Rendering Ranger: R2
by Polly

Rendering Ranger: R2 has a bit of an interesting history. Well, maybe only interesting if you find rarities and oddies in the videogame world as fascinating as I typically do. Anyway, I know how these things go. I write up a little bit of an intro to describe my experiences with the game prior to the review or give a bit of history, you skip all these stupid word things, scroll down to the bottom to see the Sock Score, and then go comment on the forum about it or something. Par for the course here folks. That's what we do. Anyway, the only reason I was ever interested in checking out this game is because it was off-handedly compared to Contra at some point, and as you folks know, I'm quick to jump on anything even remotely resembling a mass-destruction action-platformer. I eat this shit up! So join me in grabbing a big heaping helping spoonful!

Man, I have REALLY gotta find a better way to transition than comparing things to shit. Grabbing a spoonful of it this time is exceptionally worrying...

Rendering Ranger: R2 was helmed by Manfred Trenz, who some of you out there may recognize as the creator of the popular (to a specific degree depending on what part of the world you're in) Turrican franchise. A pretty damn good series of games that owes a lot of its more well-known features, namely huge open areas to explore and a morph ball type feature, to the Metroid series, but that has nothing to do with this game at all, so why bring it up? GOTTA FILL OUT DEM PAGES SOMEHOW, RIGHT? (No really, check out Turrican.)

R2 began its life as an SNES exclusive game named Targa and was originally to feature 100% hand-drawn visuals. Then Donkey Kong Country happened. Pre-rendered graphics became big on the SNES near the end of its life-cycle with other big hitters like Killer Instinct and Ken Griffey Jr's Winning Run, and rather than riding out his original vision that would have probably produced quite an original-looking game if nothing else, the decision was made to do the entire game pre-rendered, hence the name change to Rendering Ranger. Now, maybe it's just me, but if you're naming your game after your graphics-creating techniques and selling out your established ideas so quickly, maybe you didn't have a lot of stock in the idea in the first place. By the time R2 was ready to ship, nobody was interested in publishing it except a Japanese branch of Virgin Interactive, who printed a mere 5,000 copies of the game that would each fetch $1,000+ years later on the second-hand market. This would later become "The Atlus Technique", only they did it purposefully to drive up costs on the second-hand market and sold all their copies there. CONSPIRACY CONSPIRACY CONSPIRACY! (I AM KIDDING, CALM DOWN!)

Since R2 is so proud enough to name itself after how its in-game graphics were created, why don't we start there? What more can I say than, looks great (good thing for them huh, or they'd be feeling reeeeally silly about that name years down the line). Maybe not as impressive as any of Rare's offerings, but in terms of presenting the apocalyptic, alien, oppressive atmosphere it wants to create, R2 does a smashing job. Nearly every visual in the game has been pre-rendered, giving the entire package a consistent and slick look. The player-controlled ranger as well as enemies all boast an impressive amount of animation and fine details that pushes that gritty, war-torn future thing even further. Even more impressive are the gigantic bosses which are all neatly frame-by-framed 3D renderings, with the animation almost as smooth as some of Donkey Kong Country's finer moments. The game pushes the envelope even further, utilizing a large number of special effects like scaling and clever use of transparencies to create awesome battle effects and some of the prettiest damn explosions you'll see on the SNES. I can't lie, they did a great job here, so I don't have to ride them anymore about how they named their game.

Unfortunately, it's not all pretty happy rainbow awesome funtime graphics. One major issue that does get in the way of R2's graphical prowess, as well as the game's playability as a whole, is the inability to sometimes tell what's what. There are far too many times (namely in the shmup stages, which I'll discuss later on) where you'll be unable to tell right off if an object is part of the background or will actually hurt you. The same goes for the run 'n gun segments where sometimes you'll be unable to tell if an area you're about to jump to is a pit or solid ground. There could have been a lot better use of color here to help the player distinguish between what's good and bad.

Also, while all the explosions and carnage going on looks simply dazzling, it sometimes becomes almost impossible to tell what the hell is even going on. In these instances, you're likely to lose a good number of hits and lives because you can't really see what's happening. In a game where enemies are constantly swarming the player and you're expected to play damn-near perfect, this is pretty unforgivable. Nobody likes losing lives because they're playing the game in the way they should, but the graphical presentation keeps getting in the way.

Getting back to another of the game's more impressive aspects we've got the game's soundtrack, which is composed of action-oriented high-tempo distinctly "military'ish" sounding pieces mixed with a sprinkle of light rock and techno influence. It's very similar to Contra III, but lacks some of the more memorable melodies that game had. Unfortunately, the soundtrack gets kind of shoved to the background by the sound effects, which are mixed entirely too loud. Since you're always firing (and you're stupid if you stop), your own gunfire drowns out any other noise trying to force itself through your speakers. It becomes grating very quickly, and there's no way to even disable the sound effects. I found myself pausing the game every now and then just to make the constant firing noises stop because I couldn't stand hearing them anymore.

With all that out of the way, we can finally do what the developers probably didn't intend for us to do, and that's actually talking about the game! R2 is an action platformer/horizontal side-scrolling shmup hybrid. It alternates between the two types of gameplay at various stages along the way, but seems to lean a bit more toward the shmup side the later into the game you get.

