The Raiden series is full of must-have shoot 'em ups so let's go all the way back to the original and see if it holds up as well as its sequels.
I absolutely love the Raiden franchise and still own many games in the series such as the nifty Raiden Project compilation for PS1, the cool console adaptation Raiden Trad for SNES, the underrated Raiden III for PS2, the incredible Raiden Fighters Aces for Xbox 360, and a few more. Throughout the years, Raiden has been near the top of my list of best vertical shmup series so playing Arcade Archives: Raiden was quite a trip. Of course, I've played the original on The Raiden Project but haven't in quite some time and I now remember why. Simply put, the original Raiden is one of the toughest shmups ever made. Sure, the first few stages can be completed with general ease but the difficulty escalates to a ridiculous degree in later levels. So, if you're thinking of mastering it, make sure you have plenty of patience.
To clarify, the difficulty within Raiden isn't similar to a bullet hell where you carefully weave your ship within a narrow safe space. Instead, it's all about enemies firing super-fast projectiles directly at you. These enemies can come from any direction, including behind you so you really have to keep your eyes peeled as you play. Also, a lot of the challenge relies on your ability to dispatch enemies ASAP because if you don't, a few of them might fire at you from different angles which makes trying to dodge their projectiles incredibly difficult. In other words, modern shmups usually have easily-recognizable bullet patterns with the odd one headed straight for you just to keep you on your toes but in Raiden, they're nearly all directed towards you which can make for one maddening degree of difficulty. 😠
Now, I'm not completely disparaging Raiden for being difficult because it's also a ton of fun. Whenever you escape a tough situation only to break free, blow up a horde of pesky adversaries, and claim a bunch of medals; it feels awesome! Plus, the fact that you can power-up either a vulcan or laser as well as homing or nuclear missiles is rewarding stuff. You also have a helpful bomb attack although it isn't screen-clearing. Becoming powered-up then taking on the memorable boss fights is satisfying and the fact that the stages can be fairly lengthy is a bonus, too, and there are 8 of them to master which is great. On top of all that, there's a scoring system that rewards you heavily if you don't use bombs or bite the dust because all of the collected medals 🏅 for your current life and total bombs 💣 are multiplied at the end of each stage which could result in a massive score boost. If you manage to survive a whole stage, you deserve it! 👍
Although I'm happy that Raiden is finally a part of the Arcade Archives line-up, it does have some downsides. First, Raiden's levels have a bit too much width which can make spotting enemies more challenging than it needs to be. Also, I found controlling my ship at the very edges of the screen to be annoying because of the disorienting camera panning. Sometimes, I'd think I was flat against the edge but then a bullet that seemed like it would miss me touches me anyway. You could avoid the edges but sometimes, there are goodies there! Finally, there's also some visual ambiguity as enemies and their projectiles can blend in to the background, especially within the more crowded environments. Nothing's more irritating than flying freely only to get shot down by a projectile that you didn't even see.
The original Raiden is a solid shoot 'em up that's still a lot of fun but playing through it made me thankful that its sequels ironed out its more frustrating aspects. In fact, I hope to see Raiden II and Raiden Fighters release for Arcade Archives down the road.
- + Tight classic shoot 'em up gameplay within a somewhat lengthy campaign
- + Memorable and challenging boss fights
- + Very rewarding scoring system
- - Enemy projectiles can be infuriatingly fast, accurate, and sneaky
- - Wide stages are a bit of a nuisance
- - Some visual ambiguity