All hobbies have their curiosities, conversation pieces that attract attention and desire for no other reason than being hard-to-find, collected for the sake of being collectible and worth nothing more that fleeting, undefined thing we call “bragging rights”. There exists another level though, when something becomes both scare and of exceptional quality, wrapped in a mystique that transcends the item itself. For a car nut this may be a classic Porsche 911; Whiskey aficionados a bottle of Glenmorangie Tain L’Hermitage. As an off-and-on action figure collector, I’ve known well the irrational lust a Transformers Generation 1 Jetfire can produce. For gamers, this revered idol is often Radiant Silvergun.
Although not exactly rare in it’s home country of Japan, here in America, with it’s heady blend of import exclusivity and Sega Saturn nostalgia, pristine examples of Radiant Silvergun can demand prices in excess of two hundred dollars. Fans of 2d shooters can be a fanatical lot, dedicated as they are to what perhaps remains as the purest definition of the art of the video game. They often pay wholly unreasonable prices for what others see as nothing more than evolutionary upgrades of Space Invaders. However, as as shump fan myself, I can attest that if Radiant Silvergun was just another incremental graphical improvement it would still not demand its high price, import mystique be damned. Indeed, many of us view Radiant Silvergun as the finest shooter ever crafted.
Radiant Silvergun is a riotous show of excess. With seven weapons available at any given time, it demands the wherewithal to know which gun to use in any given situation. And make no mistake about it, each is called upon, often in quick succession, and nothing less than mastery of each is necessary to mastery of the game itself. Unlike most shooters, there are no power ups to collect. The guns instead level through use, and these increased levels stay with the player through death and saved game files. Thus, through skill or brute force, any gamer can one day complete Radiant Silvergun. But the skill needed for completion runs secondary the true crux of the gameplay, a combo system that multiplies as the player shoots strings of enemies of the same color. At the highest levels of skill, Radiant Silvergun becomes akin to a puzzle game, where the player must figure out how to weave the Silvergun’s bullets through waves of enemies while leaving those of the wrong color unmolested.
Add to this Treasure’s patented reinvention of standard genre conventions. Even the seemingly trite navigation of a narrow cavern is rendered unique through devious enemy placement that forces the player to exploit the environment with the tools provided. The game is filled with memorable moments, from the simplest Galagla-like waves of enemy drones to the flamboyant boss battles, the game serving to showcase Treasure at their treacherous, underhanded, ingenious best.
Now I’m not saying the game lacks flaws. Although played entirely on the 2d plane, the levels themselves are constructed of polygons, and while the graphics were decent enough by Saturn standards, they are today crude, at times downright ugly. Slowdown presents itself all too often, which only serves to exacerbate the already slow gameplay. The ship moves as if suck in syrup, a stark contrast to modern shooters, and at times the curtains of bullets become all but unsurvivable. Due to this, much of the strategy involves the search for safe spots between bullet patterns, and this leads to the sin of trial-and-error gameplay, all too often the player is presented with challenges that are impassable without prior knowledge of how to escape the situation unscathed.
That said, I do not believe these criticisms are entirely fair. True, Radiant Silvergun lacks the wreckless fun and sophistication of modern shooters, but then a vintage Porsche will never have the speed or refinements of a brand new Corvette. I must admit however, that if you are not a hardcore fan of the genre, you will find the cost unjustified. But if you are a devoted shump fan and should one day find yourself with an extra two hundred dollars, then know you will not regret making the leap. For my money, Radiant Silvergun remains finest shump created and representative of Treasure at their creative peak.
Besides, every collection needs its Jetfire.