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Raiden iii title screen depicting a red space plane

Shmuptember 2023: Raiden III x Mikado Maniax is an arcade classic with a shiny new coat of paint

Raiden III x Mikado Maniax is a great excuse to revisit an entry in an iconic shmup series for veterans and a good place to start for newcomers.

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Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.

Overview

If you close your eyes and envision a “shoot 'em up game”, you probably imagine something that looks just like Raiden III x Mikado Maniax. There's a good reason for that. The Raiden series has been one of the shmup genre's most iconic entries since its debut in arcades back in the early 90s.

The original Raiden III was a vertically scrolling shmup released on PS2 and arcade cabinets in 2005. The Mikado Maniax edition, named after the famous Mikado arcade in Japan, takes this classic entry in the Raiden series and scales it up to modern resolutions. It also adds a bunch of new features including multiple alternate soundtracks, online leaderboards, and a boss rush mode.

My personal experience with the Raiden series is limited but positive. I played through the entire original Raiden game in co-op mode with a friend in the Dragon Con arcade!

Raiden iii screenshot showing classic vertical shmup gameplay
Traditional shmup stuff right here

Aesthetics

Sights

Being based on a PS2 game, Raiden III x Mikado Maniax features a fairly simple look by modern standards; it scales up nicely to modern displays and looks sharp on my 1440p monitor. The pre-rendered cutscenes, unfortunately, still look somewhat pixellated, but that's a small quibble considering how little of the game's runtime they make up. This is not even remotely a story-driven game.

Cutscene of the plane taking off. It looks blurry and pixelated
The cutscenes do not upscale as nicely as the gameplay graphics

Complementing the game's graphics are the borders you can unlock as you play. Among the ones I unlocked, my personal favorite border displayed instructional panels from the Raiden III arcade cabinet. If you don't like the bordered look, I like that the game gives you the option of playing in tate (portrait) mode if you have a screen on a swivel mount.

On each side of the gameplay screen are panels explaining the mechanics in japanese
I liked the classic arcade vibes of this screen border

Sounds

The other unlockable in Mikado Maniax is the real star of the show: the music. The original soundtrack is rock solid and it takes no time at all to unlock more tracks. Once unlocked, you can swap around the BGM, either playing a full B-sides album in your next playthrough or making a custom mix for yourself. The tracks themselves run the gamut from chiptunes, EDM, and live band performances. Being able to change up the music is a nice way to make replaying a short game like Raiden III feel different.

Bgm select menu allows you to change the music on each level
Tinkering with the soundtrack and unlocking new tracks keeps the music feeling fresh

Mechanics

Gameplay

Raiden III x Mikado Maniax is a very simple shmup. There are 3 different types of weapons and a screen-clearing bomb. It's a playbook vertically-scrolling shmups have been using for decades, but it works. Raiden III executes this classic formula in a way that's satisfying despite its simplicity.

Near the end of Raiden III‘s seven stages, the game takes a turn from old-school shmup to a more modern bullet hell style. The bosses become very aggressive with some fast-moving danmaku (bullet patterns)! This transition suits Raiden III well since this installment marks this franchise's transition from 90s arcades to modern consoles and PCs.

The raiden plane fires at a giant robot spider boss
Giant robot spiders are the natural enemy of airplanes

Difficulty/Challenge

Given its arcade roots, Raiden III is not an easy game. To illustrate how hard this game is, its “Easy” mode is still described as being for “intermediate players”. Thankfully, you can drop the difficulty level even lower than that if you need to. And of course, there are multiple high-difficulty modes for the true Maniax. In my playthrough, I found that I could only get about halfway through the game with the default difficulty settings. In my winning run, I dropped the difficulty down to Easy and raised the number of stock lives from 3 to 4.

When playing through Raiden III x Mikado Manaix, I appreciated that even my unsuccessful runs through the campaign were giving me points to unlock things. Getting new audio tracks and wallpapers with every attempt made me feel like I was still accomplishing something. After rolling credits, a boss rush mode unlocked which adds a little extra replay value to the game.

(For clarity: Unlike several other shmups I've reviewed, Raiden III is not a Roguelike. It's an old-school action game with bespoke levels and limited continues.)

Difficulty selection screen showing the easy is still for intermediate players
You know a game is gonna be tough when the easy mode is still considered intermediate

Verdict

The classic gameplay of Raiden III coupled with the perks introduced in this Mikado Maniax edition make a compelling package of shmup goodness. It's a great entry point into the Raiden series for newcomers but may not offer enough new gameplay-wise for those who played the original Raiden III to death back in the day. It's a short game (1-2 hours), so its value at $30 will be a function of how much you like to replay levels to improve your skills and unlock new tracks.

Geek to Geek Rating: 4 out of 5 giant robot spiders

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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