There are hard games… and then there’s R-Type.  Notoriously difficult, the game is one of the classics of the old school shooters.  Building on that success, R-Type 2 did things harder, creepier, and prettier.  The two games were released as a compilation for the PS1 as R-Types, and now, they are available for Xbox Live Arcade as the single download R-Type Dimensions.

If you’ve never played an R-Type before, the games are horizontal shooters, where “on the edge of a dark empire, you embark on a mission no one has yet to survive.”  …or so says the 22-year-old promo poster.  You’ll pilot your ship through an alien-infested colony, shooting everything you can.  The enemies and environments in R-Type are very creepy, especially for its time.  Expect to see all sorts of intestines, tissue, and phalluses (see 2:22 in the below clip).  Along with rapid fire and a charge shot, you’ll be using a satellite ship to destroy the fleshy friends.

Of course, R-Type Dimensions adds some tricks to the mix to make it worth your marketplace Points.  Some features may be poor, but others make the game worth buying even if you already own R-Types.

With the push of a button, you can transform the flat pixels into 3D polygons.  The updated graphics look like something from the Nintendo 64 era, so I’m glad that 2D visuals are still an option.  Most of the environments and characters in the updated version are surprisingly bland.  If there was a higher amount of detail the artists could have retained the creepy atmosphere of the original games intact, but Dimensions keeps the polygon count low.  Even though the 3D visuals aren’t that great it is interesting to see the artists’ takes on the 3D versions of levels and enemies.

Going hand-in-hand with the updated visuals comes the “Crazy” view-mode.  When this mode is enabled, the camera swoops 45 degrees so that you can see both the side and the back of your ship.  The controls stay the same despite the change in the viewing angle.  Like the 3D revamp, the new angle doesn’t impress; in fact, it hinders the gameplay.  The game becomes harder (and more frustrating) to play. Let’s face facts – the last thing R-Type needs is more difficult.

Enough about the bad though; let’s get onto the good parts.  What would an XBLA game be without Leaderboards?  You can compare your scores with other pilots, which adds a whole lot of motivation.  This score-keeping is especially appealing in Dimensions since wracking up points is such an important part of the game.  Plus it brings back memories of competing to get your name on the high-score list at the arcade.

I’ll admit it – before Dimensions, I had never finished either of the first two R-Types.  This edition, however, gives the player the option of unlimited continues without making the game feel hollow.  The challenge in this mode is to die a few times as possible.  At the end of each stage, there’s a screen that wracks up the number of times your ship’s gone kapow.  At the end of the game, your total is compared to those of others on the Leaderboards.  Very cool.

If you’re a fan of old-school shooters, this one’s probably for you.  Keep in mind though, R-Type and R-Type 2 are both very difficult.  Unlike most shooters, there’s little room for improvisation.  You’ll have to memorize the behaviors, order, and timing of all the enemies (thank god for the unlimited continues mode).

Oh, and PS3 users shouldn’t wallow in self-pity for their lack of R-Type – the PS1 original, R-Types is available for the PSN.  While it lacks the 3D visuals and whacky camera, you won’t be wishing you had them.

Now, if we could just get ports of the arcade only sequels…

R-Type Dimensions is available now on Xbox Live Arcade for 1200 points ($15 USD)