R-Type 3: The Third Lightning


R-Type is a side scrolling shoot-em-up arcade game produced by Irem in 1987. The player controls a space fighter named "Arrowhead" to defend humanity against a mysterious but powerful alien lifeform known as "Bydo", which was later discovered to be not entirely alien in origin (see the Bydo section below for details). R-Type is recognized as one of the classics of the shooter genre from the 1980s arcade.


R-Type is set in the 22nd century, and the player flies a futuristic fighter craft called the R-9a "Arrowhead", named for its shape, and because it is the ninth model in the 'R' series of fighter craft (but it is the first of the series to actually be used in combat; the previous models were all prototypes). The mission is to 'blast off and strike the evil Bydo Empire'. The significance of the R- in the series title refers to the production code as well as the term of endearment for the player fighter craft, the "Round Canopy".

The original R-Type was well-received by most gaming critics. However, it was also infamous for its relentless difficulty. It earned 7th place in IGN's Top 10 most difficult games to beat. The gameplay of R-Type is noticeably distinct among shoot 'em ups. Invariably the player will lose, not because of an inequality in firepower, but because of the design of the levels themselves. There is usually a 'correct' way to get through a level, but players must learn these by experience - ie. by losing and restarting from earlier in the level.


The R-Type series, until recently, never really explained much about the ubiquitous enemy of the series: the Bydo Empire.

  • The pre-mission text for Stage 5.0 of R-Type Final is a perfect summation of the background plot of the game:

The Humans of the 26th century abandoned a horrible weapon in space.

That mistake has come back to haunt us in the form of the Bydo Empire.

  • From the instruction booklet for R-Type Final:

The Bydo is the living embodiment of evil.

A living weapon built with the self-replicating properties of DNA, the Bydo has physical mass, yet exhibits the properties of a wave. It diffuses easily, and fills any environment it encounters.

The Bydo can even interfere with, and ultimately consume, human thought itself.

  • From Irem's official R-Type webpage:

The Bydo were created by mankind in the 26th century to be used as weapons of ecological destruction against our enemies within the galaxy. Unlike conventional weapons of defense, the Bydo were conceived as limited range weapons with the purpose of destroying every ecological form in their path.

The Bydo were placed inside a container almost as large as the moon where they consumed everything and continued to evolve. A combination of physics, genetic engineering, and black magic resulted in man-made creatures of evil.

Mankind intended to send the Bydo through a wormhole to the enemy solar system to annihilate their planet. Everything appeared to be going as planned. However, there was a slight error and the Bydo became active in our own solar system. For 150 hours they raged until they were carried away to another dimension by a special weapon. It appeared that mankind in the 26th century was safe.

However, the Bydo were still alive and continued to evolve in another dimension. After wandering for what seemed like an eternity, they reappeared in the 22nd century to demonstrate their power against Earth.

The Bydo backstory developed from being negligible into being a complex fictional example of retrocausality, where humankind disposed of an experimental weapon into an alternate dimension and that weapon frees itself into mankind's own past.

  • The Bydo Empire:

Within the heart of the Bydo Empire, a cloning plant was discovered. It lies in a steam cleaned area inside of a gigantic computer which controls the planet itself.

Not only did they multiply as life forms, but achieved mass production of mobile weapons systems. These instincts of destruction and the feelings of terror which they caused, prompted mankind to call them the Bydo Empire.



The Force is R-Type's most famous and unique innovation. Described as "an indestructible living weapon", it is a glowing, spherical pod that can be attached to the player's ship. Players of R-Type sometimes qualify the weapon's name with words such as 'Pod', or 'Unit', or even 'Droid', but officially it is simply a Force.

  • From Irem's official R-Type webpage:

The Force is a piece of Bydo flesh. It has characteristics of both a life form and a mineral. By absorbing a certain type of energy, it undergoes a three stage transformation. When struck by a beam, a catalytic function causes the beam to change its form. Against the Bydo, the purest form of energy was extracted from this piece, and converged into a ball-like shape and manipulated through a control rod. The name "Force" implies both a physical and mental power. Four rods are needed to control the Force. Each one organically combines with the energy inside.

To obtain the Force, the player must collect a weapon power-up. When this is done, the Force arrives onscreen from behind. To attach the Force to the ship, the player simply flies into it. When the Force is attached, either to the front or back, it acts as a weapons system and will fire in whatever direction it is facing.

The Force has three levels of power. It is at its least powerful when it first appears, but increases in power whenever the player collects a new weapon power-up. The Force's visual appearance is different for each power level, and becomes more sophisticated as this increases:

  • Red - Counter-air Laser - at full power, this is a powerful, horizontal double transverse wave.
  • Blue - Rebound Laser - fires three thin beams; one horizontal, two at 45° diagonals. These beams can rebound off walls.
  • Yellow - Counter-ground Laser - fires two flamelike beams vertically upward and downward. These can travel along the ground and walls.

The player has a single button with which to control the Force. By pressing the button when the Force is attached to the ship, it is rocket-ejected away in whatever direction it is facing. When detached, the Force can be made to fire, but it uses an array of simple blasters rather than the weapons it supplies to the ship. By pressing the button again, the Force can be called back to the ship. Because it homes in on the player's ship, the player can control it in a limited manner by moving the ship as it is returning.

The Force also, importantly, acts as a shield. It is indestructible and can block normal enemy weapons. It can also damage or destroy enemies by collision.

