Had Sigmund Freud played R-Type, he might have needed to rethink his widely accepted pleasure-pain principle (which states that we seek pleasure and flee pain).
While it would be wise to flee from its excessively difficult gameplay, there's an unexplained pleasure gained from the so-hard-you-want-to-pull-your-hair-out shooter. It's a badge of honour, a token of your gaming skill, an initiation of sorts to have survived R-Type.
That was when you played it with controller in hand. Now, it graces a touchscreen and it should come as no surprise that even with the best possible configuration and a decent slate of options, R-Type retains its unyielding difficulty for a new generation.
The right touch
Developer DotEmu has tried hard and with some success to adapt the classic side-scrolling shooter to iPhone and iPod touch. Piloting your R-9a Arrowhead fighter in sorties against the monstrous Bydo Empire is done in one of three ways: touch, combination tilt and touch, or virtual arcade controls.
Touch is the default setup, and it's by far the best of the bunch. Movement is dictated by a finger sliding across the screen on the left, while tapping invisible buttons on the right enable you to fire and manipulate special weapons.
It's a workable scheme and one that actually supports a reasonable level of precise control. Still, the occasional death occurs due to an accidental slip of a finger or the skip experienced when lifting a finger from the screen and setting it back down.
Tilt to live
These seem minor compared to the troubles with the alternative configurations, which are so painfully deficient that it's a wonder that they're included at all.
Conceptually, tilting to control your ship sounds like a bad idea and it is. Not only is it highly imprecise in a game that demands pixel-perfect movement, but it's not a fun way of playing a shooter.
The virtual arcade control scheme that places a circular D-pad and translucent buttons on the screen is better, though the D-pad is slower to respond than the default touch configuration.
Another key distinction is the tilting of the play area as a measure to prevent the virtual buttons from infringing on the action. It's a well-intended idea soured by the awkwardness of playing on a distorted field.Chronic pain
Stick to the default controls and you find R-Type playable, at least for a few seconds. The game's creative power-ups and colourful enemies are overshadowed by an extreme level of difficulty that renders the completion of a single level on any mode a triumph.
Normal mode, which retains the original version's four-strikes-and-you're-out setup, is one tough customer. Fortunately, DotEmu has smartly embellished the game with a new Unlimited mode that grants an infinite supply of lives. Additionally, an option to set your weapons to automatic fire helps enormously.
Of course, neither diminishes the difficulty of the levels themselves, which remain implacable as ever. Unlimited lives mean little when you can't beat a level and spawn at the start of the stage every time you die.
Nonetheless, R-Type plays well enough to incite that pleasurable sort of pain that only a fan could enjoy. Accommodations made with the hope of attracting new followers are welcome, however unlikely they are to succeed.