Dreamcast Shmups Library – 2D Shooters Galore

You would think that it would be hard for the Dreamcast to follow in the 2D footsteps of its sibling, the Sega Saturn and its massive collection of 2D shoot-em-ups. However, the Dreamcast is the perfect complement to the Saturn and is a essentially a requirement in and shmup fanatic’s collection.

While it only started out with a few shooters from Psikyo and Capcom (most of which looked like nice 2D Saturn games), it gathered quite a library by the end of its life. In fact, MOST of the 2D shooters for the console were released well after the Dreamcast was “dead” in the United States.

So yes, if you wish to play most of these, you will need to learn how to play Dreamcast imports. But if you are a shooter fan, you will not regret investing in some of these Dreamcast gems.

 Ikaruga
A pseudo-sequel to Treasure’s Radiant Silvergun, this mind-bending shmup is incredibly popular and combined high-precision shooter action with the color-matching gameplay element found in Treasure’s adventure game, Silhouette Mirage.

Ikaruga still blew away every expectation that the shump community had while the rumors of a Radiant Silvergun sequel were discussed. Ikaruga is brutally difficult, but the gameplay is refined to near perfection. It has developed a strong cult following (much like other Treasure games) and is a common way to show up a shmup expert’s skills.

Ikaruga is a traditional vertical scrolling shooter like Radiant Silvergun, but there are a few twists. Like Silhouette Mirage, your ship and every enemy is assigned one of two polarities: dark or light. While your ship can switch back and forth between light and dark, the enemies are static. White enemies fire white bullets, and black enemies fire black bullets. As the player you have a choice: by choosing the same color as an enemy you can absorb their bullets and charge up your super weapon. By choosing the opposite color as an enemy you can double the damage you inflict, but their bullets will kill you. If you want to score big you need to kill enemies in groups of three according to color.

The challenges in Ikaruga are nearly endless, and Treasure did an unbelievable job of presenting the player with all sorts of interesting and unique situations. While every gamer will not be up for this gaming wonder, it’s definitely worth looking into if you want a challenge.
Review of Ikaruga

 Mars Matrix
If you are looking for a challenge that depends more on dodging and a never-ending rain of bullets as opposed to the puzzling elements of Ikaruga, Mars Matrix is where you need to look

Mars Matrix fills the screen with intricate backgrounds, dozens of independently moving objects, and intense arcade action. Your tools in dealing with an onslaught of bullets from all directions are a fairly standard laser gun, a powerful pulse weapon, and a special attack that can allow your spacecraft to inhale incoming fire and return it in a fierce volley.

Mars Matrix also offers a 2-player mode where two pilots can lay waste to the Red Planet in tandem. And then there’s the glorious Shop Mode. Picking up the gold cubes also nets you experience points, which you can then spend in the extensive Shop to buy more levels, ships, continues, options like ship speed and GHB gauge speed, and even ship and background colors. Mars Matrix has an extremely high replay value at it will be quite a while before you unlock everything.
Review of Mars Matrix

 Border Down
G.Rev’s first post-mortem Dreamcast shmup featured a new twist on the shooter genre. Your performance actually determined the branch of each stage you would play in.

Border Down features a unique “border system”, every stage has a green, yellow, and red border and each having 3 parts. Consequently, there are three different paths you can follow, each with different challenges. If you die, you go down a border: green to yellow, yellow to red, and red to green. One border is not necessarily harder than another, its a matter of personal preference and it differs from level to level.

The bosses in Border Down look especially cool and the explosive effects are very satisfying. In some stages you see battles occurring in the background and that makes you feel like part of a group rather than a lone fighter against a vast armada. Overall, the game looks very slick as you would expect from a late Dreamcast shooter.
Review of Border Down

 Castle of Shikigami 2
This beautiful shooter is the sequel to the game known as “Mobile Light Force 2” in the Western territories. Castle of Shikigami 2 enables players to control flying humans instead of ships. It isn’t ground-breaking in any respect, but is a good game to pick up for shooter fans.

The scoring device for this game is called a Tension Battle System (TBS). Your score multiplier increases the closer you are to an enemy or bullet. Therefore, to get the highest scores, you must destroy enemies while brushing up near an enemy bullet or enemy (Think of it as Crazy Taxi meets shmups). To compensate for putting your character in harm’s way, your character’s shot power and shot pattern are enhanced while you are close to your enemies and their bullets.

