Thank you NIS America for sending us this game to review!
Early this year, NIS America released RAIDEN IV x MIKADO remix which is ironically the sequel to this game. Raiden III was originally released in Arcades in 2005, and made its way to other consoles and PCs over the years. The license expired, and NIS America picked it up and released Raiden III x MIKADO MANIAX here in 2023.
If you had the previous release, Raiden III Digital Edition, there is probably little reason to pick this up again, as the core game is the same. I can't directly compare the versions as I don't own the old one, but the core game isn't changed as much as I can tell. However, if you missed it last time, or if you want the expanded music tracks, this is a great way to play. Also, this is the first time it's on Nintendo Switch, PS4/5, or Xbox.
Raiden is one of several popular vertical shoot 'em up classic franchises. This, like many other similar games, has you shooting enemy ships up from the bottom of the screen, and blasting them out of the sky (or space). You can move anywhere on the playing area, but if you move up, you are shrinking the part of the screen your bullets get to fill, as your shots only go up. Raiden III and Raiden IV clearly share DNA, and play largely similarly, which isn't a bad thing; if it isn't broke, don't fix it. If it's fun, it's fun. Or to put it another way, Raiden IV plays fairly similarly to this previous game, despite the latest refresh coming out earlier this year.
Like many shoot 'em ups, there is technically a story but it's very easy to miss. Earth is being attacked by an alien race called the Crystals who wish to take it over. You pilot powerful air/spacecraft that you use to defeat the invading force. There are lots of enemies coming to shoot you out of the sky, and each level has a boss for you to defeat at the end. I found the action engaging, and it was hard to put down. Thankfully, the skills I developed playing Raiden IV earlier this year carried over well to this game, so I was able to get to the last boss the first time I played, and beat it the second time.
It probably helps that the game defaults to 'Normal' difficulty, which is below the 'Arcade' level, but above 'Practice', 'Very Easy', and 'Easy'. Above 'Arcade' is 'Hard', and 'Very Hard'. With that said, the main reason 'Normal' was manageable is because I maxed out the available number of starting lives and bombs, which refresh on each new life. Spamming screen-clearing bombs really helps a whole, whole lot. You see, enemy bullets are also destroyed, which is basically a 'survive' button for a few seconds. When you get seven bombs per life, and you can clear the screen with each bomb, you can stretch those lives pretty far. Otherwise, I doubt I would have lasted long. This same strategy also got me through 'Arcade' difficulty.
Depending on the pickups you choose, each ship has three weapon types. You have your primary fire, missiles, and bombs. The primary fire, which can be one of three types, is based on the color of the pickup. You can increase their power by grabbing additional pickups of the same kind. First you have red, which offers a type of spread shot. This one does less damage to bosses than the others, unless you get really close to your target, but it's effective at clearing the screen. Then you have blue, which is a type of laser. This makes clearing the screen a challenge, but can really wreck bosses quickly. The final type is green. This one is unique; it shoots an aimable green line of sorts down the screen towards the top, hitting enemies in its way. It's pretty effective, but harder to focus fire, as every time you move, the beam aims as you move, so you have to stay still to keep it firing straight. Of course, if you don't want to die you need to dodge shots, which makes the green laser less powerful for bosses but better for levels than blue.
The secondary weapon is missiles. Like many (most?) shoot 'em ups, these are rockets that shoot out from the sides of your ship and then fly towards enemies. All missiles reach their maximum power level after grabbing multiple powerups. There are three main types, labeled 'M', 'H', and 'R'. 'M' are powerful dumbfire missiles that shoots above you with a slight spread. 'H' are homing shots, that do less damage than the other kinds, but will easily hit harder to reach opponents, like those off to the side. 'R' are kind of a hybrid; they do more damage than 'H', and aim towards their target and then launch; once sped up they don't continue to home in anymore. Missiles are common to the genre, and offer nice cover fire or additional damage.
The final type is bombs, which we already covered. They clear the screen of all projectiles, and kill most weaker enemies. Incredibly useful for survival with lots of dangers on-screen.
There are three main modes of play. First is simply the main game, called 'Game Start'. Here you play through whatever levels are chosen; 'All' means 1-7. You can also choose to start at a later level if you wish. 'Score Attack' is where you pick a level and have to get as far as possible given the lives and bomb limit set by the game. 'Boss Rush' is where you fight one boss after another until they are all defeated. In each mode you can rank them online with local and world rankings.
There are also a lot of unlockables, with both wallpapers and background music. Wallpapers are visible while playing, covering the unused portion of the screen, since the game uses a playing field not unlike a monitor on its side. Speaking of which, you can play that way if you wish; if your monitor swivels, Raiden III can accommodate you. The other part is BGM, or background music. Since there are seven levels, you can choose which song you hear during each level. You can choose from the original tracks, and several remixes, including some with live guitar players. Pretty neat!
Graphically, it's a top-down shooter with mostly 3D rendered objects. The graphics are by no means cutting edge, but ships look good and explosions are convincing. Everything seems to render at a higher resolution if you use one, but jaggies can still be seen, and the polygon count is low. I'm not sure the game actually renders at 4K, though, as some of the ships are not as sharp as I would expect. Once you defeat enemies in a game mode, you also unlock their 3D models to be viewed in the Gallery. I like seeing stuff like this in games, as you can also figure out what they are called.
From a technical level, the PC port seems okay at best. There are times when, even on my high-end rig, that it seems like the frame rate drops. The game does not work on Steam Deck; when I looked into why, it was explained that there is a DirectX 12 function that is not implemented yet. It's a shame, since Raiden IV x MIKADO remix works really well on Deck. One other odd quirk is that above 1080p, the screen for the game launches in a window, then once you get to the main menu, the game screen resizes. It's odd, and I'm not convinced the levels render at a full 4K on my main desktop screen. I've also seen tearing while playing on occasion.
Morally, it's mostly clean with a notable exception. Your ship shoots and blasts your space foes and they explode. Pretty standard stuff. The Fairies don't wear anything, and their hair covers the necessary parts. It's a bit silly, but you will only see the Fairies as a pickup. Some of the wallpapers to have anime-style pictures of what I assume are the female pilots. While they do wear somewhat modest clothes, they wear shorts that aren't very long.
Raiden III x MIKADO MANIAX is a decent port of an Arcade and PS2 classic for modern platforms. It's a fun game, and my son and I enjoyed playing it together as well. I enjoyed this game quite a lot, though I feel that Raiden IV offers more variety than this one. That said, it's still a fun shoot 'em up, and has stood the test of time. Recommended.