Raiden III x MIKADO MANIAX review

This latest Raiden re-release takes us back to the PlayStation 2 era, reviving 2005’s Raiden III. Just like Raiden IV, re-released a few months ago, the original version will set you back a pretty penny these days, with eBay suggesting a good-condition copy will run you close to £100. Again, this makes this re-release more than worthwhile – especially seeing that it features new content and bolstered presentation too.

We actually reviewed the PS2 version when it gained a budget European release via 505 Games, or 505 GameStreet as they were known back then. While we didn’t award it a score (our reviews were scoreless back then) we did wax lyrical about how easy it was to play, yet difficult to master.

Some eighteen years on, that’s something that remains true. It does, however, and new content notwithstanding, feel leaner and less flashy than later versions, although this was perhaps to be expected. To recap, Raiden III is a vertical sci-fi space shooter with a distinct arcade feel, in which over the course of seven short stages you’ll get to fly over city streets and ocean bases, before navigating an asteroid field and attacking the opposition at the front door of their own off-world installation. Bosses aren’t too outlandish, being a mixture of bulky, heavily armoured, sci-fi-style tanks, submarines, aircraft, satellites, and spacecraft.

What’s pleasing about Raiden III – ergo the series in general – is that it isn’t a bullet hell shooter. Enemies fire yellow, clearly visible, bullets that you’re given ample time to either avoid or – should things get too hectic – clear from the screen with a smart bomb. Bosses aren’t of the bullet sponge variety either, usually defeated within thirty seconds or so.

Of course, it helps to have the right kind of weapon(s) equipped. This is where Raiden III feels lean – it has just three main weapons. The spread shot encompasses the entire screen and is useful for clearing the aforementioned asteroid field, along with the handful of locations that feature dozens of turrets. The searing laser can make short work of bosses, while the bendy laser can take out enemies rapidly, but you need to increase your movement range to make the most of it – thus putting you at greater risk of hitting a projectile.

These are then backed up by support weapons, including a handful of homing missiles. I didn’t feel a great need to pay attention to what support item I picked up, as they seem much of a muchness, but I’m willing to bet they come into their own when trying for a one credit run.

Visually, it holds up surprisingly well. You may even be pushed hard to tell that it’s a PS2 game. There’s very little in the way of repetition within the backdrops (although bear in mind that the stages only last a few minutes each) and the hazy explosion effects remain appealing.

While the weapon roster may feel lean, the amount of modes is anything but. Boss Rush mode unlocks early on and is joined by Score Attack – with the ability to choose stages – a two-player Duo mode with shared bombs, and Double mode where two ships can be controlled with one joypad. The controls here are surprisingly intuitive, using LB/RB to shoot and LT/RT to use bombs – which frees up your thumbs to focus on movement. All of these modes have online rankings and save replay functions too, while achieving milestones unlocks new rearranged music from Japanese artists, along with new wallpapers. Incidentally, the screen can also be flipped 90 degrees should you want to play TATE style.

It’s the flexible difficulty and relaxed learning curve that impress the most. Practise Mode is precisely that, letting you experience the whole shebang without enemies firing back. Some achievements can even be unlocked here. Very Easy and Easy allow you to learn attack patterns and boss strategies without fear of seeing the Game Over screen too suddenly. Then there’s Normal mode – the default, which provides a reasonable challenge. Beating Raiden III on a single credit on anything above Normal will take practice. You can, at least, adjust the amount of continues and increase the bomb stock to give a fighting chance.

While I enjoyed revisiting Raiden III, I also found it all too fleeting. Given the current cost of the original and the fact that this was always one of the better shooters on the PS2, I’m still glad that this re-release exists. Long time franchise fans will likely relish the chance to revisit the past, but for newcomers, Raiden IV x MIKADO remix and Raiden V: Director’s Cut are still better options.

NiS America’s Raiden III x MIKADO MANIAX is out June 6th in the US and June 9th in Europe. Available on all formats.

SCORE
7