The five-minute pressure cooker.
People will see Star Soldier R in one of two ways. Most people will see that it's just a five-minute high score contest with two levels and no other meaningful content, and brush it off as a waste of money. Even people who are fans of shoot-'em-up games will realize there's better value in similar Virtual Console games.
However, once you actually sit down and dig into Hudson's little shooter, the game shows its true colors. For only being five minutes long at its maximum, Star Soldier R is extremely addicting, highly replayable, and good fun. Those that can drop the assumptions about the game's length and relative value will see a well-designed experience.
The idea behind the R version of the Star Soldier series is that you're up against the clock, simply pushing to get the highest score possible. It's almost impossible to not reach the end of the game's one-level, two-minute mode. Fighting through two levels, over five minutes isn't much harder, although you can still get busted for being lazy or sloppy. The point of the game isn't to beat it, since doing that is a foregone conclusion.
Instead, the idea is to push yourself as far as you dare and squeeze out the highest score possible. The game's risk-reward system makes this a real test of skill and nerves. You can make your ship move around the screen faster by retracting its wings, making it much easier to blow stuff up and snag pickups. In doing so, however, you'll risk being destroyed more easily. Additionally, up to five option ships can act as additional shielding by hovering around your ship. If you're feeling brave, you can send the options astray and use them as free-moving sentry guns for more offensive power, which is sometimes necessary to take down enemies quickly.
The game's stages are filled with stuff to destroy. Along with the usual barrage of enemies, you'll fly over a grid of structures which can be taken out by your main guns. As you destroy these objects, your combo counter will increase. The higher your combo at the end of the stage, the bigger your bonus score. Special yellow orbs, which break free when shot and lazily oscillate across the screen, can give you additional points.
Red and blue containers upgrade your main gun and your option ships, respectively. Besides having the obvious benefit of six-way fire when you've maxed out your guns, collecting additional containers will net you 10,000 additional points. Plus, having maxed out weaponry will help you take out the boss of each level more quickly. There's a time bonus added on to your ending score, and since the levels always scroll by at the same rate, the time difference is how quickly you can take down the bosses. This will make you try to figure out the best boss-killing strategies.
There are even lots of secret bonus scoring opportunities hidden through the levels. Hidden icons will sometimes pop up and get you 3,000 points for free. Blowing up a donut-shaped structure, while you're inside of it (without getting hit by it), will net you 50,000 points. Destroying two floaty sphere things simultaneously is worth a cool 80,000 points. These last two especially are significant bonuses which you'll want to get if you want to beat your own high score.
Trying to beat your high score is what makes Star Soldier R so addictive. When you play through the game and start understanding when and why you need to throttle up (or down) the speed or toggle the option ships, you'll see where you can pick up more points and jump back in to fight for them because you know you can do just a little better the next time. You don't need the online leaderboards, broken down into region, country, and worldwide rankings, to do that. They can help you chase that carrot just a little more, though.
Of course, the fact doesn't change that Star Soldier R doesn't have much going for it in the way of content. It's surprisingly addictive, but you can only get so much out of so little. One really big piece that's missing is friend-only leaderboards, which would have made going for a new high score just a little bit sweeter. Also, a two-player co-op mode would have been nice to have.
I've seen enough WiiWare games to realize that you need to check your expectations for what you're paying for. If you decide to get Star Soldier R, you're not going to get the same stuff you'll find from the other Star Soldier games on Virtual Console. The WiiWare game is a different experience, and a rewarding one at that, provided you understand what it is you're getting into beforehand. You'll find R to be a pretty fun game if you do.