Radiant Silvergun review

Radiant Silvergun is for crazy people.

Or at least it used to be. It’s a punishing shooter that’s tough to master and, until now, could set you back upwards of $200 to import from Japan (not including a special cartridge or a Japanese Sega Saturn). You tell us that ain’t a bit crazy.

Above: Welcome to the grind. Clock in and shoot your way out

But underneath the madness is a well-made game that deserves all the praise it’s received and, remarkably, still holds up after all these years. Good thing it’s finally available on Xbox Live Arcade so everyone can be crazy without breaking the bank.

Unless you’re the best of the best, though – a warden in the asylum of crazy people – you will die. Over and over again. It gets better, but the early going is tough. If that doesn’t sound like a good time, Radiant Silvergun probably isn’t for you.

It’s not as if you don’t have the right tools for the job. You have three basic weapon types (bullets that shoot forward, homing bullets and a spread shot) and you can combine them to create additional guns (like one that shoots behind you, or a blade that absorbs certain bullets and lets you retaliate with a powerful attack of your own) for a total of seven weapons. These secondary weapons are mapped to their own controller buttons, making it easier to recall what combines with what, which is a blessing. After all, you’ll have enough to worry about in Radiant Silvergun. Like not dying.

Above: Leveling up weapons is part of the fun here. But that requires dying. A lot

The catch is that the primary weapons level up as they’re used, meaning they’ll get much more powerful the longer you play. In the story mode that progression can be carried from game to game. So while you may lose on the first stage five times in a row, on the sixth time you might just be strong enough to blast through it without a problem.

With the variety of weapons and an interesting color-based chain system that allows for tons of bonus points, Radiant Silvergun is also one of the more strategic shooters available. Sure, you might play those first few levels over and over and over, beating your head against the swarms of enemies, slowly learning patterns and improving your weapons. But put enough time into the game and you’ll find yourself destroying all those early bosses, cruising through stages without losing a life. That’s when Radiant Silvergun becomes incredibly rewarding: when you go from battering ram to badass, thanks to a combination of improved skills and leveling up via relentless grinding. It’s still challenging – the game never becomes easy, even on the “very easy” difficulty setting, but it becomes manageable and more entertaining.

Arcade mode is a little different. It’s the same game, but gone is the anime storyline (though, let’s be honest – it barely makes sense, even in English), and with it goes the persistent game-to-game weapon progression. In exchange, you have the option of starting with more lives (up to 10) and you can continue your game with extra credits.

Above: Gamers were once willing to take out a second mortgage to play Radiant Silvergun

You can also play with another player either locally or over Xbox Live. When playing online, though, you’ll always start with beginner weapons, and progress made in story mode doesn’t carry over – a bit of a disappointment. Local two-player games are better, but the progress is still tied to one player and one save file rather than letting each player keep his own stats.

As a bonus for hardcore shooter fans, if you’ve played the XBLA version of Ikaruga, you can enable an Ikaruga-style chain system that changes the way chain multipliers work. It’s nothing huge, but it’s a nice extra that could change things up for those who’ve already played the game to death.

Like most games by developer Treasure, Radiant Silvergun is an acquired taste, but this version is a fantastic port of a classic shooter. It’s still worth experiencing today – especially now that you don’t have to sell a kidney to afford it.

Sep. 19, 2011

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