To the casual gaming public the name Raiden probably conjures up a certain thunder god in Mortal Kombat. Or the nancy boy in Metal Gear Solid. But for old school shooting fans they’ll remember one of the most well-known shooters in the arcade. Raiden was close to R-Type and Gradius’ popularity in the arcade which warranted a large variety of ports. Even the god damn Jaguar got a version of the game. The Turbo Grafx-16 is not a perfect conversion, missing features and introducing oddities that make it frustrating overall. There are better options on this system.
At first glance Raiden looks rather unassuming. In fact you could easily mistake it for other Toaplan shooters such as Twin Cobra and Sky Shark. What it does have that they don’t is intensity. Raiden isn’t quite a bullet hell shooter but damned if it doesn’t try. The game isn’t afraid to crowd the screen with enemies and bullets and navigating that chaos is a rush. The playing field is wider than normal, sort of like a vertical version of Darius. Although enemies spawn on all sides off screen enemies can’t hit you thankfully. Shuffling off to the side is a good tactic to avoid being hit as well. It’s surprising how frantic the game can be considering its slower pace than the arcade. Sadly some of that is lost due to the missing two-player coop.
Raiden has a small array of weapons and while functional I wish there were more. You have two primary options: Vulcan cannon that eventually upgrades to a five-way shot or the more powerful but singularly focused laser. The game is heavily tilted toward the five-way shot. Enemies spawn in such large numbers from every corner that it is practically suicide to use the laser. The optional missiles (homing and napalm) help but the laser is best kept for boss battles. And even that doesn’t help much.
The most distinctive weapon is its signature bombs. The large spherical explosion bombs leave is visually distinct but serves multiple purposes. Not only do they inflict massive damage but they also linger for a few seconds, causing splash damage. Bombs also destroy enemy fire which is absolutely critical to surviving the grueling boss battles. There is a slight delay before they explode; learning the timing can mean the difference between life and death.
Raiden has that soul crushing old school difficulty, the kind that makes you want to punch a wall. This version sends you back to a checkpoint upon death as in most shooters. This one change ratchets the difficulty significantly. Even worse, you have no power-ups and in this game mounting a comeback feels impossible. Although it starts out tough there is a steady ramp up in difficulty. By the fifth stage you can’t take your finger off the trigger, the enemy waves are so relentless. And it only gets worse from there. This is one of the hardest shooters I’ve ever completed, up there with Rayxanber II and Viewpoint. Making it to the end of this one should definitely count as a badge of honor.
A lot of the difficulty does feel artificial and comes from external factors. The most prominent is the slow speed of your ship. There really is no reason why you move so slow; the game desperately needed either a speed power-up or a slight boost. Most of your deaths will be due to this factor. Bullets tend to blend into the background frequently. I can’t count how many times I died without seeing how, especially during boss battles. The imbalance between the weapons doesn’t help either. I like a good challenge but not like this.
The lofty challenge would be more tolerable if the game weren’t so dull to look at. This version of Raiden is a close match to the arcade visually but that isn’t saying much. Raiden wasn’t exactly a looker in the arcade and that still applies here. The first half of the game takes place over generic farmlands and military installations that blend together. The color palette is also overly brown, a trait shared by most other Toaplan shooters. While it is a bit repetitive it does add some slight variety once you enter space. But it doesn’t make the game any more interesting.
The missing two-player coop and high difficulty make this a hard to recommend to casual fans. While decent this version of Raiden is far from the best and needlessly harder than the arcade. There are too many better shooters to pick up before settling on this one.