Shoot ‘em ups, shmups, shooters, STGs – call them what you want. They’re undeniably one of the most enduring yet progressive game genres around. From Space Invaders, the game that kicked off Japan’s arcade craze, to DoDonPachi Saidaioujou, Cave’s latest release, shooters have kept our index fingers pounding on the Shot button and our middle fingers precariously hovering over the Bomb button. Hit the link for a list of our favorite shoot ‘em ups.
Mushihimesama Futari is the best of Cave’s modern-era shoot ‘em ups. “Bullet hell” and “danmaku” (bullet curtain) are perfect descriptions of the game. You play as Reco, the well-endowed forest spirit, or her new buddy, Palm. Reco rides a giant beetle while Palm rides a dragon. Like most Cave games, Futari puts a huge emphasis on comboing for huge scores. The redrawn graphics for the 360 port look amazing. And the difficulty is just right – hard enough to keep you working for months on that 1CC but not so bad that you throw your arcade stick out the window.
With all the PS2 ports and the recent HD-ified versions of games, there aren’t a lot of shooters still exclusive to the Dreamcast. Thankfully (at least for diehard Dreamcast fans) the best shooter on the system is still an exclusive (unless you count the original NAIOMI version). Border Down is an amazing horizontal shooter created by G.rev. Inspired by Taito’s Metal Black, the game is a dream to play but has a strict rank system. In shooters, rank refers to the variable difficulty of the game. The better you do, the harder the game gets. In Border Down, the game gets harder the longer you stay alive. But it gets way harder when lose a ship. Upon dying, you restart from a checkpoint, but the game has risen by a significant degree of difficulty. Once you die while on the red difficulty, it’s game over. Border Down is brutal and beautiful. It also features my favorite game soundtrack.
Toaplan’s Batsugun is basically a proto-Cave game. The developers tried to get as many bullets on screen as possible. To combat the huge number of bullets and enemies, you get enormous weapons that at times fill up an eighth of the screen. The game introduced a lot of elements that would be incorporated into the bullet hell genre, so at 1993, it was definitely ahead of its time. And the greatest achievement of all is that it has aged well. Even after two decades, it still feels as manic and fluid as a modern Cave shmup.
The word “Cave” is showing up a lot in the article, and for good reason. Guwange is masterpiece from Cave’s golden age. Taking place in a supernatural feudal Japan, you and your spirit buddy must destroy everything from foot soldiers to a giant plasma-shooting centipede. Oh yeah, and a spidercat. Your character controls a spirit character that can move about the screen depending on the shot you’re using. This mechanic is hard to master, but is a huge tactical advantage and something that makes Guwange so unique and enjoyable. But the atmosphere and intuitive combo system are really what makes the game one of the best shmups ever made. Now that it’s easily available for any 360 owner, it should be experienced by all shoot ‘em up fans.
Under Defeat is a bit out of the ordinary. Your ship is a helicopter and you can lock in your shot’s angle, resulting in some unique gameplay elements that kept your thumbs moving even more rapidly than a normal bullet hell game. The game was developed by G.rev and its graphics were absolutely stunning when it was released on the Dreamcast in 2006. Since the cosmos is bent on devaluing my game collection, an HD+ version of the game was recently released for Xbox 360 (Europe and Japan only) and PS3.
I’d certainly hesitate to call Ikaruga’s gameplay “boring,” but it doesn’t have that same feeling of speed that most modern shmups have. And it’s not exactly the gameplay that gets Ikaruga on this list. It’s the painstaking attention to detail taken by the game’s developer’s, Treasure. Every bullet pattern and enemy formation is meticulously laid out so that you can never call the game “cheap.” There’s always a way out. If you die, it’s your own damn fault. A lot of people say that Ikaruga isn’t a shmup and that it’s really a puzzle game. That’s a load of shit. It’s a different shooter, and different is good.
- Cotton Series
- Star Soldier Series
- Progear no Arashi
- DoDonPachi Series
- Mars Matrix
- Giga Wing
- Crisis Force
- Aleste Series
- Raiden & Raiden Fighters Series