You know that somewhere, in a hidden underground hangar invisible to radar, Air Force engineers and strategists are looking at Raiden III and crying themselves to sleep. "If only," they think, "if only we could devise two space-capable aircraft, one red and one blue, that could vomit forth huge, endless swaths of deadly plasma, missiles, and laser fire, picking up bits of the enemy to make themselves even stronger, and then convince all of our enemies to gather together and stand in a line, taking turns attacking us and then just giving up if we fly over and fail to blow them up... then we could truly bring peace to the world."
Okay, so it's a pipe dream of military foreign policy. It still makes for a fun video game. It's not remotely complex, mind you: you've got a space plane, sometimes two, plowing constantly upward, dodging hordes of enemies and laying waste to anything in your way. At any given time, you're laying it down with one of three main weapons - spread-shot bullets, a strong straight ahead laser, and a weaker beam weapon that can curve around - and one of three possible sub-weapons (each a type of missile). All of which get stronger as you collect more power-ups. Again, this is an ages-old paradigm, but it still feels rewarding.
There are seven levels and five difficulty settings, though even the easiest can be challenging - this is a serious bullet storm. And as always in a Raiden game, you have both single-player mode and a co-op multiplayer mode, which can add life and also make you hate your buddy for hogging the power-ups. Graphics are okay at best - there are some nice blur effects during the big explosions, though.
There, however, is one thing that sets Raiden III apart from the shooter pack: it's single-player mode enables you to control both warplanes at once, essentially playing co-op with yourself. It's simple, really - the left analog stick and shoulder buttons control one ship, and the right analog stick and shoulder buttons control the other.
It takes awhile to fully grasp, especially when the ship you control with the left stick is on the right side of the screen and the right stick ship is on the left, but it's incredibly empowering - one of those gaming moments that can make anyone feel macho. If you like feeling macho, or just really dig the retro-ness of old favorites, check out Raiden III. They just don't make 'em like this anymore... except when they do. Like now.