Radiant Silvergun perhaps, more than any other Saturn title best represents the platform and Sega as a whole. First it’s a shump. That’s short for space shoot ’em up for you non-hardcore gamer types, btw. And it’s the hardcore that used to swear by Sega over the years.
The entire Saturn experience, most of it at least, has been faithfully reproduced and then some. Before getting into the finer details, the most basic questions are: what is the game about and what makes it so special? Well, at its core, you’re just another lone space ship, battling against wave after wave of enemies. Sorta like Galaga. Sorta like Gradius. But it’s absolutely nothing like those games, or any other.
Radiant Silvergun came out in 1998, when the genre was going through a rebirth. It came out alongside DoDonPachi, which added its own unique spin on the formula. It’s hard to say why their offering became so popular, which led to Cave creating even more games, and them becoming the de facto market leaders of the genre.
Over time, their games simply added more and more to their winning formula, meaning an ever increasingly number of bullets on screen and a scoring system that just keep getting more and more complicated. To the point that many complaints that Cave fans aimed at Radiant Silvergun about it being too difficult and convoluted are rather moot at this point. There’s no getting around it, Radiant Silvergun is HARD. There’s only a handful of stages, but each is super long, because there’s tons of boss battles punctuated every step of the way. And absolutely every single one requires a completely new strategy. You will seriously get a headache about 10 minutes into the game, even on the easiest of settings.
Many shmups also have the tried and true conventions of power-ups. Well, that doesn’t exist here. Instead, you have three main weapons, at all times. The more you use them, the stronger they become. You can also combine two weapons to create something different, which has properties of its source. There are also a seventh super weapons that can eat up certain kinds of bullets to unleash a super weapon.
Add in a simple on paper, but complex in motion scoring system that’s based upon the color of the ship you’re shooting down, and you seriously have one of the most in-depth gaming experiences ever. Which again, is tough as nails.
The game has two modes: arcade and story mode. The former is just like the arcade release (which too was rather limited in Japan) and the later has a narrative plus an extra stage. And here’s where the first real negative of the repackage pops up: on the Saturn, one could keep hitting continue on the arcade mode. Sure that’s not a real test of skill, dying a million times before reaching the end, but at least one who didn’t have the required skills to proceed forward could at least enjoy the total show. To be honest, I have yet to beat this latest version, and quite frankly, I might not ever. Though another major negative is how the anime cut scenes are absent (much like they were in the XBLA re-release of Guardian Heroes). Needless to say, this results in a story that is incomplete and nonsensical.
Visually, the game looks just as good today as it did in 1998. But to bring it up to today’s standards, the visuals have been refined; textures look sharper and effects are more fleshed out. Which is fine and all, but it sometimes gets in the way of the game. As in, if something is much brighter than previously, you might find your self killed due to vision impairment. And thus we have the other big negative: the action is still presented in 4:3.
If you have a 4:3 monitor, instead of game filling up the screen, you are instead stuck with a letterbox view, with black bars on the side, in addition to the top and bottom! That’s because the new HUD takes advantage of the unused space on widescreen displays. Those of us with CRTs (and arcade cabinets) are out of luck. There’s no option to zoom in or the like, which is a massive oversight on Treasure’s part, since they have to know that the primary audience still interested in this game have very particular viewing habits.
But still, it’s Radiant Silvergun, on American soil, and for just a couple of bucks Ultimately, it’s hard to complain too much. For many the game is going to feel way too difficult, but for the rest of us, even with the technical issues, hell has finally frozen over. Xbox Live Arcade