When Pokemon Go first launched in 2016, it had very limited functionality. There were no raids, trades, or PVP battles. The legendary Pokémon had to wait a year or so to arrive, ditto was MIA, and not even a single shiny would ever appear. Much of what is considered part and parcel with P-Go was nonexistent in those early days, and players would have to wait months to years to see what would eventually become the game we now all know and love (or gave up playing after Pokémon Going to the Polls). One of the first of these “new” features introduced was the buddy system. While the uses and benefits of the buddy system have also evolved over the years, the basic premise is still the same: you’re going to walk all around town, may as well do it with a Pokémon buddy. In exchange for walking with a companion, you earn candy that can power up that pocket monster… and that’s about it. There’s no rock-paper-scissors triangle for optimum buddy selection, nor is the right buddy going to save a player hours of grinding. It is, ultimately, a very simple system, and its impact on Pokémon Go gameplay is limited. It is little more than an excuse to have your digital avatar stand next to an imaginary creature.
But look at that impressive buddy! She’s all “roar!” and I’m like “yeah!” I pet her every day, and I make sure her scales are clean, and of course I always make sure she has enough berries. I get kind of concerned sometimes because some tasks ask you to feed your buddy more, and I don’t want her to get fat or anything, but I think she’s going to be okay. She gets a lot of exercise walking with me, because we walk everywhere, and sometimes…
My apologies. It seems that, while the Pokémon Go buddy system is little more than “click on a Pokémon you like for candy” from a gameplay perspective, it can make an impact on a player’s psyche. Your buddy is your buddy, and after you’ve walked literal miles with your companion, how can you do anything but like your buddy. Sure, it is technically nothing more than a collection of pixels that you occasionally use to fight other imaginary licensed Pokémon Company products, but… she’s your buddy! You’ve been through thick and thin together, and, when your Pokémon storage space is running low, you’d never damn your buddy to be transferred off to the professor at the candy factory. Your buddy is important to you!
And here’s our other big buddy for the day: let’s talk about a Force.
R-Type is a shoot ‘em up arcade title from the distant past of 1987. The same year that Mega Man first pew pewed Guts Man, the R-9 blasted off to save the universe from the Bydo invaders. The “shooting stuff in space” genre had existed since Asteroids first pitted triangles against circles, but R-Type seemed more similar to the gameplay of Gradius, released two years prior. R-Type once again presented a continually horizontally scrolling universe that was filled with obstacles and opponents. You could risk it all to blast certain enemies to nab progressively more powerful powerups before facing a big boss at the end of every stage (usually). It’s all very familiar, and, in some ways, R-Type comes off as an obvious clone of Gradius.
But R-Type does do its level best to set itself apart from the pack. For one thing, much of R-Type’s bestiary is based on the works of H.R. Giger (the genius behind the xenomorphs), which means every other boss looks like a penis. But even if the boss of level 2 causes you to question/confirm your own sexuality, it is at least much more distinctive than your average laser-spewing ship. And speaking of lasers and bosses, R-Type offers another significant change over the Gradius formula: a charge beam. You’ve got your traditional rapid-fire cannon, but you also have the option to stop, smell the roses, and charge up a cannon to a significantly more powerful “charged” attack. This makes R-Type one of the earliest shoot ‘em ups to acknowledge that a turbo button shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of offensive options. There are times when you’ll want to lay down some suppressing fire, and there are times when you’ll want to launch a charged shot against some alien weiner. You’ve got a choice, and that’s important when you want the game to be something more than a test to see who can break those arcade buttons the fastest.
And R-Type had one other important difference that set it apart from the pack. R-Type granted the player a Force.
A Force is, apparently, a spaceship-sized orange. But rather than dispense delicious juice, this orange deals only death. Once the R-9 acquires a Force through grabbing an available powerup, you’ve got a modular weapon that offers a number of benefits. Want some extra fire power? Well, affix that Force to the front of the ship, and you’ll be blasting everything in your path. Worried about your rear? Attach the Force to your exhaust port, and you’ll be able to cover your six with the Force shooting backwards. And R-Type doesn’t offer a catch-all, depleting shield like Gradius, but a Force is apparently built out of the fiercest materials known to orange-kind, and will absorb any number of shots and artillery. The Force is offense and defense, and you can even toss it around the stage to smack some hard to reach places (including the final boss). Is there anything a Force can’t do?
