To put it bluntly if you're reading this you're not playing Raiden 4. I've already talked about the Raiden Fighters series which is absolutely fantastic. Thing is though you're probably wanting more and if so I don't blame you. Thankfully UFO interactive decided to throw away a bunch of money so gamers like us can get a copy of R4 in America. While some may scoff at the $40 pricetag --especially since they got Raiden Fighters for $20 earlier this year-- it's still a good value and a worthwhile pick-up for 2D shooter fans.
Forget everything you know about Raiden Fighters because it doesn't really apply here. While RF provided numerous tricks, techniques, and secrets for achieving the highest possible scores, R4 keeps it fairly simple. Scoring is mainly based around how quickly the player destroys an enemy. From the swarms of little ships to large battlecruisers all of these foes can give up to five times their point value if destroyed quickly enough. Obviously this requires a bit of memorization to know where to be when the next ship spawns as well as the reflexes to dodge the seemingly endless parade of enemy fire. There's a special missile attack performed by letting go of the fire button for a couple seconds and then pressing it again. This volley of missiles is great for when enemies first appear and it gives out bonus points for every missile that hits. Aside from a secret or two in each of the seven stages there's not much else to worry about in terms of scoring. It also helps if you don't die or use bombs because both of your stocks can be worth quite a few points at the end of each stage(along with medals collected by destroying lots of stuff). This is important because this game is very difficult. It's definitely harder than any o the RFs thanks to increased rate of fire, longer stages, tougher bosses, and a second loop that drastically speeds up enemy bullets(that is if you can even get there the honest way).
This change of direction might be more appealing to some fans of the genre. I understand there are gamers out there who couldn't care less about amassing some ridiculous score via memorizing everything. Some just want to know the basics and then rely on their reflexes to carry them through the game. All of the ships in this game are unique in what kind of attacks they do. Some ships fly in, fire a couple shots, and then attempt to strike the player from the side, others just float lazily around the screen firing waves of bullets, and so on. Once the player understands the basic enemy attacks it can be a pretty smooth ride. The bosses on the other hand are very rough as their spreads are fast and ferocious. Sometimes all it takes to dodge them is by being in the right spot but others can have the player all over the place. It's nothing shooter fans haven't already seen but R4 does it just as well as any other title.
Along with standard features like additional ships(DLC though) and a Boss Rush, R4 also has the double-play mode. If you owned Raiden III on the PS2 and/or saw VTF-Ino's Ikaruga double-play modes you'll know exactly how this works. Essentially a single player controls two ships. While there are advantages to having more firepower it can become quite an ardous task keeping both ships out of trouble. Regardless it's a neat feature and certainly worth a shot if you've mastered everything else the game has to offer.
There's really not a lot I can say about this game that really helps it stand out. As far as I'm concerned it's definitely an improvement over Raiden III as the ship feels a little bit faster and yet nothing in terms of challenge or intensity is sacrificed. There are some good ideas like the a sound effect whenever an enemy bullet shaves a ship(as in getting close enough to touch the ship but not destroy it). It's good as sort of a last-ditch indicator for avoiding death and allows the player to take just a little bit of attention off their ship. Early on one of the challenging aspects of learning a shooter is being able to follow enemy fire from where it appears to where it'll hit. Giving just enough freedom to concentrate on other things goes a long way here.
Despite the additional bonuses the 360 port brings like a couple of new stages and different enemy arrangements it's still one 2D arcade shooter for $40. We've grown to expect these titles to appear on Xboxlive Arcade or not at all. It's a bit of a shame really cause despite the genre and niche appeal these games readily go for full-price in Japan. If we're going to have any chance at seeing releases from the likes of Cave or otherwise in the West we'll have to be more accepting of higher prices. Maybe there are ways to soften the blow like Collector's Editions or some other bonus to make up for higher than expected prices but that'll depend on how this game fares at retail.
All that said I don't want to hear any complaining about how the West never gets any 2D shooters if everyone picks this game up years or even months from now for less than $20. That's the cost that comes with supporting the genre. It's a great shooter no matter what and if you're willing to put the time into it I'm sure the investment will be worthwhile. The wonderful thing about 2D shooters is that despite their length it'll take potentially hundreds of hours to actually master one. Then again I don't know. Some people prefer to go through a hundred different stages over the course of many different games instead of repeating the same 5 to 8 stages over and over again and accomplishing little if anything in the process. Even if you're not a fan of the genre give it a rental at least as it just might grow on you.
Then again you could also try Raiden 3 as it's really cheap now and it'll give you a pretty good idea of what R4 is like. I didn't find R3 very enjoyable though so whatever.