In addition to the TBS system, some basic mechanics of the shmup genre have been altered. For one thing, you have a life bar, as opposed to dying as soon as you are hit, as in most other games of this type. You can be hit twice and still live; get hit a third time, and your character dies. Also, your “bomb” is not what you may think. As opposed to the usual “blow everything on screen up” type bomb, you have a character-specific move that, while powerful, requires a bit of strategy to use effectively.
Review of Castle of Shikigami II

 Psyvariar II
The Psyvariar series of vertically scrolling shoot ’em ups requires the player to risk all in order to get high scores. Your ship is largely invincible, apart from an area a few pixels large in its center. Points are gained not only from destroying enemies, but also from “buzzing” enemy bullets – scraping them with the invincible sections of your craft. When leveling up, it gives the player a brief window of invulnerability, allowing the player to risk possible death in trying to “buzz” more bullets to continue the “level up” chain. It is this “risk/reward” structure that defines Psyvariar 2’s unique brand of gameplay and timing your level ups to break through a thick wall of bullets is intense fun.

While the original Psyvariar was disappointing, Psyvariar 2 brings the real deal to the Dreamcast. While the shmup is flooded with a tremendous amount of “bullet hell”, the game’s controls are tight and responsive enough to give you a chance at staying alive.

Also, between the 2D/3D backgrounds and the wonderfully polished character/mecha designs, Psyvariar 2 also features a great deal of eye candy to keep you entertained.
Review of Psyvariar 2

 Bangai O
While most games developed by Treasure are on most people’s lists of favorite games, there will be many people who won’t like

Bangai-O. While the game is a perfect example of vintage Treasure, it has a combination of initially-awkward controls, primitive gameplay, and Treasure-ish oddity pushed to the max. However, once you overcome these factors, you will realize that it compels you to have loads of fun blowing things up.

In Bangai-O, you control a small robot who has free roam of the 2D scrolling levels and is motivated to killing as many enemies with a single shot as possible. In fact, the power of your super weapon is dependent on how much enemy fire is on the screen. The more enemy bullets on the screen, the closer they are to you, and the faster they are moving, the more powerful your super weapon! If you enjoy chaotic action and blissful explosions, Bangai-O may be your shooter fix.
Review of Bangai-O

 Trizeal
Trizeal is a vertical shooter ported from the Naomi board arcade version, combining 3D graphics with classical 2D gameplay. In the game, your spacecraft can be morphed into 3 models supporting different shooting types, including front missiles, homing rockets and wide shot.

Trizeal delivers a steady stream of enemies to blast through. Bonuses can be “chained” together in combos to build up your weaponry, so you won’t want to share too many of them with your friend in two-player mode.

While Trizeal is well-rounded and an enjoyable shmup, it is not groundbreaking and isn’t worth paying a great deal of money for (unless you just want to collect all these shooters).However, if you are looking for another shooter fix and find a good deal on it, give Trizeal a spin.
Review of Trizeal

 Chaos Field
This vertical-scrolling shooter puts its own interesting spin on some aspects of the traditional shooter formula. Unlike most other shmups, Chaos Field features very few enemies on screen at one time. Large enemies that could be boss characters in other games are the majority of what you will see in Chaos Field — each with many points that must be destroyed before the player can advance.

In order to defend yourself, you have the traditional unlimited blaster, and a blade for clearing the incoming bullets (kinda like a windshield wiper). You will find this device indispensable, as often the screen becomes entirely filled with gunfire that must be eliminated to survive.

Finally, there is the ability to switch between an “Order” Field, and the namesake “Chaos” Field. Switching to the Chaos Field renders your craft’s fire more powerful, but makes enemy fire more damaging. Luckily, this is not a one-hit-you’re-dead affair. You are allowed to take more than one hit, and the amount is variable via the options screen.
Review of Trizeal

 Gunbird 2
If you are familiar with Psikyo’s Strikers series of shooters, Gunbird 2 won’t offer you many innovations – in fact you will notice many similarities. While it is a typical Psikyo shooter, it is doesn’t have much to excite shmup fans that are addicted to Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga.

The game definitely looks a little long in the tooth graphically as it could easily pass for a Sega Saturn game like its prequel. In terms of gameplay, there is not much depth or strategy. You simply power your gun up as high as you can and try not to get shot.

To give you a little variety and replay value, players are offered the selection of four base characters, with two hidden characters, including Morrigan of Darkstalkers fame. Each character has their strengths and weaknesses that include differences in such categories as firepower, homing shots, and close range attacks.

Additional levels and more original gameplay elements would have made this one a must own title. Instead, we are left with a mediocre title that only keeps shooter fans mildly entertained.
Review of Gunbird 2

 Zero Gunner 2
Zero Gunner 2 is actually one of my favorite shooters, but that’s mostly because I’m not very good at most of them. This helicopter shmup is not overly challenging, so I find it to be the game I pop into the Dreamcast when I need to blow some stuff up without having to stress out. I would also recommend Zero Gunner 2 to those looking to get started in the shooter genre.

One of the best parts of this game is the ability to change the direction your ship can fire. Holding down X or B prompts a cross-hair like cursor in the center of the screen, and using the D-pad while the cross-hair is visible rotates your ship around the cross-hair. If you have enemies coming in from the back left and right diagonals, simply rotate your ship around to fire at them instead of waiting for them to come into your line of fire. This also serves to spice up the conventional vertical or horizontal scrolling most shooters must abide by.

