Radiant Silvergun – Xbox 360
Platform: Xbox 360 (XBLA)
Publisher: Microsoft (XBLA port)
Release Date: September 14th, 2011
Genre: Shoot ’em up
Nerd Rating: 9 out of 10
Treasure your Treasure games—especially if one of those games is Radiant Silvergun, because it’s worth like a million dollars and you’re a jerk for not giving it to me.
Radiant Silvergun, also known as “The reason I eventually bought a Saturn,” is a top-down vertical 2D shoot-em-up. You control a little dingus called the Silvergun, you shoot other ships, and they explode. Also, it’s really hard and everything kills you. The game is a holy grail among Western game collectors. It has all the characteristic markings of a collector’s game—great gameplay, import-only, you have to jump through hoops to get the damn thing working on a non-Japanese Saturn, and it’s rare. Except it isn’t. Apparently it’s not rare at all. APPARENTLY, you can find it used for like twenty bucks at your local used game store. In Japan. Perhaps, then, it’s more appropriate to say the game is valuable. Because it’s an import…but also because it’s good.
I don’t own a physical copy of Radiant Silvergun. I probably never will. I bought it on XBLA when it was given an updated rerelease a couple years ago. It was a dream come true, believe me. I actually bought a Saturn for many reasons, but that’s a story for a different article. The point is, playing Radiant Silvergun made me want to get a Saturn. The title alone intrigued me.
I remember, about three years ago, when I spent two days trying to get a Saturn emulator up and running on my computer just so I could play Radiant Silvergun. The moment I got it working—the moment the game dropped me into the first stage—I was hooked. Still, that’s not a physical copy…and, well, since I don’t have the original, I have to stick to reviewing the XBLA version. So let’s dig in.
Unlike the original Saturn version, Radiant on Arcade offers an analog control option (practically a necessity considering the 360’s mushy D-Pad). Additionally, the game retains its original aspect ratio (the original Saturn version was an arcade port, after all), so there’s a border surrounding the actual game screen. Aside from neat design options, the border also has a legend that displays every weapon and its corresponding button. For beginning players, it’s a nice touch, as it helps you keep up with your weapons. And there are a lot of those.
See, Radiant is a different beast from your average shmup (shoot-em-up). Most shmups give you a standard weapon and a few screen-clearing bombs when things get too nasty. The fancier games even let you upgrade your primary weapon or steal new weapons off downed opponents. Radiant, meanwhile, gives all your weapons at the start. There are seven in total: the Vulcan cannon is your bread-and-butter bullet-curtain; the Homing weapon offers a guaranteed hit at the expense of raw power (and looks suspiciously like the Homing weapon from Treasure’s earlier Gunstar Heroes); the Spread offers raw power at the expense of pinpoint accuracy; the lasers (“homing plasma”) lock onto a target and deliver a continuous stream of fire; the back-wide fires a Vulcan spread behind your ship and a single “row” of Vulcan shots in front; and the homing missiles are a more powerful homing weapon but with a smaller range and a less consistent firing rate. Oh, and there’s a sword.
The sword is your only form of protection in the whole game outside of your reflexes, as it’s capable of absorbing a certain type of opponent weaponry. Which type? Uh…the little pinkish-purple blobs.
Once you absorb a certain amount, pressing the sword button a second time launches a giant sword strike. In addition to destroying practically every enemy on screen, the attack also grants your ship a few precious frames of invulnerability. Additionally, your weapons (save for your sword) level up the more you use them, and that leveling is tracked across playthroughs. The same goes for in-game “credits;” since the game keeps a record of how long you’ve played, every additional hour clocked in nets an additional credit.
Possibly one of the best things about Radiant Silvergun—aside from the stellar music, decent story (one that makes certain gameplay mechanics make sense, no less), numerous spectacular boss fights, and gorgeous 2D (with some 3D models thrown in) graphics–is that the game offers something for everyone. The difficulty can be tweaked to tailor to your skill level, you have the option to turn on visible hitboxes (helpful for knowing what part of your ship’s sprite is “invincible”), and you can even adjust the game’s speed on practice runs. The XBLA rerelease goes a step further by letting players download replays from around the world. Want to learn how to get through the game on Very Hard difficulty without losing a life? Go download the highest-rated playthrough. You can even fast-forward through it. You can’t rewind, though. Why? Hell if I know. I wouldn’t even call it an oversight; it just seems odd that they’d give you a fast-forward but not a rewind.
