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Raiden V: Director’s Cut Switch review – thunderbolts and lightning

Raiden V: Director’s Cut (NS) – the gateway to bullet hell
Another old school shump arrives on Switch and proves perfect for newcomers to the genre, except for one little problem…
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The Xbox brand has never been successful in Japan, and unless Microsoft orchestrates fundamental change next gen it probably never will be. As a result, the consoles have become the preserve of only the most hardcore Japanese gamers, but a strange side effect of that is that the Xbox has also become a haven for Japanese 2D shooters. Raiden V was released on Xbox One over three years ago but took 14 additional months to appear on PlayStation 4 and PC. And now it’s on Switch too.
Raiden IV also debuted on the Xbox 360, released by a tiny Tokyo studio named MOSS; whose staff have, at one company or another, been working on the Raiden series for over 25 years now. But although most of the entries have been ported to home formats they’ve never really been a mainstream hit anywhere in the world, despite being well regarded by fans of the genre.
The argument of whether horizontally or vertically scrolling shoot ‘em-ups are best is not one that reverberates in the minds of most modern gamers. We always preferred vertical though, even though we admit most of the more famous entries in the genre work the other way round. But the Raiden series is one of the best known vertical scrollers, if not by name then via its signature ‘giant swirly pink lock-on laser of death’. Which is also known by its shorter title of the ‘toothpaste laser’.

The main weapon system in Raiden V is similar to its immediate predecessor, with three main options: the toothpaste laser; a wide shot Vulcan cannon; and a narrow, fixed laser. Each is colour coded so that you can collect tokens that either switch weapons or power up the one you’ve got. Although the tokens appear so infrequently that the system’s flexibility is somewhat undermined. There’s also a missile system, but this has to be locked in before you start – rather than you being able to change it later, which seems an unnecessary simplification.
2D shooters aren’t exactly known for their progressive gameplay, but Raiden is old school even by the genre’s own standards. It doesn’t feature the hundreds of onscreen bullets and forgiving collision detection of its more modern peers, but instead a relatively small amount of neon-coloured grapeshot.
It’s faster than most of its contemporaries though, and like previous games has the shocking idea to have enemies actually aim at you. There’s no real artificial intelligence behind the game’s enemies, but they do react to your movements and aren’t just moving and firing on rails like most 2D shooters. What’s brand new for Raiden V though is that instead of lives you have a health system – something that’s scoffed at by most 2D shooter fans and is highly unusual in a hardcore game like this.
But none of this makes as much difference as MOSS would probably like to think, especially as much of the game verges on remake territory in terms of the level and boss design. Most shoot ‘em-up sequels are guilty of this style of iterative repetition, but with a clear decade between this and the last sequel that doesn’t stop this feeling like a missed opportunity.
Raiden V: Director’s Cut (NS) – so no, it has nothing to do with Mortal Kombat
The game’s design is not entirely set in stone though, and while the primary scoring system is largely the same as ever (the quicker you shoot enemies the higher the score multiplier) there’s also a CAVE style combo meter that rewards you for downing enemies in quick succession. When combined these encourage fast, aggressive play instead of skulking about at the bottom of the screen hoping nothing hits you.
The final innovation, at least as far as MOSS sees it, is the Cheer system. This allows you to get updates on other people’s games as you, and they, play along. If they do well you can cheer them on so that a special bar fills up to give you access to a unique special attack. This is exactly as vague as it sounds, and not something you’d want to rely on in a fast action arcade game like this.
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There isn’t a long list of additions for this director’s cut, and all of them are the same as on the PlayStation 4, but the ones there are do make a major difference. The first is new levels, which is obviously always welcome, but the other is the reinstatement of the series’ famous two-player mode – which was inexplicably missing in the Xbox One version. It’s offline only, and your ally is as likely to get in the way as anything else, but having the option back is great.
Surprisingly, the normal difficulty level is fairly easy, compared to many of its peers, making this a suitable game for those looking to get into the genre for the first time. Instead, the barrier is the price, not the difficulty. We don’t blame the publisher for that – it’s an unavoidable side effect of creating a game for only a very small audience – but it does mean that Raiden V, like so many 2D shooters, will likely be left preaching to the converted.

Raiden V: Director's Cut
In Short: A director’s cut that for once makes a significant difference, with new levels and the return of co-op – although the underlying game is still slightly flawed.
Pros: Simple and fair power-up and combo system, great level design, and enemies that actually aim at you. Decent graphics and fun co-op mode.
Cons: None of the new ideas are unequivocally positive, and the changes to the missile system are a particular shame. Level and boss design rely too much on previous games.
Score: 7/10

Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Price: £26.99
Publisher: Tommo
Developer: MOSS
Release Date: 25th July 2019
Age Rating: 12

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