Shmup mode is a fairly basic side-scrolling shooter. There aren't any real bells and whistles that go along with it. Fly straight and never let off the trigger. The only neat trick these areas of the game have is that you can press B at any time to turn your ship around and fire towards the left side of the screen. There are a few areas that demand use of this mechanic, but I really feel that it's a functionality that's far too under-utilized. More areas, and especially bosses, that required use of turning your ship around would have made these portions of the game stand out a lot more, rather than the entire shmup element feeling generic and under-developed.

With the shmup side of the game being so simple, one would think it'd be pretty hard to fuck it up, right? Wrong. The biggest problem here turns out to be the most frustrating. The hit detection is painfully dreadful. Maybe not dreadful, just stupidly inconsistent. It's almost impossible to gauge consistently where you or your enemies' hitboxes are. Sometimes you can hug bullets and terrain just as you would in a bullet-hell shooter, and other times I couldn't even tell you how I died or how I was even supposed to squeeze through one specific area in stage six without dying. This becomes an even bigger issue in the later areas of the game when it decides to try and pull its best Gradius III and throws in a high-speed area based solely on maneuvering through tight areas at you. Oh god, so many fucking deaths.

The other big problem with the shmup portion of the game is that there is just entirely too much shit going on at once. Explosions, bullets, your own fire, more explosions, more bullets, over and over until everything just gets swallowed up in an almost strobe-like mess where keeping track of your ship becomes an epileptic game of Where's Waldo. Added on top of the previous graphical problem of not being entirely sure what's background and what can kill you, frustration only continues to grow. By the time the shmup parts are finished, should your eyes even survive the assault, I daresay you'll be too tired to even handle the final portion of the game with any kind of skill. Seriously, I've played hours of Space Giraffe and my eyes never came close to hurting as much as they did trying to slog through the shmup portions of R2.

The run 'n gun portions of the game end up faring only slightly better and they're obviously heavily inspired by Contra. Run, shoot, kill doods, shoot down random weapon capsules to power-up your selection of weapons, fight big ass boss to win. The only difference here is that you can switch freely between all weapons at any time and you collect colored icons corresponding to each weapon to give them an additional level of firepower. Dying by either losing all of your health or falling into a pit results in the current weapon being reset to level 1, but this isn't too much of a problem since the game is extremely generous with providing power-up capsules on a regular basis.

Though this portion of the game ends up working out a bit better, it still isn't without some pretty damning flaws. Of course, just like the shmup stages of the game, the action platformer areas suffer from the same bullpoopy hit detection, which is, unfortunately, consistently bad. The player sprite is fairly large and wiggle room between incoming bullets and enemies feels way too damn tight. You really have to be pixel-perfect almost 100% of the time if you're going to survive in these areas for any extended period of time. And while asking perfection of the player is nothing new for older games, R2 goes beyond that with enemies that can somehow end up hitting you from off-screen and attacks and collisions that don't appear to be anywhere near your character. I've died a few times just standing still, not even knowing what, if anything, actually just fucking happened. All this terrible hit detection adds a pretty unfair level of difficulty to a game that otherwise could have been a very tough but fair experience.

Further dampening the run 'n gun experience is the downright terrible cut-and-paste level design. R2 really loves making you do one thing over and over and over and over and over again in an effort to stretch stages out far too goddamn long. Now, I understand that in the platformer genre there's bound to be a bit of repetition because they all boil down to the very basic core concepts of running, jumping, and making things die, but this game goes far beyond that. There are times when you will literally be jumping over the same three or four pits in succession for a minute or more at a time while shooting down the same patterns of flying enemies that don't have any different attacks or change their flight paths in any way whatsoever. It's just jump, shoot down enemy coming from the right, jump, shoot down enemy coming from behind, jump, shoot down enemy comiing from the nauseum. It's the same with areas that have timed electric barriers you have to run between. They're all on the same timer and appear and disappear in the same patterns. They're just copied and repasted again and again to make stages seem longer than they are. Nothing changes! It's literally the same portion of a stage copy and pasted god knows how many times. The shmup portions of the game are just as guilty of this with barrages of the same enemies flying in the same patterns rushing in from the side of the screen for a minute or two tops. There are areas where you can just sit in one spot, hold the fire button, and do nothing else because they were too lazy to add any variety to the stages.

Rendering Ranger: R2 had a brilliant mind behind it, and playing it I can feel parts of a really awesome game trying to pop out at me every now and then, but the vision never gets fully realized and the fun is always just around the next curve. There's too much inconsistency. Neither side of the hybrid game it's trying to be is strong enough to prop up the other, but I feel if he'd just focused on one side (preferably the running and gunning) this could have been a really fantastic game. Instead, both sides fall flat at delivering any kind of entertaining experience and serve only to frustrate the player.

Worth a passing glance if you wanna look up a ROM, but that's really about it. It's an astonishing piece of work to look at, what with some really nice enemy and background designs, as well as the special effects employed, and the soundtrack is rockin' as all hell, but production values alone can't carry R2 into any sort of relevance beyond its rarity and eBay price tag.

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