Raiden is back, and I don’t mean the guy from Mortal Kombat, or that other one from that one Metal Gear Solid game. Raiden is a vertical shooter that first launched in 1990, and while it was acclaimed, it didn’t match up with the same iconic status of other shooters from the era. Nevertheless, it garnered a dedicated fanbase, and now, almost 25 years later, we have Raiden V, and it is spectacular.
The series managed to maintain relevance by sticking close to the roots and spirit of 90s coin-op machines, and this iteration is no exception. It manages to stay true to the bullet hell genre while successfully spicing things up with some borrowed and fresh ideas.
You have a choice of aircraft, weapons, sub-weapons and bombs that you will employ to take out end-level bosses. But artillery is nothing without the right twitch reflexes that games of the genre demand.
Early in the game you are given a choice of three jets: the Azuma fighter that hails from Japan, the American Spirit Dragon, and the french Moulin Rouge. Each of them has a different set of stats that will certainly compliment multiple game styles. Though each jet comes equipped with different sub-weapons, they all have the same main weapons and bombs.
As far as main weapons go, you have three varieties. The Vulcan is mainly a weak spread shot, the spear-mint-cool Laser beam is basically the hard-hitting, surgical strike weapon, and finally the big, bad, purple, homing Plasma weapon, or as the fanbase calls it ‘The Toothpaste,” a homing beam of purple death that bends, twists and sticks to its target.
Sub-weapons, differing for each jet, come in the form of a chasing laser, a nuclear missile, or a homing rocket. Of course no true bullet hell game would be complete without the obligatory bomb, a screen-clearing attack that is to be used frugally and in worst case scenarios to get you out of tight spots. You could, of course, also launch your bomb(s) at bosses for added damage.
Weapons can be upgraded up to ten times by picking up different colored gems destroyed enemies leave behind. Each color is associated to a specific weapon, and deciding whether you should change weapons or stick with your current setup to upgrade is a choice you will have to make at an instant’s notice.
Be wary, however. If you pick up a differently colored gem by mistake, which will happen in the ensuing chaos, there is no way to backtrack.
The “shmup” scene is an over-saturated one, and if you are a fan of the genre, you can tell how good or bad a game will be from its presentation. Too many particles and the game will look bad, too little and it will resemble a flash game. Raiden V manages to feel just right with crisp graphics and a vibrant palette inspired by retro games.
This fifth release for the series introduces a few features that may not please veterans. One such feature is the right panel that hosts radio transmissions between you, your bosses, and your enemies. While this is a novel idea, it can sometimes prove distracting which is never a good thing in such games. It adds narrative to a genre that cares very little about it, and I feel will not be embraced by all players.
New also in the Risk/Reward principle. This is a risk mechanic that will award you more points for dealing with enemies as soon as they appear on screen. This can lead to you attaching yourself to the upper corners, risking an early death.
There is also a “Cheer” system whose intentions was to invite online encouragement, but ends up being a messy affair. You are meant to tap a button to “cheer” a gamer you are watching, which in turn will help fill up a special bar for them. When activated, this bar will set their sub-weapons on overdrive. While the concept sounds interesting on paper, it rarely translates properly.
Otherwise, Raiden V maintains genre traditions by not offering a widescreen mode, limiting the action to 1/3 of your screen, while the remaining 2/3 is cluttered with random info and stats.
There are a total of eight levels to endure, and the game throws no punches. You will sense a challenge even on the easiest difficulty. Enemies relentlessly fire at you, only normal shots can be blocked, and Raiden V is not forgiving with the hit box of your ship. Not challenging enough for you? You only have one life. But before you panic, unlike most similar shooters, you have a life bar, so this is not a one-shot kill endeavor.
As much as I enjoyed it however, it should be noted that Raiden V has its share of shortcomings, chief of which is the lack of a two-player mode. The asking price also is a little steep for what it offers: $50 for a bullet hell game? I’ve seen such a practice with the PS4 version of Dariusburst whose asking price created a wall for most gamers and alienated fans or potential buyers.
After all is said and done, though, Raiden V offers one of the best arcade vertical shooters on home on consoles. It is vibrant, fast, relentless, and just plain fun to play. The developers, MOSS, managed to keep the game as close to the previous ones as possible while infusing just enough new ideas to keep it fresh and inviting.
If you have an Xbox One and want to show off an interesting exclusive, or just want to turn off your brain for a few hours to enjoy a pure arcade rush, then look no further.
Raiden V is available on Xbox One as a digital download only in the west. A review code was made available to us via MOSS Co Ltd.