First released in 1998, Radiant Silvergun - by legendary Japanese developer Treasure - is the progenitor of that other shoot-em-up (shmup) classic, Ikaruga. If you're at all familiar with the genre, you'll know already that you should be expecting something special - and you won't be disappointed.
A vertically scrolling shooter, the Xbox Live Arcade version adds a bunch of nifty enhancements to the original experience - without altering the way the game plays at all. Enhancements include things like a leaderboard score-chasing mode, and numerous enhancements to the game's HUD - all of which can be disabled, if you so desire.
The mechanics of the game, while not quite "bullet hell", result in a lot of difficult enemies being on-screen at any one time - along with copious amounts of incoming weapons fire, of course. The game evens the odds, however, by giving you a huge array of weaponry - all of which is available at any time. Like the homing spreadshot? There's a button for that. Another button will do a straight-ahead power shot, another shoots behind, and so on.
In order to ensure there's a reward for skilled players (other than simply progressing), the enemy waves - which are numerous and heavily populated - are each designed around smart use of your weaponry. This does mean that there's a bit of a learning curve, but you'll enjoy every moment - the thrill of figuring out a way to decimate a wave that was previously embarassing you is unsurpassed.
There are heaps of enemy types, and numerous bosses to fight against - the game barely lets up, in fact, keeping you constantly hammering away at nearly endless waves of nasties. You can dodge some of them, but not all - and the game rewards you with massive bonuses if you manage to defeat a large percentage of them. It even includes an Ikaruga-like colour-based combo system, which adds another layer of strategy and difficulty for the score-chasers out there.
The bosses in particular offer serious challenge, with each broken up into a series of sub-targets that will alter the fight if you destroy certain components (i.e. weapons) and destroying all of the components before the main part of the boss will reward you with big bonuses - assuming you can do it before the time limit runs out, of course.
The bosses are extremely well designed, too, with serious complexity and multiple stages to many of them - many of which include clever mechanics that haven't been seen anywhere since, and still feel fresh as a result.
In fact, that's a good way to describe the game: despite its age, it still feels fresh and innovative today. It's challenging, without being impossible, with rewards on offer for power players that want to go toe-to-toe with the pros on the leaderboard.
Visually, it's no great shakes - which isn't a huge surprise, as the game hasn't had much of a spruce up. You can see more of it, thanks to the HUD elements being move off the play field and onto the sides created by the pillarboxing of the vertically-oriented screen, and there are a few (optional!) visual enhancements available for those that want to see some modern graphical treatments.
The sound seems to be exactly the same as the original (although it's hard to compare, as the game is seriously rare and therefore not on hand for direct comparison), with plenty of retro explosions and weapons fire chirping merrily away.
Without question, this is an absolute must-buy for fans of the genre. If you consider yourself a shmup fan, you simply have to own this game. Further to that, if you've any interest in the genre and have been looking for a chance to jump in, this is the game you've been waiting for.
Radiant Silvergun is a triumph and arguably one of the best (if not the best) game of its type available - on any platform.