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Vertical and horizontal scrolling space shoot-'em-up games, or "shmups" as they are affectionately known by their fans, were some of the first truly successful video games, yet it seems like they fail to get the recognition they so richly deserve. Triple-A titles in the genre are few and far between, with Gradius, Ikaruga, R-Type, Soldier Blade and the incredibly rare Radiant Silvergun among the select few elite shooters to have garnered sizable followings. That brings us to the Raiden series, an under-appreciated collection of games in an under-appreciated genre. In 2005, the third original game in the series was released in Japan after a decade-plus long hiatus, and in 2007, that game finally made its way to the United States. The cover of the English language version boldly proclaims, "The Legendary Shooter Returns" -- a bold claim, to be sure. Does the game live up to the hype?
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Raiden III features the kind of classic vertical-scrolling shooter action that should be familiar to just about everyone. One or two players assume the role of a spacecraft, which they must move around the screen, shooting enemies and dodging attacks. There are three main different weapons, the spread-type Vulcan, the blue Laser and the green, whip-like Proton Laser, each of which can be made stronger by collecting power-up items. Furthermore, you can also add things like homing missiles and screen-exploding bombs to your arsenal. In addition to the main game, which is seven levels long, players can also return to an already finished stage in a time attack mode and relive all of the intense level-ending fights in a boss rush mode. The game is short, and will probably take no more than one or two hours to finish, at least on the easier difficulties. That brings me to one of the best features of the game, which is the ability to select one of seven different difficulty levels, ranging from a practice mode in which opponents don't even fire back at you to a very hard difficulty level that will challenge even the hardest of the hardcore shooter fans. Such customization options should be offered in all shooters, if you ask me. The only real gripe I have about Raiden III's gameplay is that I wish the ship moved a little faster.
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While the game's controls are completely adjustable in the Options section of the main menu, the default controls are as follows: the analog stick and/or d-pad are used to move, the Start button pauses the game, the circle and square buttons can be held down to rapidly fire the currently equipped main weapon, and the X button controls the bombs. In my opinion, everything controls quite well as, even without needing to tweak the set-up, though it is nice that you have the option to do so if you wish. There's also a strange alternate two-player configuration where instead of using separate controllers, each gamer shares the same one, using the analog stick on their side of the controller to move, the L1/R1 shoulder buttons to shoot and the L2/R2 shoulder button for bombs. As you might expect, it doesn't particularly work well. If you want to play co-op, just do it the old fashioned way, with separate DualShock controllers for each person.
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Graphics and Sound
I feel bad giving Raiden III an average score here, because I personally don't think the biggest flaw with the visuals and sound quality is that big of a flaw at all. You see, the game really doesn't sport state of the art graphics. It looks decidedly 16-bit, like something you might download off of the Wii Virtual Console. It is worth noting, though, that there is a cool blur-like effect that happens once you take down a stage boss, and the game also earns some bonus points for the fact that you can change the way the game is displayed on your TV (narrow or wide-screen, horizontal or vertical). Like the graphics, the up-tempo techno-style music definitely seems like something fresh out of the Super NES or Genesis days. Now personally, having a game that looks and sounds like something from days gone by isn't such a bad thing, so long as there are no overt glitches and the frame rate runs smoothly, both of which are the case with Raiden III. However, I can certainly see where most modern gamers might be turned off by visuals that look like they'd be more at home on the Nintendo DS than a home console like the Playstation 2, so with that in mind I can't really award the game more than three stars for its old-school presentation (even if I happen to really like it, personally).
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Raiden III pretty much does away with frivolities like plot and flashy cut scenes, and focuses instead on giving you intense, old-school style shoot-'em-up action. In this way, it is a tremendous success, and if you enjoy games like this there's no doubt in my mind that you'll have a lot of fun with this title. It isn't as flashy as some of its more recent competitors, but there is a certain charm to the game's visual and audio stylings. While "legendary" might be pushing it, this is an incredibly fun little game. If you're a fan of space shmups, you're looking for something new, and you haven't already given this game a whirl, then I wholeheartedly recommend Raiden III.