So is it any wonder that, while playing R-Type, I started regarding my Force as a loyal companion?
Look, of possibly all the videogame genres out there, the shoot ‘em up is often the most consistently lonely. JRPGs have entire parties of allies, and beat ‘em ups often offer many characters that will at least show up for the ending. You might be Haggar’ing alone, but you know Cody is supposed to be somewhere around here. Fighting games may be you against the world, but there are often canonical alliances, so you’ll always have a Ken for a Ryu. And even your average platformer is filled with a collection of friendly NPCs so you’re at least dimly aware that the princess is in another castle. Shoot ‘em ups, though? It’s just you against the world. 2-player modes are often alternating, and the rare 2-P cooperative mode is a wash, because where are you ever going to find a buddy on the same skill level? Aside from those minor concessions, shoot ‘em ups are simply a ship on one side, and 2,000,000,000,000 objects that can only be described as “enemy” on the other. Space is a very lonely place, and there’s a significant reason why some of the most fondly remembered shoot ‘em ups decided to bring along a team.
But the R-9 doesn’t get a team. The R-9 just gets a Force. And maybe it’s the constant threat of death, the onslaught of shlong beasts, or even the space madness speaking, but my R-9 bonded with that Force immediately. They’re a little dude! Off shooting down the enemy where R-9 deigns not to go. So helpful! And brave! Who wants a little treat, huh? Does Force want a treat? You’re gonna get a treat, because I couldn’t beat that last boss without you. You want to bounce all over the stage? That’s okay! Just be back in time for the next deluge of sausage creatures, and we’re cool. We’re in this together, Force, and we’re going to get through this together, too.
Is the Force as expressive as any of Cloud’s allies? No. Is the Force going to get oodles of Edelgard / Force erotic fanfiction? Also no. Is the Force copyrighted by Disney? Probably yes. But none of that matters, because the Force is there when you need them. The Force might not be a living, breathing character, but they are reliable. They are my friend. The Force is my buddy.
The Force might be little more than a simple game mechanic, but sometimes it’s just nice to have a buddy.
FGC #522 R-Type (Dimensions)
- System: R-Type started in the arcades, saw an excellent port on the Turbo-Grafix 16, and bounced around a lot of other systems from there. Like, a lot. From Gameboy to the WiiU. R-Type Dimensions is currently available on the Switch, Xbox 360, Playstations 3 & 4, and Steam. Odds are decent you can play it somewhere.
- Number of players: 2 Player alternating to start, but you can do some co-op in Dimensions. Space isn’t so lonely after all!
- Wait, is this a review of R-Type or R-Type Dimensions? R-Type Dimensions is the modern “remake” of R-Type and R-Type II that, incidentally, allows you to use a button to switch to the original graphics and features. I… uh… presume that “features” part, because I can barely make any headway in the original R-Type. R-Type Dimensions offers an infinite lives mode, though, so I can survive slightly longer. Look! I’m a Gradius guy! I don’t have time to learn a whole new shoot ‘em up!
- Any other advantages to R-Type Infinite (Lives) Mode? Your Force is with you from level 1 to the finale, and just chills on the screen waiting for you to return when you inevitably explode. Force is so dedicated to their job!
- Favorite Weapon: Bouncy lasers are the only beams you will ever need. I’m almost certain light/lasers could never work like that, but I’m going to go the Gemini Laser route any time it is available.
- Favorite Boss: Can I just pick the giant warship of Level 3? Hey, it’s my website, so I can! This monster takes up the whole stage, and is one of the most iconic battles in the R-Type franchise (according to how often it is wholesale copied for other games). And it’s fun! It really drives home the difference between R-Type and many other shooters (R-Type is good. That’s the difference).
- Did you know? The boss of the first stage in R-Type is the Dobkeratops, a big ol’ orange mess of a monster. Dobkeratops is also the boss of the first stage in R-Type II, but you can only see its familiar face (?) if you decide to blast a healthy chunk of armor off its outer shell. Considering this is entirely optional, I’m pretty sure I assumed this was some kind of different creature for years.
- Would I play again: R-Type is an amazing classic that I am only going to play again with infinite lives and instant respawns because I do not have time to blow all my progress on some sneaky monster lurking around Level 4. So, yes, I’m going to pet my Force again at some point.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Blues Brothers 2000 for the Nintendo 64! The other 1,999 Blues Brothers videogames were rather lackluster, but I’m sure this one will be good. Please look forward to it!