Rayforce, by Taito Games, is an arcade classic. It… Look, forget the generic intro, I can’t start this review without getting something off my chest: this game costs £7.99. £7.99! Do you know how much I could do with that kind of money? I could get a hair cut, I could pay for a ticket to watch a feature at my local Picture House.
It’s a vertically scrolling Shmup (that’s nu-skool parlance for ‘Shoot-em-up) from Taito Games first released in 1993 that had spotty youngsters like myself rushing arcades all over the country. Like a increasing number of arcade classics, it’s been ported to the iPhone to punch us in the gut with nostalgia. And both my gut and nostalgia have grown considerably since 1993.
Playing RayForce is a lot like taking class A drugs. Not that you load up the game and attempt to smoke your iPhone (that doesn’t work, I’ve tried it), but the trippy, swirling graphical effects thrown at you while playing have roughly the same effect as prancing about in a sweat soaked warehouse rave, off your face on an Ecstasy pill. It’s at this point that I would like to assure you I’ve never taken class A drugs. The previous comment was a humurous device designed to keep you reading. Your intrepid games reviewer is NOT a junkie or alcoholic. I’ve got to capture your attention somehow.
While the graphics are like having someone forcefully apply felt tip pens directly to your eyeballs, there’s no cleaning up of the visuals to take advantage of the iPhone tech. So it’s still ok to look at, just in the retro way it was back in 1993. Except then it wasn’t retro. If you see what I mean.
And it’s levels are cooler than Act of Fury: Kraine’s Revenge, another recent iOS vertical shooter. They sport some nice layering effects as you zoom in and around huge spaceships making the whole thing seem more 3D. Kraine’s Revenge looks sharper, but the stages here feel more alive, even if there are only seven of them. And before you pull me up on it, I am fully aware that I’ve referenced Act of Fury in two reviews in a row. I’m aiming for a strike damn it. Catch up with me in a weeks time when I try and shoehorn it into my next effort.
You can also set the screen zoom to make the resolution the same as the original game, adding arcade style borders around the play area, but this reduces it to something approaching the screen size of my Motorola T9 from 1999. In other words, miniscule. Enemy attacks become even harder to spot amongst the constant barrage. I guess if anything it makes it more challenging, but thats like saying tennis becomes more challenging when you’ve had both your arms amputated. Stick to full size.
Anyway, graphical fidelity isn’t that important in releases such as this. If you’re willing to pay £7.99 (did I mention this cost £7.99?), you’re not too concerned with looks and you’re probably so desperate for a trip down memory lane that you’re approaching crackhead status. Last reference to drugs that one, promise.
Music and sound effects impress; from the very 90’s button press sound effects, to the inspirational in-game riffs (they were inspirational for me at 13 years old. Hush). My only wish with these retro games is that they start including that most pleasing of old-school tropes: the sound test. I would definitely go jogging with this soundtrack on my playlist. Possibly.
A choice of controls is on offer. iPhone moe offers simple flick style controls while Arcade moe is supposed to be a ‘faithful touchscreen recreation of the original arcade game’, but I honestly can’t tell the difference between the two. I also think I may have forgotten my ‘d’s’ in that last sentence. While swiping your finger across the screen instead of fiddling with virtual buttons is certainly the most intuitive method of control, the fact that your ship tends to lag behind your finger movement can prove frustrating in the midst of a firefight.
The game plays like you would expect a bullet hell title to. That means frenzied weaving in and out of projectile traffic, aiming both ahead with your regular cannon and and below with your lock on lasers while memorising enemy patterns to avoid getting exploderised (real word). It’s a chaotic business with bosses that appear at the beginning of the level leaving you wondering why bosses have appeared at the beginning of the level only for you to discover that the REAL bosses are hulking beasts that appear later on in the level. Bosses.
Now I don’t know if it’s just me, but to be honest it’s hard to tell what’s going on sometimes. There’s so much happening on screen at once that…oh forget it. I think I’m just getting soft in my old gaming age. This is bullet hell. It’s SUPPOSED to be hard to tell what’s going on. In any case, you’re blessed with infinite continues which mean you never have to start a level from scratch. You’re just plonked right back where you died to carry on. I know I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to classic titles that had their difficulty level dialed all the way up, but something tells me infinite continues in a game like this is a bit of a cop out.
Choosing to play all the levels from start to finish in Arcade Mode instead of selecting individual levels, throws the entire arcade cabinet at your head. (Unfortunately not literally). You’ll be treated to the exact opening sequence from the arcade machine, even down to the environmental message from William K. Reily, Adminstrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and the ‘Insert Coin’ prompt after the title screen. Reminiscence gone mad? I’m just wondering how the topic of recycling has somehow made it into a review of a shoot-em-up.
I’m also surprised there’s a plot attached to this game. The backstory is included in the manual which is as comprehensive as you can get with an iOS title these days, showing all the main functions of the game. As you imagine, I don’t remember a storyline from when I first played. I thought the sum of the narrative was ‘Fly ship, kill things’, so frankly, I didn’t bother to read anything and jumped straight into the game. Then I remembered I’m supposed to be an intrepid games reporter, so I returned to the help section to learn that after an unsuccessful assault, Operation Rayforce is a second attack on the Con-Human’s home planet (Con Human is a genocidal artificial intelligence – think Microsft Windows in today’s terms), with you piloting an X-Lay spacecraft to prevent it from manufacturing weapons that threatens life as we know it.
Taken for what it is, Rayforce is an enjoyable throwback. Taken for what it costs, it might put you off. I was going to mention here that it costs £7.99, but I think I may have done that somewhere already. Don’t want to repeat myself now.
But if the price really is giving you chills, just pretend you’re 12 years old again, and your parents have given you a tenner to spend at the arcade as a reward for completing your chores. You’ll be downloading in no time, and even have £2 left over for sweets. A game of Rayforce and a bag full of chocolate is surely more fun than getting high off wacky backy, right? Say no to drugs kids.
RayForce is out now for iPhone, and iPod Touch for £7.99 ($11.99). Get it on the