Shmups are unfortunately a dying genre, but we're going to keep them alive with our list of the 10 Best Shoot 'Em Ups. When you can call in air strikes from cover, shank zombies in the neck, and fly faithful models of real life aircraft, the idea of a simple side-scrolling shooter just doesn’t appeal to many people. Still, shoot 'em ups were an important part of video game history and still have a devoted following to this day. So consider grabbing a shoot em up and relive some of the great days of gaming’s past. Check out our list of the 10 Best Shoot 'Em Ups. And don't get mad if you don't see Raiden on this list!
Thunder Force IV was a classic Genesis shooter that had some elements of Mega Man in it. You could choose what order you completed the game’s missions, and doing so would net you weapons that you could take into other missions of the game. It’s a must own title for any shoot 'em up fan, blasting in at #10 in our 10 Best Shoot 'Em Ups list.
Most shoot 'em ups are made better by mashing them up with other genres. U.N. Squadron mashed up its gameplay with RPG mechanics. Every level would earn you cash, which would then allow you to customize your plane with special weapons and armor before the next level. Not only that, but any unused weapons are automatically converted into cash, so you also get a bonus for playing each level skillfully. The game also had three different characters, each with three different planes, which could support three completely different upgrade loadouts!
If you want to be technical, Space Invaders is a shoot 'em up, the first actually. Just because it’s slow paced and ancient doesn’t make it any less important. Space Invaders deserves to be on this list because it helped kick off the video game boom of the late seventies. Everyone should have played Space Invaders at least once, and true fans will have played the updated Space Invader Infinity Gene for mobile or downloadable platforms.
Shoot 1Up was one of the first critically acclaimed Xbox Live indie games. You control all of your “lives” all at once. If you have 10 lives, then you’ll control 10 planes all firing at your enemies. If a plane gets hit, you lose a life. You can pull your planes in, making them easy to control, or spread them out making them more likely to get hit but increasing their spread of fire. Also, you fight a giant woman with robot breasts. What’s not to love?
DoDonPachi pretty much started the craze of “bullet hell” games in the shooter genre. The difference between a bullet hell and a normal shoot 'em up, is that normal shoot 'em ups reward you for high mobility and skillful weapon management, while bullet hell games ask you to move very slightly, threading the needle between thousands of bullets, each one dealing instant death. Regardless of their high difficulty, bullet hell games have caught on with the shoot 'em up crowd, and you can get DoDonPachi on pretty much every platform out there, including Android and iOS.
Radiant Silvergun was a Japan only release from Treasure that came out on the Sega Saturn of all things. It’s largely considered one of the best shoot 'em ups ever made with amazing pacing, tight controls, some of the most stupendous graphics we have ever seen, and even full animated cutscenes between levels. The only reason why it’s not higher on our list of the 10 Best Shoot 'Em Ups is, as we said before, it was a Japan only release, which unfortunately has seriously limited its exposure. You can pick it up on Xbox Live, but it's still not nearly as popular as some of its contemporaries.
There were two great shooters of the SNES era who were considered the kings of shoot 'em ups at the time, and R-Type is one of them. R-Type’s signature was the controllable satellite that followed your ship around. Much more complicated than traditional “option” satellites, this little helper could rotate around you, follow behind you, attach to the back of your ship for added defense, or attach to the front of your ship for added attack. R-Type wasn’t just about what weapons you got, it was about how you used them.
Gun Nac may be one of the best shoot 'em ups that you never played. This outstanding game for the NES had one of the most interesting upgrade systems in early shmup history. You had five primary weapons to choose from and four secondary bombs. Each of these weapons could be upgraded five times by picking up the weapon more than once, or can be traded out for another one by picking up a new power-up. More powerful bombs wreaked havoc on the battlefield but actually took more ammo to fire. Not only that, but you can find money to upgrade your ship between levels. This was easily one of the most modular and interesting shoot 'em ups to ever exist and it came out in the 8-bit era!
Ikaruga was made by the same people who created Radiant Silvergun, except this shooter actually managed to come to the U.S. It had a brilliant color switching mechanic in which all projectiles of the game were either black or white. If your ship was black you fired black bullets which did half damage to black enemies but double damage to white enemies. You were also invulnerable to black bullets yourself but you died if you touched a white bullet. Vice versa if your ship was white of course. There were portions of this game where there was literally nowhere on the screen that didn’t have a bullet on it, and the only way to survive was through rapid color switching.
Before, we mentioned two great shoot 'em ups that dominated the SNES era. One of them was R-Type and the other is Gradius. Gradius is the name that shmup fans have come to trust if they are looking for excellence. It created the “chain” style of power-up, where you can cash in your power ups early for small bonuses, or later for huge boosts to your firepower. It was one of the first shooters to include “option” satellites. It had been parodied and remade over and over again. Quite frankly, you don’t get much better in the shoot 'em up world than Gradius, which is why it's at the top spot on our list of the 10 Best Shoot 'Em Ups.