DesertEagle’s Take: It was 1993 when I first fell under Raiden II’s influence. I had been wandering through the dim recesses of my local arcade, searching for a shmup worthy of my tokens, when Raiden’s unique Plasma Beam grabbed my attention. I stood before the game’s attract mode transfixed by the glowing serpentine weapon. I marveled as the beam encircled its foes, stripping its prey of energy, like some kind of cosmic python.
The emblematic ray is what separates the Raiden series from the rest of the shmup world. The game’s other weaponry- a spreading Vulcan shot, and a penetrating laser, offer little distinction from the armaments of countless other shooters. The beam allows player to focus on bullet dodging, as it automatically locks onto foes. Recent Xbox 360 release Raiden IV still features the iconic Plasma ray, presenting players with two variations for use.
However, neither will protect novice gamers from the title’s tenacious difficulty. Even with the difficulty turned down to an embarrassing ‘very easy’ level, Raiden IV will challenge an average gamer with its cloud-like formations of enemy ballistics. Those who thrive in the realm of ‘bullet-hell’ shooters will be confronted with a merciless difficulty on the game’s top settings. I’d like to meet the person who completes Raiden IV on a single credit, and see if they’re not cybernetically enhanced. Actually, I’d like the meet the player who can complete the game in double mode, where a gamer pilots two on-screen ships simultaneously using the left and right analog sticks.
The translation from arcade cabinet to home screen was been made exceedingly well. Two supplementary stages have been added for 360 owners, in addition to presenting seven new difficulty levels. Players have the option to download the MK-II craft from previous Raiden iteration or a fairy character for 80 MS points apiece. If you must spend your console currency, I recommend skipping the MK-II, and going for the nubile nymph. Her weapons are underpowered but they at least offer a slight graphical difference. Although the game’s framerate is typically flawless when the screen is saturated with enemy shells, I noticed the occasion bout of slowdown.
Raiden IV will undoubtedly please hardcore shooter fans with its demanding difficulty and sumptuous visuals. The inclusion of a CD soundtrack and downloadable art/stat book may even woo intermediate shmupies into its ranks. Casual fans of the genre are recommended to explore the series’ easier roots in last May’s Raiden Fighters Aces. Although the Valcon Games distributed disk doesn’t have the graphical lushness of Raiden IV, gamers may want to see if the twenty dollar title hooks them in, before jumping into the more lavishly priced, latest diversion.
Shipwreck’s Take: I agree with everything DesertEagle has eloquently stated about Raiden IV, but let me be slightly more blunt: Raiden IV is not as good as Raiden Fighters Aces. That’s not to say that it isn’t still a very solid shooter (it is), but it’s twice the price, offers substantially less gameplay, and has fewer overall options – both in game settings and in the number of playable ships. Raiden IV contains one playable ship on the retail disc. As stated, you have the option to purchase two downloadable ships for 80 MS points each, but I just don’t understand how these ships didn’t come on the disc. They were available on launch day and they are even described in the game’s manual. I realize it’s only an extra dollar per ship, but when the game already seems to stretch its value, I’m not sure trying to charge for such small extras is wise.
If you are looking for a Bullet Hell type of SHMUP, well, Raiden IV does provide that solidly. There’s certainly plenty of bullets to scrape by and once you’ve found the difficulty setting to suit your needs, you’ll have satisfying “did I really just squeeze through all that gunfire” moments. Unfortunately, while extremely punishing, the game really never wowed me in terms of level variety or enemy patterns. There are some nice portions, like 360 pans around a bridge to take out a battalion of tanks or descending into a ring of giant Tiki-like statues, but the rest of the stages feel like standard shooter fare. Thankfully, the bosses at each level’s conclusion are much more memorable. Transforming through various configurations, these half-screen filling spacecrafts offer several different firing patterns including a couple of mesmerizing spinning and spiraling variations.
Since Raiden IV features 3D ships (you can view the models as unlockables), the game is generally graphically pleasing despite the occasional slowdown. While I like the aesthetics of the Plasma Beam, I found that enemy fire became harder to see – a pretty important issue when there’s so much of it on the screen at once. Due to that, I tended to stick to the Vulcan spread shot for the majority of the game’s seven levels. Increased difficulty versions of each of those levels are included on the second loop through the game and there’s several different modes including the original Xbox 360 Mode, Score Attack, Arcade, and Boss Rush mode. All these game types are fairly similar since you’re playing through the same content, but with different rules or goals it does up the replay value and spreads out the Achievements. Many of the Achievements can be obtained simply by playing through the different modes on your own and then again with local co-op. Some, however, will be ridiculously challenging to obtain as they require things like beating the game on one credit on the hardest difficulty. Good luck with that.
Overall, there’s no question that Raiden IV is a very capable shooter that SHMUP enthusiasts will enjoy. What is questionable is the price point when compared to similar offerings already available at retail and on XBLA. Raiden IV does include a soundtrack CD with downloadable extras, so that may help justify the cost for fans of the franchise.