When the original RayStorm hit the Sony Playstation in 1997, it was met with a strong critical reception. As publishers who are increasingly looking to capitalize on past successes continue to comb through their back catalogs for likely candidates for re-release, it makes sense that Taito (now owned by Square Enix) would call their highly lauded shmup out of retirement.
Although RayStorm featured a few gameplay mechanics that were compelling at the time, the vertical shooter has advanced greatly in 13 years. With games like Ikaruga and Espgaluda I & II becoming the innovators and standards of the genre, it was unclear at first if the recent HD port of RayStorm could regain some measure of its former luster.
Does RayStorm HD bring enough improvement to the table to stand out in a crowd of the modern Hell of a Thousand Bullets offerings, or is it just relying on nostalgia to coax another $15 out of the pockets of sentimental gamers?
Let me cut straight to the chase: RayStorm HD does very little differently from its earlier incarnation to justify a re-purchase. Despite the HD moniker, the game doesn’t truly offer a new visual experience.
The graphics are technically at a higher resolution, but they aren’t redrawn. The upshot of this is that you get the same polygons that the original offered, only polished up a bit for your current-gen console. For retro-enthusiasts, this might be considered “being true to the spirit of the original”. For myself, it is considered “being lazy as hell”, especially in light of the fact that it really only serves to point out how dated the game truly is.
For those who have never played RayStorm before, the conceit behind this particular vertical shooter is multiple weapon types. There are multiple ships to select from, but all the ships in question have two main attacks: a beam or projectile weapon that fires straight ahead, and an energy weapon that relies on navigating a reticle a fixed distance in front of the ship over the target to lock-on prior to firing.
At the time, this was a novel advancement; the primary attack was for damaging airborne enemies, while the laser/energy weapon could damage both air and ground targets. RayStorm places a heavy emphasis on the use of the laser attack by offering major point bonuses for defeating enemies solely using it. This creates an interesting level of difficulty because, with the targeting reticle at a fixed distance in front of your ship, you must often choose to risk your safety to use this attack.
No new levels or extended game content are added to RayStorm HD, which is extremely disappointing when you consider that the original is a scant eight levels long, all of which are relatively short. Varied modes do offer a bit of replayability, but none are extremely compelling or fun. A home mode that ups the difficulty for experienced players was a small step in the right direction, and the obligatory online leaderboard integration is likewise a welcome sight, but neither really do much to tilt the scales in favor of a buy.
There was a huge opportunity here to put a fresh dose of awesome into an enjoyable IP that had some great ideas for its time, but to my dismay, this port screams both rush-job and cash-grab in equal measures. As a reminder of innovative shmups of days gone by it serves admirably, but I can’t recommend a buy to anyone except hardcore enthusiasts of the original. 1200 MS Points for a release that makes only marginal improvements to a 13-year-old game is simply far too much to ask.
Dressing up the old PS1-era graphics only puts the dated gameplay into sharp relief.
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Gameplay that was innovative for its time is still entertaining, but it doesn't compare to more recent offerings in the genre.
There was no noticeable overhaul for the sound, but the original effects and music function well enough.
A rehashing of the original 8 levels plus a few tacked on modes do little to elevate the title's replay value.
A lackluster reboot effort combined with a premium downloadable price tag result in an offering only suited to massive fans of the original, who should still have their PS1 copies lying around somewhere.