Raiden was a launch title Atari's Jaguar back in 1993, and is a port of the classic coin-op from 1991. As I have recently become a fan of shmups, and I was excited to finally play one of the few shmups available on Atari's 64-bit monster.
Raiden's action takes place from the top down perspective (vertical shooter) and features the protagonist defending Earth from invading aliens. The game's first 5 levels take your through various locals on earth, some half damaged from the war. The last 3 levels take you through space, and finally onto the enemy's base.
There are two main weapons in Riaden, the vulcan and the laser. The vulcan is the default weapon and shoots normal looking shots. The laser shoots blasts of blue lasers. When you defeat certain enemies, a red or blue icon will float around the screen. Red represents the vulcan and blue the laser. The icon will change colors back and forth every few seconds. If you are equipped with vulcan, and pick up a red icon, the power of the vulcan will be increased by 1. Your weapon can be increased up to level 8. If you have the vulcan, and grab a blue icon, your weapon will switch the laser, at level 1. Generally, the vulcan is a weaker weapon, but has a wide spread, the laser is more powerful, but only shoots straight ahead.
Some levels have a lot of enemies coming at you from all directions, where having the vulcan is more advantageous. Other levels have few, but more powerful enemies, where having the laser is the way to go. This adds a lot of strategy to the levels, as you need to always be aware of which weapon is best, and not accidentally grab a wrong colored icon, bringing your weapon back to level 1.
Your secondary weapon is a missile. If you collect an M icon, you get the nuclear missile, which fires straight ahead. Collecting an H icon nets you a homing missile. The homing missile is less powerful than the nuclear missile, but seeks out enemies on it's own. The missiles can each get up to level 4, and grabbing an opposite icon will restart you to level 1 with the new missile type.
Rounding out Raiden's weapons is the bomb. You get three bombs per life. The bomb features a massive blast radius that kills everything in it's path and lasts for a few seconds. This can be handy when you are over loaded with enemies, or need help finishing off one of bosses.
Some gamers have complained that your ship in Raiden moves too slow, but I found it about average, and it's pace never resulted in any deaths. A genuine complaint is the lack of auto-fire. Holding the fire button fires about twice a second, and is useless. Instead you must rapidly mash the B button. This wouldn't be a problem on most controllers, but on the stiff and mushy (how the Atari managed to engineer buttons that were both stiff and mushy is beyond comprehension) Jaguar controller, it's a chore.
When you fire up Riaden, you get the option between 2, 5, and 8 credits. Each credit is worth 7 lives. The game isn't terrible difficult, and with enough practice most should be able to complete the 8 levels with 8 credits. After defeating the game, you then play through again, only this time the enemies and their projectiles are faster, a real challenge for gamers who find the game too easy.
Graphically, Raiden is disappointing. I've never played this game in the arcades, so it could be a perfect port for all I know, but I would imagine gamers that picked this up with their Jaguar back in 1993 and 1994 were disappointed. Everything about Raiden screams 16-bit, from the repeating tiles to the generic enemies. There is no sprite scaling, there are no transparencies, there is nothing in here that couldn't perceivable be done on lesser hardware. The shadows from the buildings are just black squares. I have yet to see a shadow from a building create total blackness during my tenure on this Earth. It is definitely a curious launch title.
To it's credit, the game features zero slow down, and no flickering whatsoever. But from a system that packs a lot of sprite power, I expect nothing less. The back of the box proudly states there are multiple levels or parallax scrolling. There is only 1 level that features more than a background layer. Nice try.
The enemies themselves are generic with the usual tanks, planes, and cannons. But what is nice is that they degrade after being hit. Tanks first lose their turrets, and then explode on the second shots. The larger enemies will flash red before they die, and even start on fire before being defeated. It's a nice touch, and pushes it past the Genesis version of the game.
The sound is another offender. I've heard unbelievable good sound come out of a 4 meg Jaguar cartridge, like Tempest 2000 or Super Burnout. However, Raiden never rises above generic 16-bit game music. The back of the box boasts CD Quality music, I think not. The explosions are bland, as are the weapon sounds.
Despite the dated graphics and sound, at least compared to what the Jaguar is capable of, Raiden is an absolute blast to play. The controls are perfect, and the weapon system with it's leveling up offers up two very different way to play the game. The bosses difficulty ranges from simple attack patterns to insane amounts of bullets being fired upon you. It's a very addicting game that you will want to play over and over to until it's complete.
Overall, Raiden does not take advantage of the Jaguar's hardware, neither graphically, nor in the sound department. The level design is average at best, with the landscape featuring generic warehouses and terrain. But what it lacks in flash, it makes up for in substance, with responsive controls and interesting weapons. Jaguar owners looking for fast action fun should look no further. Raiden is good stuff.
Graphics 4/10 - The Jaguar of capable of more
Sound 3/10 - See above
Game play 9/10 - Old school fun
Overall 8/10 - One of the better games on the Atari Jaguar