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Among the numerous shoot-em-up, or “shmup” scrolling shooters of the 16-bit era, perhaps none stands taller than the monolithically difficult R-Type III: The Third Lightning.
This title was released for the Super Nintendo in August of 1994. It is now available on the Wii’s Virtual Console service. A shoddy port was also brought to the GameBoy Advance.
R-Type III‘s design is remarkably simple. Your options are limited to control setup and the choice between one and two player. Past that, you can select between three so-called Force Devices, which will affect what types of weapons your ship will carry. After that, it’s just you and your tiny R-Type against massive scrolling levels teaming with the forces of the evil Bydo Empire.
The story here is lovably ridiculous. Horrible biological weapons, the Bydo, created by humans in the 26th century have come back in time to destroy their creators. It’s up to you to save humanity.
R-Type III consists of six stages, which doesn’t sound like much until you experience the game for yourself. Each stage is punctuated by several checkpoints, and clearing the space between one of these checkpoints and the next can feel like beating a full level, or even an entire game. The length of time it takes to do so, the number of deaths that you will inevitably incur, and the satisfaction you will ultimately receive all make this the case.
In your typical playthrough of a game, how well do you come to learn that game? You probably pick up on the level designs, and maybe some of the enemy placements and behaviors. If you want to get serious about beating R-Type III, you will learn the layout of every level, the placement of every enemy and object, as well as every move required to progress. It’s that tough.
The GBA version of The Third Lightning does allow for level selection, the SNES version does not. One trick to mitigate the game’s difficulty slightly is to pick it up on Virtual Console. The game has infinite continues, and there is no punishment in dying or continuing except to be sent back to the last checkpoint. Thanks to the Wii’s ability to keep a save-state of your Virtual Console games, you never have to lose progress while playing the game on that system.
For all of its challenge, R-Type III is never unfair. It is always clear where enemies are coming from and where weapons fire is heading. “Luck” is never against you, only your reflexes and your nerves.