship gets hit or you touch the scenery you will lose a life.  You restart a game at the last checkpoint passed but any upgrades you were carrying will be lost.  Depending where this happens restarts can often be frustrating.  And short-lived.

So, although it’s not perfect, R-Type on the PC Engine/Turbografx-16 is the best version I have found so far.  The graphics are pretty close to the arcade original losing out due to fewer colours and lower complexity in places.  There is the occasional slow down, flickering sprites, and that annoying vertical scrolling but it still deserves a place on my blog.  I guess I’ll have to wait for R-Types on the Playstation for the definitive conversion.

Level 3 is basically one huge boss.
Example gameplay....


  1. Nice write-up. R-Type - that was always a game/series that looked really appealing to me that I never played when I was younger due to the different hardware. I was a huge fan of space shooters like Lifeforce and Gradius on the NES and these always looked very slick and entertaining.

    1. Hi Chalgyr. I didn't get into R-Type that early. I vaguely remember it in the arcades but was put off by the difficulty and was then disappointed with the Atari ST conversion. It was only when I discovered MAME a few years later that I really got into the series.