Ultimate Guide: Raiden
Every now and again a videogame arrives that despite being wholly unoriginal sets a new standard for its genre that all others are judged by. Never was there a better example of this than with Seibu Kaihatsu’s Raiden and it’s time to find out why
Everything you need to know about Seibu Kaihatsu’s sensational shoot-’em-up
Despite being founded as early as 1982 most people would probably struggle to name any arcade games by Seibu Kaihatsu before the electrifying release of Raiden in 1990. Perhaps its biggest hits before this point in time were Dead Angle and Dynamite Duke, innovative Operation Wolf-style shooters where you saw the outline of your character on the screen so you could move around to avoid taking hits. They were both a moderate success in the arcades, but are probably best known for their respective Sega Master System and Mega Drive conversions. Originally known as Seibu Denshi, it had licensed many of its games out to bigger companies such as Taito and Tecmo before signing an exclusive deal with the American company Fabtek Inc in 1989 to both manufacture and distribute its games to international audiences. This deal put the company under pressure to not only come up with games that would be successful but also titles that would appeal to western audiences. The funny thing is that despite its huge success Raiden was never seen as that game. In fact, quite the opposite. The boss of Seibu, Hitoshi Hamada, had serious doubts about Raiden due to its unoriginal gameplay and felt it wouldn’t stand out in an already flooded market.
The plot of Raiden, which loosely translates as ‘Thunder And Lightning’ (and is pronounced as rye-den not ray-den), is every bit as generic as the vertically scrolling gameplay style. It tells us, “In the year 2090, Earth has suddenly become the target of deranged aliens known as the Cranassians. Following the invasion, the World Alliance Military builds a new cutting-edge weapon, the Raiden Supersonic Attack Fighter. Based on a captured alien craft, it is humanity’s only hope for survival.” So what was it exactly that made Raiden so damn good? To put it simply, it just got everything right! In the highly critical world of videogames, people will always manage to find negatives in almost any game and relish pointing out the flaws. But with Raiden, the reviewers very much struggled to do that as they praised the fair but challenging difficulty curve, intelligent attack patterns, twoplayer co-operative gameplay, well-thought-out power-up system and excellent soundtrack.
Such was the almost instant success of the game that it went on to sell 17,000 units before it was superseded by its sequel.
To put that figure in context that is more units than huge hits such as Battlezone (15,122), Dragon’s Lair (16,000) and Star Wars (12,695) – no mean feat. Raiden still ranks as the most successful game ever produced by Seibu Kaihatsu and one of the best selling arcade shoot-’em-ups of all time.
Now let’s go back to that aforementioned powerup system for a moment and explain how it works a bit further, as this is arguably the one thing that makes or breaks a game of this type. In Raiden you have two types of power-ups that are each split into two subcategories, to keep things simple. Each of these can be upgraded by continuously collecting the same icon and, by waiting patiently, the type of power-up will change from one to another to help make this possible. Be warned, though, because if you collect a different power-up to the one you are currently using it will not only change to the one you just picked up but also reset to the minimum level of strength. The first power-up type is your main shot and the two varieties on offer here are Vulcan (red) and Laser (blue). The Vulcan starts off as a fairly weak double shot but progresses into a full spread of bullets that arcs across the whole width of the screen meaning only the most powerful of enemies can get past. The Laser however is a single focused stream that while only having a very limited range, has the most power and can eliminate most enemies with ease. Then you have your secondary weapons, which are either homing missiles or standard rockets. Both the power and frequency of these are enhanced by collecting the appropriate icons. From time to time a special ‘P’ icon will appear on the screen, if you grab this before it vanishes you will be rewarded with a fully powered ship and 100,000 points.
i had 256 colours to draw each sprite, more than i had ever had before Sean Mcclure
No scrolling shooter is ever complete though without some sort of super weapon at your disposal and Raiden certainly doesn’t let us down here, either. Your supersonic fighter is equipped with a limited amount of thermonuclear bombs. When detonated these create a huge cloud of flames that fills almost all of the play area, a very impressive sight to behold. While you start with just three, more can be collected as the game goes on and these are also replenished every time you lose a life. There
are also other bonuses that can obtained during the game, too, that increase your score in the form of medals, which are usually revealed when you destroy buildings, and the wizard (a cameo of
Wiz from one of Seibu’s earliest games) that will grant you 10,000 extra points. At the end of each stage you are awarded an additional bonus for the total number of medals collected multiplied by the number of bombs you have left. Should you manage to complete the entire game, then you are rewarded with 1 million points before the game loops back to the start, only with a higher difficulty.
The huge success of Raiden in the arcades meant it was quickly snapped up for home conversions by a variety of publishers. Most of these conversions turned out well but the ports for the FM Towns, Playstation and Atari Jaguar (where it was a launch game) were the particular highlights. It also went on to spawn four direct sequels, with the most recent being Raidenz V on the Xbox One and PS4, as well as a spin-off series in Raiden Fighters. When Seibu Kaihatsu went bust in 1993 the creators of the game went on to form a new company called MOSS and promptly bought the rights from the liquidators in order to continue the series up to this very day. There’s no doubt that the Raiden series has gone on to become one of the most beloved shoot-’em-up franchises and one of the few that’s stood the test of time. But it all started right here with the original game and if you haven’t yet played it then you definitely need to remedy that very soon!
» [Arcade] Whenever you see train tracks it means that armoured rail cars are incoming.
» [Arcade] Once the set of planet based levels is finished your ship lands at a mid-air base before shooting off into space to continue the fight.
» [Arcade] Two players compete to grab the super ‘P’ power-up before the giant tank takes them out.
» [Arcade] The giant warplanes come from the bottom of the screen, so you must make sure you move out the way in time!