This is notable because a) It was my first purchase in the series and I finished it years ago… so what? I’m getting old and slow now? And b) The first game, Rayforce, I just finished several days ago and that one is purported to be the most difficult one. Usually articles go out of their way to state how hard number one, Rayforce, is, but number two has no reputation for that apart from one review I’ve read that actually said it was easy.
I don’t know what that guy did that made it so easy. I’m assuming he didn’t just max out his ships and continues and turn the difficulty all the way down, which you CAN do in the options screen…I just really don’t want to do any of that crap. I want to play it as it was intended. Default. A few key differences that were implemented into this sequel could’ve made it a lot easier than Rayforce, but those advantages are offset by other issues…so to me it balances out…and in fact, I’m having more trouble, by far, with Raystorm.
Both games have a forward-firing ‘shot’ and a lock-on ‘laser’. As described in an earlier post, the game has a targeting reticle that floats ahead of your ship. Pass the reticle over an object and small red indicators attach to that object, signaling its ready to be hit with the laser. Since the enemy only has the ability to hurt you when firing at the same level/layer at which you fly (or angling a shot which has to rise up to you), the lock-on’s ability to target enemy BELOW your flight path—before they ever get to where they can shoot you—is a distinctly cool, and very necessary advantage. The powerups are basically the same for both games. Red and yellow power up your shot, green powers up (increases number of lockons for) your laser. Neither game has a speed control for your ship.
What’s different: in Rayforce you can only lock onto targets below you. In Raystorm you can now lock onto targets in your same layer. This gives you the ability to hit enemies traveling at the same level with the power of both the shot and the lockon lasers at the same time. For strong enemies this means hitting them with double the firepower. Also in Raystorm you have a bomb, the screen-clearing panic weapon that is standard issue in STGs. There is also one powerup that is different. Sometimes when you die and lose your last ship a special blue powerup appears that if you continue you get everything, shots and lasers, powered to the max. This was probably a carrot to encourage additional quarters in the arcade. This is quite common in STGs now, but apparently not in Rayforce’s day. Finally, there are multiple ship choices in the sequel, so you can pick the one that suits your style of play; shots emphasized, lasers emphasized, or balanced.
All of those things taken together would be advantages… and if the basic difficulty of the game remained the same, then a sequel encompassing those alterations would definitely be easier than the original. However Raystorm has 'complications' too. For one, the viewpoint has now been shifted to slightly rearward of the ship, instead of looking straight down. This has the effect of extending your view a bit, but muddying it at the same time. You can see further ahead of you, and so see enemies sooner than you could in Rayforce, but the new 3d polygonal graphics are not as sharp. So whatever advantage the viewing angle might give you is canceled by the lack of clarity in what you are actually seeing. Even the bright red bullets are not so obvious against the backdrop of enemy ships rising and falling between layers, and the swirling camera work. Couple this with the fact that many of your deaths will result from enemies that speed in from the top of the screen always at your layer, so your visibility window is no better than that in Rayforce.
And speaking of speeding: your ship is abysmally slow. It was no thoroughbred in Rayforce. In that game it was big, slow, and had a huge hitbox (the area of your onscreen ship that registers to the game as ‘hit-able’). But in Raystorm you are a positive slug. There are many times Raystorm chugs from slowdown, which might be an advantage in many games, but here it isn’t. The expanded ‘bullet time’ you get from slowdown doesn’t mean shit if you can’t actually move your ship. This game's default ship speed is every other game's slowdown speed.
Another thing that is driving me nuts is the ship’s centering. In Rayforce your ship centers a little bit. When you stop moving one direction and let the joystick center, your onscreen ship wobbles slightly in the opposite direction to simulate leveling off. A lot of games have a ship center or level after it veers, but the sprite's total outline stays in the exact same spot. Its' just a little artistic flourish to make the ship look cooler and act like it has some mass and weight to it. In Rayforce the entire sprite's area actually moves BACK the other direction a few pixels. This can be really frustrating if you are in a precision situation where every pixel counts. When you want the ship to stop and let some enemy fire graze past you, you have to really give yourself a bit of extra room (not always available!) because the ship rocks back into position if you stop moving. In Raystorm, this wobble is even larger, practically exaggerated even. Because of the shift to polygons, and a rearward tilt view, the designers appear to have decided this particular movement quirk was too subtle if done just like Rayforce. 'Graphics a bit unclear, more complicated 3D-simulation view, better really make that wobble apparent, eh?' Ugh. And much to the detriment of my ability to play it!