Seibu Kaihatsu's Raiden series has long stood as the very pinnacle of shooter design. The first Raiden featured a decided lack of glitz and featured instead the kind of understated gameplay other developers could only dream of implementing properly. The weapons were few, only two different shot types and two kinds of missiles, and with this we were expected to clear eight waves of bad guys. Simple and to the point, the game was a really tough nut to crack. It was one of those rare experiences where every single time you died you knew it was your fault. The computer never cheated, it never presented you with anything you couldn't overcome, it was just eye-tearingly difficult.
Raiden's simplicity was the key to its longevity, I think. Everyone likes Raiden. The simplicity of the gameplay made it immediately accessible to everyone, and it was not at all uncommon to find a girl playing Raiden either. The appeal was universal.
Seibu followed with a sequel imaginatively titled Raiden 2, which featured (besides new levels, baddies and bosses) only one change: a new weapon. A squiggly squirrelly hose of a weapon that locked on and did very little damage. And yet the game was still every inch as good as the first—Seibu were establishing themselves as masters of the craft. When Sony's PlayStation was released, Seibu was presented for the first time with a home console powerful enough to render in the home an arcade perfect version of both Raiden 1 and 2. The Raiden Project was Seibu's first home console game programmed in-house, and it was an instant classic. They followed it up a short time later with what I believe is the best Raiden game in the series: Raiden DX.
Raiden DX is basically Raiden 2+. At its core the game is not significantly different from Raiden 2, no new weapons were added, the levels only moderately different and the enemies familiar. They packed in the extras too: two additional soundtracks (New Version is the very best shooter soundtrack around, ranking up there with Sokyugourentai), three game modes, a boss-only mode, a playable demo of Battle Balls (the very finest puzzle game since Tetris) and the most amazing thing, the Master of Raiden.
The levels closely parallel what you see in Raiden 2. The first stage features the other side of the crater you fly over in Raiden 2, in fact, giving the impression you're flying a parallel path. One new addition to the game is the decaying-value bonuses. Instead of simply laying in wait for you, the bonus point items become darker and less valuable as they scroll down the screen. Just before they become more or less worthless, they pulse brightly and for a half second are worth double their original value. Racking up the big points means you have to keep track of even more details than before. Also new are hidden "radar" sites, bumps in the ground that rise up and are destroyable when you fly over them.
The training stage is an amalgamation of several levels from the standard game. The stage is as long as three or four regular levels, but has only one boss at the end. Once you've beaten a few things and you've unlocked the Master of Raiden, you can see the training level played perfectly, and this is one of the nicest surprises the game offers. The Master of Raiden is an apt name for whoever played this level through. Their entire effort was recorded for your viewing pleasure, and it's simply stunning to behold. He completes the entire level unscathed, with every radar site uncovered in the correct order, every enemy killed, nearly every bonus collected. No matter how good you think you are, this guy's better, and it has made me crazy over the years trying to measure up.
Raiden DX was a pleasant surprise for me. I managed to swap a crummy old Neo cart for a barely-played copy of this fine game when it was first released, and it hasn’t left my side since. It supports a vertical monitor mode, too, so that you can experience the game in the arcade-perfect way it was meant to be played.
Raiden DX is the perfect addition to any shooter fan's library. Crank the sound up, tip your TV over, and groove to the finest shooting action ever from the masters of the craft. Since the game was re- released in Japan as a budget title, you can pick up the import for a very reasonable price. It's worth the effort, for you'll rarely find a game this solid, this polished, or this good anywhere else.