If you have any inclination toward shoot-em-ups and have yet to pick up Radiant Silvergun for Xbox Live Arcade, I strongly urge you to take it for a spin. “But those kind of games are too hardcore for me and make me want to throw controllers,” you might say, which I understand. The genre is definitely a bit of a niche these days.
Thankfully, this HD Sega Saturn port has some great features that make playing and improving your skills feel less like illogical masochism and more…well, fun.
Training mode: Are you having difficulty flying through those narrow, cannon-filled corridors or learning the attack patterns of that stupid boss that shoots walls of flames and inconveniently timed missiles at you? Try revisiting those stages at half speed (or slower) in training mode and gradually increase the tempo as you learn not to freak out trying to shoot and fly at the same time. Trust me, this way is a much better use of your time than forcing yourself to play at regular speed and dying every five seconds.
Story mode: Nevermind the dated Battle Arena Toshiden-style anime cutscenes or the poorly paced English subtitles (just read the second half of that sentence on your next playthrough); story mode is essential because it saves the progress you make leveling up your guns. A more powerful offense means you can take down screen-filling bosses in seconds flat. Though this mode doesn’t let you return to the most recent level you’ve played, it does reward you with an extra life for each hour you cumulatively invest. I find myself flying a little farther each time I play thanks to these features. And if repeating the early stages sounds a little redundant to you, you could always start aiming for combos.
Chains: Rather than bore yourself by mindlessly attacking everything that moves, you can shoot down similar-colored enemies for a score multiplier that also helps to level up your weapons faster. When you factor in that Radiant Silvergun has a specific one of its seven different weapons in mind for you to use on each enemy, systematically taking out only red bogies becomes a challenging minigame in itself. This adds a nice layer that makes repeat playthroughs seem more fresh and challenging, even if you’ve got the whole level memorized.
Bullet purgatory: When I think of the worst example of why people might avoid shoot-em-ups, it involves an overwhelming ocean of life-ending projectiles and a microscopic path through it that requires the dexterity of a neural surgeon. Radiant Silvergun has its fair share of bullets and missiles, but typically the right weapon and good prioritizing of your enemies prevent most ridiculous scenarios. I find it to be much less stressful than its spiritual successor, Ikaruga, which drowns the player in black and white bullets and makes avoiding and absorbing them a central gameplay mechanic. No thanks.
Pacing: What draws me to developer Treasure’s games (like Gunstar Heroes, Astro Boy: Omega Factor, and Sin and Punishment) isn’t the steep challenge many of them pose (though that’s part of it). It’s the great pacing they create by constantly introducing new elements to each level to always keep the player interested. No two boss battles feel the same, and each new foe presents an added layer of difficulty that feels just right for anyone playing from the beginning.
At the end of the day, if you were ever a fan of shoot-em-ups but were turned off by their increasing complexity and maddening level design, this throwback title could be the one that welcomes you back. I’ve found it to be so much more accessible and less aggravating than other games in the genre that I’ve played recently. And if it means anything, I’ve yet to scream any four-letter words at my TV. Unlike when I’m playing Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury….