If anything has stuck with me from my high school driver’s ed class, it was a tip from one of the two teachers. While out on a drive, the football coach teacher (as opposed to the softball coach teacher) stated that people tend to focus so closely on the rear of the car in front of them, that they lose consciousness regarding their surroundings. Well, my stupid ass tends to do that with enemy bullets in shoot ‘em ups. I pay such close attention to them – in order to avoid them – that I inevitably and unintentionally lose track of where I am in relation, and wind up right in their path!
Naturally, that happened to me while playing Raiden IV, and more times than I’d care to admit, too. But, it honestly occurs regardless of the shmup I’m playing. And I’ve played quite a bit recently, nearly every one that received a physical release on the Xbox 360 in North America, in fact. I’d accumulated them slowly, picking them up cheap from used game stores over the years. Finally, after buying an Xbox 360 compatible arcade stick earlier this year, I felt equipped to give them a proper look.
First released into arcades in the summer of 2007 in Japan, Raiden IV was the second entry in the series to have been developed by MOSS. Headquartered in Tokyo’s Taitō ward, MOSS was founded in March 1993 by former staff of Seibu Kaihatsu, the company behind the Raiden series. Since the release of Raiden III in March 2005, MOSS has kept the series alive, most recently with a remixed version of this very game on the Switch. This version, the Xbox 360 port, debuted in Japan in October 2008 and was published by UFO Interactive in North America in September 2009.
As has tended to happen with these games, I developed a form of Stockholm syndrome with Raiden IV. Initially, it seemed like a pretty basic throwback to the standard shmups of the early 1990s – straightforward sci-fi designs, a couple different kinds of weapons, and approachably challenging difficulty, not bullet hell by any means, but not Xevious either. With my sights set on unlocking achievements, I played through the game a dozen or so times, dabbling with the various game modes and settings.
An authentic arcade mode was present, although the main attraction was the Xbox 360 mode, which introduced two new stages. Other modes altered enemy placement or offered truncated, boss only playthroughs. Like the cadre of Xbox 360 shmups I’ve played recently, the options were robust, allowing me to toggle just about everything. The highlight though, was a double play style which had one player controlling two ships. This could be accomplished with either one or two controllers, but regardless of which I tried, my brain just screeched to a halt. I’d liken it to attempting read a foreign language composed of an alphabet you already know – like, I recognized the symbols before me; I just didn’t have the means to parse them. Wow, was it fun trying though!
As I played through the game again and again, the repetition yielded results. I remembered enemy placement, I understood the pros/cons of each weapon, and I could survive for quite a while! On not-to-hard difficulties, that is; it could be incredibly punishing, and I wasn’t masochistic enough to want that experience. The time I’d spent with Raiden IV had turned me into a believer. It was not the basic throwback I first thought; it was a throwback, but it was polished and refined, an example of what a modern non-bullet hell shmup could be.