Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Rayxanber III

Data West
Super CD-ROM

I waited, like, an eternity to get this game. I'd wanted to get my hands on Ray III ever since I saw some awesome-looking screenshots of it in EGM many years ago, but it just didn't happen for an extremely long time. During that lengthy period of Ray III-lessness, I played through Rayxanber II, which I found to be one of the coolest and most rewarding PC Engine shooters. So suffice it to say that I was amped up for the Ray III experience. Unfortunately, it didn't go the way I'd hoped it would.

The weapons here suck, and the high-pitched noises they produce rank amongst the most irritating sounds to be heard in a PC Engine game. You needn't worry much about which of the noisemakers to use, as there's very little strategy involved in proceeding. I beat Ray III the first time I sat down with it, and I rarely had to make use of the speed burst that's essential for success in Ray II. The music doesn't help audible matters much: Rayxanber fans will recognize some returning melodies, but the tunes are all kind of "loungy" here and come nowhere near the greatness of II's tracks (though the last boss's mellow theme is quite appealing). The graphics are very impressive as far as details and effects go, but while Ray II's visuals are extremely colorful in some areas, the levels here are all boring blends of gray, brown, and red, as though Data West took the color scheme utilized for II's Stage 5 mutant lair and stretched it out over an entire game.

Not that I had a completely awful time with this title. It does boast some fairly interesting level concepts: water slows down your ship and produces a neat "swirly" effect in Stage 2, and a large metallic creature hounds you for most of Stage 3 (granted, those who have fended off II's massive spider will find this particular "beast" to be a complete chump). And while they aren't exactly original in concept, the trip through the tight caverns of Stage 4 and the backwards ride through Stage 5 make for some decent fun.

You get spreading heat-seeking missiles that are quite neat in that they charge up as you shoot (as opposed to the usual charge-based weapons that make you sacrifice standard fire as they power up). And the bosses are huge, interesting creatures that place you in tight spots and make you work hard to discover their weak points.

But while I appreciate the neat missiles and the water effects and all that, Ray III just doesn't cut it as the followup to one of the PCE's most satisfying horizontal blasters. There will still be an audience for it: folks who got smoked early on in Ray II will no doubt prefer the leniency of this episode. But for the stalwarts who braved Ray II's dangers and know the feeling of accomplishment that comes with beating that monster, Ray III will probably feel a bit lacking and empty.

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