‘RayStorm HD’ Review – Just Like the Last Time

Most downloadable updates to classics, like “Tecmo Bowl Throwback” or “Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition,” add something to the source material. In both those games, the creators gave the re-release a presentation overhaul. “RayStorm HD,” one of the two XBLA releases this week, sports fancy new graphics but it doesn’t have much else. Is that a problem? Yeah, it kinda is.

The Basics

“RayStorm HD” is a vertical scrolling shoot’em up that puts users behind the throttle of a power-up gobbling space ship equipped with infinite cannons, missiles, and catastrophic special abilities. The game is divided into eight levels, each of which have a unique boss at their conclusion.

This specific version, a re-release of the PlayStation One re-release, sports an Arcade Mode offering that imitates the coin-op version of the game. It also features an a slightly harder take on Arcade Mode called Extra Mode, as well as leaderboard support and a ship-swapping, gauntlet-type mode of play.

The Highs

If anything, this game’s design is grounded and focused. Dodging billions of bullets and enemy vomit is not the point. Taito shirks convention, putting the spotlight on players’ offensive capabilities against a smaller range of heavier vehicles as opposed to pitting them against a long list of uninspired, annoying foes. This keeps the action tight, yet still capable of delivering the genre’s minor visceral satisfaction in gobs.

Auto-men Versus Manual-men
By default the game divides missile fire and normal cannon mechanisms into two buttons, but players can also opt to have the game do all the dirty work with just one press. No encounters require deft juggling, so the manual option is more of a cool, relaxed offering that keeps explosion-based entertainment in the forefront and leaves tactical thought to the wayside.

The Lows

Looks Old, Sounds Odd
Muted color selection and uninspired art leaves the eyes wanting, and the melodic musical selection doesn’t jive with the action. It’s like slow dancing to KMFDM’s thrashing “Juke Joint Jezebel,” except the exact opposite.

Two Ships, One Player
“RayStorm HD” boasts a local cooperative component and a selection of two ships, but the game suffers from its lack of online social functionality outside boring single-player-tied points leaderboards.

Yeah, It’s Still ’RayStorm’
For the worse, there’s not much outside the crisper visuals that differentiates “RayStorm HD” from its PSOne counterpart. Its components and mechanics are only lightly tweaked, while 13 Players Mode leaves much to be desired.

The Verdict

Even shoot’em up fans hungry for something that isn’t a dual-stick shooter may walk away disappointed from this bare-bones re-release of “RayStorm.” The colors are ugly, the online functionality isn’t present for whatever reason, and the game just isn’t differentiated enough from its dated source material.