You may not be aware, but Earth has been locked in a fierce battle with a mysterious alien race known as the Bydo since 1987.

Fortunately for us, the war has been raging in arcade machines and computer gaming systems, much to the pleasure of video game fanatics across the globe.

The "R-Type" series is arguably the single most successful side-scrolling shooter ever, but now it is coming to an end. And what an end it is!

Eidos and the Japanese company i-rem have teamed up to create "R-Type Final" for the PlayStation 2 as the series' big-bang finale.

While many game series toy with changing game mechanics and even styles, game play in the "R-Type" series has remained relatively consistent. I guess you don't mess with a good thing.

Although "R-Type Final" still functions as a side-scrolling game, the environments are mainly 3-D. This gives the game some depth to it, with some stunning backgrounds. The game takes you from mutated jungles to breathtaking debris fields in space, where battles were obviously lost.

Although this is a shooting game, there is very little gore, although some of the game's enemies are biological in nature and, well, more juicy than others. The game was given an " 'E' for Everyone" rating but there is a caution for fantasy violence.

In the game, you take the controls of an "R-Type" craft as Earth's last hope. OK, we've all heard this before, but it's all about the game play, not the plot.

The game comes packed with 99 different "R-Type" crafts — some cool, some quirky, with a few that can only be unlocked by doing special things in the game.

Initially your craft comes equipped with one cannon, which shoots small bursts. Hold down the fire button and your cannon charges up for a larger burst. Hold it down for about five seconds and your cannon hyper-charges for a devastating attack — very helpful when battling a big, slobbering boss monster.

Soon your craft is joined by a "life force" sentinel. This little, indestructible bad boy can attach to either the front or the back of your ship. This gives new meaning to the term covering your — um, well, you know. Press the release button and the sentinel will roam around the screen providing firepower. Because it's indestructible, you can fire into enemies for added attack, but this leaves your ship vulnerable.

If your sentinel absorbs enough enemy attacks, it will be capable of unleashing a full-screen attack that deals heaps of damage, which we like, right?

Just when you thought you had the big guns, the game also gives you three types of lasers, color-coded with red, blue and yellow. Each has a different nature and angle and changes depending on the type of ship you use.

Game play and craft steering is simple and really the best I've seen in a shooter. The programmers realized that at times there is a need for speed, but at others, more finesse in steering is required. At the touch of two shoulder buttons, you can speed up or slow down your craft, giving you more, or less, lag. This comes in handy when you are navigating tight spaces and don't want your craft zipping all over the screen.

The levels themselves are quite challenging. It's here I must swallow my pride and admit that I had to play the game on "kids" level because normal was just too tough.

One thing that "R-Type" has retained, which harkens back to the ol' coin-op machines, is the fact that you must start from the beginning each time you play and work your way through to where you last met your demise. But for the variety of ships you earn for points scored, this could get old really fast.

Those who think they have the hunger for a good shooter and the reflexes of a squirrel will not be disappointed. A fitting end to a great game legacy.


E-mail: gfattah@desnews.com