For the higher end of the shmup-playing food chain, there’s also the option of getting a really high score—which requires mastering the unique scoring system. The XBLA version actually offers two completely different scoring systems, but we’ll just focus on the original in this review.
Essentially, you can choose to blast through Radiant Silvergun shooting indiscriminately, but the best way to get a high score is to concentrate your fire on a specific enemy type. Enemies come in three colors: yellow, red, and blue. Each time you kill three enemies of the same color, you get bonus points. The longer your chain (i.e.—the more same-color enemies you shoot), the higher the bonus. If you shoot down even one enemy of a different color, the multiplier resets, and you have to start from scratch. The multiplier also resets after a boss fight and at the start of every stage. In addition to all of that, there’s a “hidden” scoring system that requires shooting one of each enemy color in a particular order—this offers the most points per chain link and is also, appropriately, the most difficult chain to pull off. Additional hidden points come from “Weapon” bonuses (using certain weapons in certain situations), and shooting dogs (er…more on that later).
Boss fights are another scoring opportunity. As mentioned earlier, boss fights are frequent in Radiant Silvergun. Every boss is segmented, meaning they can be destroyed piece-by-piece over the course of the fight. The more of the boss you destroy, the higher the destruction bonus at the end of the fight. Don’t feel like going through all that trouble? Well, you can always opt to just focus on the boss’s main weak-point. They’ll die sooner, but your score won’t be as high. Whether or not that matters is up to you. Here’s a slideshow of some of the game’s many bosses:
Radiant Silvergun offers enough point bonuses to make everyone feel good about their high score, and enough flexibility in its game mechanics to cater to all levels of player experience.Throw in a few invisible dogs (“Merry” is a dog that can only be detected when using your homing missile at certain locations throughout the game) and the option to play through the game without firing a single shot (bosses self-destruct after a few minutes, and all enemies eventually fly off-screen), and you have yourself one of the most unique, intimidating, yet simultaneously accessible games in the genre.
If there’s anything wrong with Radiant Silvergun, it’s that it’s still an arcade game at heart. That’s not an inherently bad thing, but arcade games are designed to deliver a short and sweet experience…and to take as much of your money as possible. The game isn’t very long (an hour at most), and even with the myriad difficulty settings, there’s still a barrier to entry for the casual player. Treasure gives players all the tools necessary to master the game, but that doesn’t mean people necessarily want to master it. Put another way: anyone can play it, but not everyone may want to.
In some ways, Radiant is the Chess of shmup games; certain weapons work best in certain situations, and blitzkrieging the whole screen may not always be the best way to get through a level. Even if you choose to neglect all strategy and simply blast through the game, you’ll notice that it moves at a slower, more deliberate pace compared to the high-octane action of something like Raiden or Dodonpachi. Reaction time and pattern memorization are still fundamental to surviving Radiant’s gameplay (and it’s a hard game, make no mistake), but rarely will you find yourself overwhelmed by the speed.
Thing is, not everyone is looking for a slow, deliberate shmup–some people just really want to shoot a bunch of stuff, really really fast. There’s nothing wrong with that, this game just wasn’t necessarily made with those people in mind. Hell, Radiant even eschews the techno and hard-rock soundtracks common to the genre, instead opting for an orchestral score. It suits the game’s atmosphere perfectly, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming the tune to the first level hours after you’ve turned the game off.
Still, the game’s seeming indecisiveness can be problematic. It’s a short game, but it takes a long time to master. It has a two-player mode, but is built with one player in mind. It wants you to play through it over and over again, but gives you no incentive to do so other than extra credits. Any desire for multiple playthroughs rests solely on the player. Essentially you have an arcade game (quick deaths, no continues, screen-flooding action), but with non-arcade elements (persistent weapon upgrades over time, tools to let the player improve their skill, slower pace, cinematic presentation). Sometimes people just want one or the other. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it, and Radiant becomes just another interesting but forgettable shooter. But if you do like it, there’s a good chance you’ll get addicted.
There’s a reason Radiant is so expensive this side of the rising sun: it’s good. It’s damn good. I daresay it’s better than its younger, more well-known brother, Ikaruga, and easily one of the best games on the Saturn. But unless you can justify spending several hundred dollars on a used copy and a functioning Japanese Saturn, you’re probably better off playing it on Xbox Live Arcade. Don’t worry, it’s still good.
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