It is almost customary to have at least one instance, usually during the final boss battle, where the Force can be ejected and launched into a boss' weak point, lodged there, and constantly damage it until the boss falls. The original R-Type has the most examples of this, boasting four:

  • In level one, the boss Dobkeratops can be destroyed if the Force is carefully launched into its weak point, namely, the tiny mouth peeking out of its midsection.
  • In level two, the boss Gomander can be destroyed if the Force is launched and steered into place on top of its weakness, a globe that periodically peeks out of its top. It is possible at this point to then hide in a spot where the boss' snake-like appendage can be constantly avoided and disabled. This turns an otherwise long battle into a very easy win.
  • Level three is essentially one long boss fight against a giant warship, culminating at the ship's bridge. A Force can be launched to protect the ship from the bridge, and lodged into the bridge. Because the Force naturally follows the ship, and due to the boss ship's design, this is arguably the most difficult of the four.
  • Perhaps the easiest of the four is the final battle against the Bydo Womb. The weakness was a fetal Bydo protected by a periodically opening and closing door, and a Force could be easily jammed inside. The trick here was not to place the Force, but rather to survive until the Force destroyed the boss.

Wave Cannon

The Wave Cannon is a special weapon integrated into the R9 craft. By simply holding the fire button down, the player can build up energy in their ship, drawing in tiny, glowing particles through the ship's nose. A 'BEAM' bar at the bottom of the screen indicates how much energy the ship is charged with. Releasing the fire button discharges this energy as a destructive beam, which at full power can tear through waves of enemies. The Wave Cannon is a powerful weapon, but has the disadvantage that the player cannot fire while charging the cannon. In addition, it can only fire forward.

Further installments of the series see upgrades to the nature of the Wave Cannon's full discharge and give an added element to the gameplay. For example, in R-Type II, if the cannon is not fired when the 'BEAM' bar has been charged completely, the gauge is able to enter a second stage of charging, and if the cannon is fired during this time, it launches a wide spread shot of medium power energy shots instead of a single large shot.


Bits are small, floating orbs, resembling miniature Forces in appearance. The player can acquire up to two Bits at once; they hover a short distance above and below the fighter. Bits can shield the ship from certain enemy weapons and can also be rammed into enemies to cause damage. When used in conjunction with the Counter-air Laser, they can fire small projectiles. This trend continues in later R-Type games - some Bits have the ability to use a miniature version of the Red weapon of some Forces.

In the history of the R-Type saga, Bits are the product of incomplete research that was intended to independently mimic the bioenergy technology of the Bydo, namely, the Force Device itself; only with human life force. The project was extremely controversial and was not completed in time for the R-9's initial launch, and thus the units were limited to defensive roles and minimal offensive capacity. The Bit Cores resemble smaller versions of the Force Core for this reason.


The R9 can be equipped with two missiles, which home in on enemies.

Critical response

The ZX Spectrum version of R-Type was awarded 9/10 in the January 1989 issue of Your Sinclair and was placed at number 6 in the Your Sinclair official top 100.



On the Usenet newsgroup alt.games.mame, there is a running gag involving R-Type. Whenever someone asks for help identifying a game, and provides an inadequate description, one of the answers is always "R-Type".


Pulstar and Blazing Star for the Neo Geo bears a great similarity to R-Type, right down to the use of a Force-like device. A common myth is that ex-Irem employees left to start the game's developer, Aicom. However, the company actually dates back to the 1980s.

An R-Type port was produced as an unlicensed NES/Famicom cartridge by "Magic Series Corp" under the name "Magic Dragon". The level design and music are the same as the original game, but the graphics have been largely redone from scratch (for example, the R-9 more closely resembles a fighter jet, and the first enemies encountered have been changed to birds.)

Another game similar to R-Type is Rezon, released by Allumer in 1991.

On the C64 and Amiga, a clone called Katakis was produced by Factor 5. It was considered by many C64 players to be technically better due to the C64 port of R-Type being rushed. Due to legal challenges from Activision, the clone was later re-made and renamed Denaris.

It was one of the first games confirmed for Nintendo's Virtual Console. The Turbografx 16 version is currently available and the US and European versions include all eight levels, unlike the original release which was split across two game cards (HuCards) and thus cost more. The Japanese release is still split and requires two downloads. The Japanese PC Engine version of R-Type may very well hold the distinction of being the only game for any cartridge-based system which was split across more than one cartridge.

At the end of the second level of Turrican II, you can see the Force in the hangar where you go on a ship. The whole third level is made on a ship similar to R-Type.

The third boss of the game Radiant Silvergun, was designed as an homage to the Arrowhead: it has an indestructible force, two bits, a wave cannon, and all three laser types (counter air, rebound, counter ground).


Irem has used R-Type and its Bydo villains for more than a few of their trademark elaborate April Fool's Day pranks.

2000 saw them selling "traditional Japanese sweets" containing "Force". When asked in the phony order form on which one was your favorite, the three choices were "R9 (Standard Force)", "RX (Tentacle Force)", and "R13 (Anchor Force)". All three were the ship designation and Force names in R-Type Delta.

In 2003, they put up a website that was selling various versions of the R-9 fighter much in the same manner as a car. You could choose from three types: the standard model, the sport model, and the convertible model.

Irem set up "Irem Burger" as their 2004 prank. R-Type played a supporting role here, with three "Bydo Burgers": The Living Body Burger, the Machine Burger, and the Harmony Burger. As well, some of the other "burgers" were filled with game discs, the one for R-Type Final proudly on display right below the top bun.

2005 saw Irem debuting a phony console, the "EXIDNA". One of the "games" available at launch: R-Type Final 2. As if that weren't enough, they also had a triple-wide "Bydo Monitor" as a peripheral, that of course R-Type Final 2 would support.


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