A few days ago Anton Sombetzki (aged 29) and I (aged 39) got talking about SHMUPS … shoot ’em ups. No, not like Halo, Call of Duty, or even Doom. Old, arcade-style, traditional shoot ’em ups. You know, ones that were better than Space Invaders. Most involved scrolling, horizontal or vertical, some fancy buggers did both, and a few (firstly Zaxxon) were isometric in Viewpoint (that’s a pun for a tiny number of you).
Here I aim to lay down my own top 10, and give reasons for each choice. Anton will offer his choices too, and his half of this “blog versus” will be linked below. I expect our age difference will mean that most of my favourite games are older than his, but we shall see! The console mentioned by each game is the one I fell in love with the game on. Oh, these are opinions – that way it is not possible for Anton, or I, to be wrong.
Dave’s Top 10 Most Loved SHMUPS
(1) R-Type (PC Engine).
I fell in love with a magazine screen shot. I then saw a game in an arcade that looked stunning. Then “R-TYPE” scrolled across the screen. I slung in all my coins and have bloody loved it ever since. Love at first sprite. And oh yes, STILL the best weapon system ever. I played it on the arcade first, but I played to DEATH on, and fell in love with, the PC Engine’s version.
(2) Thunderforce III (Megadrive).
I liked Thunderforce II a lot. But its horizontal levels were better than its odd vertical ones. Thunderforce III had only the proper horizontal type. I imported it on day of release in Japan. I played it a lot. One of the very few games I’ve 1LC’d. I still adore the music. Just a brilliant game, and because I can complete it, it gave me a satisfaction I didn’t get from R-Type! The level choice at the start helps ease you in and learn the levels in a way that more game of this ilk should have copied.
(3) Gunhed (PC Engine).
Anybody who thinks that a better vertical shooter exists is wrong. At first, I was opposed to vertical shooters. Too often one was reduced to swooping from left to right at the bottom of the screen. This proved me wrong, and right at the same time. Crazy fast paced scrolling, mega bosses, incredible weapons: everything a vertical blaster needs. A true legend among giants. The US version (Blazing Lazers) is cheap and easy to find on eBay.
(4) Galaga ’88 (PC Engine).
This is a mental game. Crazy. It looks normal but it has the heart of a drugged up box of frogs. Splendid music, manic shooting, and … “Galactic Dancing“. If you don’t know what that means, I strongly suggest buying it (it is cheap) or emulating it to find out. Galaxians was never one of my favourites in the early days – this is a mind-changer. Called Galaga ’90 in the US of A.
(5) M.U.S.H.A. Aleste (Megadrive).
Messy explosions, cracking music, big weapons, fast scrolling and lush everything. It received some criticism when it was launched. People said it wasn’t as good as Gunhed, or Thunderforce III etc. They maybe right, but it’s very VERY close behind. you don’t even have to play it to like it … that’s how good the music is. Worst thing about it is that it’s too expensive for most of us to buy 😦
(6) Twinkle Tale (Megadrive).
I discovered this gem late on, partly because it is obscure but mainly because it is so expensive. I got lucky on eBay; a copy without instructions. I rammed in the cart and loved it thereafter. Fast, hard, and mostly fair. Multi-scrolling with a few route choices, it’s a little different, but all fantastic.
(7) Elemental Master (Megadrive).
Very possible the best music on the Megadrive – utterly brilliant, substantial, fitting, storming, a nd powerful. Without such an amazing soundtrack I could have been dissuaded by the initially off-putting difficulty level. But once you “get” the game it becomes easier and much fun awaits. Truly satisfying when you complete each level.
(8) Gradius III (SFC/SNES).
I’ve always thought that the Gradius/Nemesis/Salamander series have been slightly flawed. Fully loaded, one almost feels too powerful, but once a life is lost you’re so weak it’s almost re-boot or switch off. However, I can’t deny their charm, class, and this one has top music AND it beats the actual arcade version of itself. Very few games can genuinely claim that.
(9) Darius Plus (PC Engine).
Now some of these Darius games are truly hardcore, bordering on unfair. This one, in spite of taking an AGE to get fully powered up, isn’t terribly hard at the start. The graphics and colours on the PC Engine sucked me in. I couldn’t stop. I never actually got that good at it, but I always enjoyed it. I need to play the other Darius games more. Excited to be getting Darius Force (PSP) for Christmas 🙂 I’m such a kid!
(10) Bloody Money (Amiga).
For me, this is a left-field choice. There are some good shooters on computers, but 95% of them pale when compared to those available on consoles. This one is an odd beast, very slow, only four levels, and only music or sound effects – not both. But the intro blew me away, it was like nothing you’d ever seen at the time. Partly because of this, I played it a lot and grew to really enjoy the laid back, languid feel of the game. It won’t be everyone’s taste, and unless you have heaps of patience you won’t like it much. Some of the graphics are superb, and there are some huge sprites; it is clear that a lot of love and effort went into this game.
RANDOM LIST OF SHMUPS THAT I LOVE BUT DIDN’T QUITE MAKE IT
Tatsujin, Hybris, Armalyte, Super Star Soldier, Atomic Robo Kid, X-Multiply, Parodius, Raiden, Varth, Gunbird, Layer Section, Thunderforce IV, Thunderforce V, Thunderforce VI, Salamander, Keio’s Flying Squadron, Aero Blasters, Gaiares, Coryoon, Power Strike, Twin Cobra, Apydia, Silkworm, Viewpoint, Ghost Pilots, Aldynes.