A lot of iconic shoot-em-up games have been getting convenient remasters and re-releases in the last few years, but the Raiden franchise in particular has been taking a slightly confusing path. While other games get all-in-one port collections of content-stuffed extended editions, the Raiden games have slowly been working backwards through their chronology in a series of modern-console ports – starting with Raiden V: Director’s Cut which was then followed up by Raiden IV x MIKADO remix. Now, the middle entry in the series has come to modern consoles with Raiden III x MIKADO MANIAX, and while it may not be the most engaging entry in the series, this is arguably the best modern re-release treatment any of the titles have gotten yet.
Raiden III x MIKADO MANIAX is astoundingly simple. There’s no animated open cutscene of scrolling paragraphs of lore – you are a big red spaceship, and you need to shoot all the other spaceships. It’s a pure, unfiltered, and unhindered experience – almost to a fault. With no opening systems explanation, no How To Play section, and not even a whiff of a tutorial, you’re thrown into the thick of it and forced to pick up what they’re putting down or die trying. It’s not as if the game is overwhelming or convoluted by any means, but it’ll likely take you a couple runs to realize that the floating gems are your weapon options, the floating letters are your missile options, and the hidden fairy gives you bonus power-ups when you die and isn’t just, like, a weird gag.
Once you get the base mechanics down, there isn’t a lot to the game – and that simplicity helps make it even easier to plot out an ideal strategy for your runs. There are only three weapon types, being the spreadshot canon, the straight-and-narrow ion canon, and the fluid, wobbly proton laser. Additionally, your sub-shot options are spread missiles, homing-missiles, and semi-tracking radar missiles. It’s a boon that the weapon options in Raiden III x MIKADO MANIAX are so simple, because it lets me focus on mastering the downright brutal stages. Yellow enemy bullets can often blend into the brown cityscape backgrounds of the first few stages, while latter space-set stages introduce obstacles and bullet patterns that feel designed for frustration. Thankfully, with seven different difficulty options, there are a lot of ways for newcomers to experience the game, intermediates to practice their skills, and die-hards to punish themselves in all the right ways.
This new and improved version of Raiden III x MIKADO MANIAX comes with Score Attack and Boss Rush modes, full co-op, and online rankings – but the most exciting modern touches to me are the unlockables. For every run you complete, the points you earn will unlock new side-panel wallpapers and BGM tracks for you. The wallpapers are a nice touch, but nothing worth buying a whole video game for. The unlockable music, though, is incredible. Raiden III x MIKADO MANIAX has gotten a slew of iconic Japanese chiptune artists and video game guitar-shredders to contribute remixes of the 7 original stage songs. As you unlock them, you can set the song for each stage as you please – either setting everything to the first set of remixes, or mixing and matching remix sets and track numbers and stages as you please. The unlock system gave me a big reason to keep trying the game, but the thrill of setting new songs and trying to get far enough in my next run to hear them kept me going even further.
Diehard fans will argue that this isn’t the most exciting or innovative entry in the Raiden series, and that may be valid. The seven-stage run is brief, and while it’s downright masochistic in difficulty, it isn’t super revolutionary. The unlockable-system and BGM remixes added in this Raiden III x MIKADO MANIAX edition more than make up for that, though. Having such exciting and ridiculous unlockables tied to my score that give me a tangible, earnable reason to keep chasing those numbers makes this one of the most addictive shmups I’ve played in a while.