Without much fanfare or announcement, RayStorm released onto Xbox Live today and no one could be more insanely excited about this than me. Why? Because I LOVE THE DAMN GAME. Most gamers have that handful of games that mean the world to them....the games that, for whatever reason, did something for them and hold that very, very special place in their hearts. One of those games for me is RayStorm.
Oh yes..you will be dazzled.
I first encountered RayStorm on the PSX back in 1997 right at the height of my obsession with shooters and the weird zen-like quality of them. For the time, the 3d graphics were a nice, artistic touch in a genre pretty much dominated by 2d sprites; proof that not everything moving into 3d was necessarily losing quality gameplay. I loved the overall style of the game as well as the gameplay itself which nicely rode the line between satisfying challenge and being too hard to be any fun. The console version in the US was handled by the legendary Working Designs, a company that many here may not remember. WD made it their goal to take excellent Japanese titles that probably weren't going to get a North American release, and convert them with respect, quality, and an attitude of being hardcore game fans as opposed to "let's just port this and make some money." WDs version of RayStorm started their short-lived "Spaz" sub-label which was to be solely devoted to quality action games. In their conversion, WD modified a few things and, most notably made it so that you could not play past the third level on any difficulty lower than Normal, an attitude towards being "hardcore" that WD upheld throughout their lifespan. There was also a high-score contest where the winner received fabulous cash prizes and the ability to brag about their insane numbers. The game effectively made me want to know more about WD and what other games they had published in the US, and, to make a very long story short, it led to me being a member of their forums for years and years where I enjoyed the company of some fantastic people who I gamed with for a long time, including at least one guy who meant a lot to me who is no longer with us. RayStorm started that process and, apart from being a great game, it holds a special place to me because of this.
It took them years to get their stuff out the door, but when they did. You knew how much they cared about games. Thanks for the years WD.
But, there's more to it. RayStorm has one of the best shooter soundtracks EVER. Hands down. The original arcade soundtrack for it was good and definitely up to the standards of Zuntata's usual soundtracks (Taito's in-house music composers), but the revamped and re-mixed console version's soundtrack by the superb Tamayo Kawamoto (a woman whose video game music has utterly captivated me since I was a little kid, only I didn't know it until I was much older) is simply wonderful. It was the first video game soundtrack I ever bought in an age when if you told people you were looking for the soundtrack to a video game, you got very funny looks. In 1997, the internet was just getting into swing and video game culture as it exists today was pretty much in isolated pockets like special forums or Usenet groups. As a result, I had to hunt high and low to find someone to buy me the Japanese version of the soundtrack (there was no CDJapan or any of those places back then, certainly not to the degree it is now) and I had to go through a complex process, including paying some massive international shipping, to get the RayStorm soundtrack from Taito. But I did. And to this day it still holds a special place in my music collection and in my MP3 collection.
I went through a lot to get this gem. And it was totally worth it.
So, to wake up today and read, out of nowhere, that RayStorm was available for download...well, that was one hell of a love-letter out of the past. I haven't had a working PSX in ages, and though I have the original game still, I haven't played in years and years.
So, how does this new version stack up? Quite well. It's basically the same game with a few minor tweaks.
-The textures are all hi-def so it looks way, way better, and it plays in widescreen. It's a little bit stretched, not quite 100% formatted right, but it's nothing major.
-There are leaderboards.
-As near as I can tell the thing where you can only play the whole game on Normal or higher difficulty is gone, you can now play the whole thing on Easy if you want.
Otherwise it's the same, solid, excellent game. As with the original console version, you can play either the original arcade version or the "extra" version which is slightly harder and has different enemy patterns. You can choose to have either the arcade soundtrack or the Neu Tanz soundtrack made for the PSX (which is the golden one, in my opinion) and after you beat the game at least once you unlock the famous 13 ship mode which HAS to be a call back to Working Designs' ideas for the game.
If you really like old-style space shooters you might like this one; I know not everyone feels as strongly about this game as I do so you might play it and say to yourself "wow this isn't really that special" but I think, personally, it's probably one of the best shooters on the XBLA marketplace next to Omega Five and Rez.