Certain parts of the stages, mostly during boss battles, will occur from a diagonal position, and the direction is constantly twisting and turning, adding a very fun but not frustratingly difficult aspect to the gameplay.

While Zero Gunner 2 has 3D styling, it operates on a flat axis with no vertical movement, so it is a pure 2D shooter at heart. While your ship itself is small, everything else is beautifully detailed. Enemies are characteristically tremendous, and litter the screen with weapons fire.

Overall, the gameplay feels comfortable after only a few levels, and definitely serves to breathe new life into what some call a tired genre.
Review of Zero Gunner 2

 GigaWing & GigaWing 2
Giga Wing casts off the strategic elements that fans of the genre often look for in favor of exaggerating the action. Instead of shooting at you in big bursts, the enemies totally blanket the screen with fire that simply cannot be avoided with slick maneuvering and well-placed shots.
To combat this wave of fire, you have a tool that creates a force field around your aircraft to repel the countless projectiles back at your foes and produce oodles of items to snatch. You can also wipe the screen clean with smart bombs, which produce similar results.

There are several different planes to choose from, each with different standard weapons which can be upgraded via appropriate power-ups, but not a great deal of variety is added to the game because of this, because fighting your way to the end is really just a matter of using your reflect force at every opportunity and dropping bombs whenever the screen gets cluttered.

You are given unlimited continues and when you use one you pick up at the exact same point you left off, so there’s not much incentive to be careful where you fly or to deploy your bombs conservatively. Pretty much anyone can pick up this game and beat it on their first attempt with the proper amount of patience.

You won’t find a huge difference between GigaWing and GigaWing 2 other than the fact that Capcom pushed the graphics a bit further. While the original GigaWing was based off the older CPS2 arcade hardware and looks like a Saturn 2D game, Gigawing originally ran on the Dreamcast-friendly Naomi arcade hardware. With this new hardware, GigaWing 2 took cues from games like Radiant Silvergun with its 2D sprites on top of 3D backgrounds. Unfortunately, the graphics alone weren’t enough to boost Gigawing 2 above its predecessor.
Review of GigaWing
Review of GigaWing 2

 Twinkle Star Sprites
A port from the Neo-Geo original, this game wonderfully combines gameplay elements from both the shooter and puzzle genres to make one charming game.

Twinkle Star Sprites plays like a vertically scrolling shooter, but you actually play head to head against another player in split screen fashion. By destroying lots of enemies in one go (chain combos) you send more bad guys over to your opponents half of the screen. Once this process begins, it is very similar to modern competitive puzzle game like Puyo Pop Fever and Tetris Attack.

If you are a shooter fan that is stuck in a rut, nothing will give you a breath of fresh air like Twinkle Star Sprites.
Review of Twinkle Star Sprites (for Neo-Geo)

 Radilgy (aka Radirgy/Rajirugi)
There is quite a buzz in the Dreamcast community over this newly-released Dreamcast title. The gameplay also borrows heavily from its brother, Chaos Field such as the ability of the player’s ship to swing a sword to cause damage, and destructible enemy fire.

Much like Chaos Field, you also have three different ships to choose from and the gameplay is said to be like a cross of Chaos Field and Mars Matrix. If you’re just playing for survival, it’s not a very tough game for experts. Going for the big score is another story though. It’s a huge challenge to keep the multiplier meter going, especially during a boss battle. It’s tough enough just to destroy the bosses before timing out.

The graphical style is very unique for a shoot-em-up as it sports a anime-style, cell-shaded look that some have compared to Jet Grind Radio, but I think it looks more like a hand-drawn, Macromedia Flash-like style.

Radilgy breaks the mold from traditional shmup style and will stand out in a crowd. While it’s not one of the better Dreamcast shooters, collectors will probably want to pick it up.
Review of Radiligy

 Under Defeat
This shooter looks to be the last Dreamcast shooter ever (so far – and only beating Radiligy by a month). While on the surface it looks very similar to Zero Gunner 2, the developers assure us that it will be more unique and offer Dreamcast owners something to celebrate.

Under Defeat is very inspired by the “Seek & Destroy” concept seen in many games before, and in Zero Gunner 2. However, the game does not go to the point of using a full rotation to make use of a horizontal screen.

Under Defeat is a late NAOMI arcade release that is popular in Japan, so this was a fairly easy decision to port it to the Dreamcast. The game is developed by G.Rev, which is the team behind Border Down.
Full Video of Under Defeat
Info and Screenshots of Under Defeat

 Drill
This promising Cave-inspired homebrew shooter is still under development by a group of French programmers. They are also working with the shooter community to produce a title that will rival many of the commercial Dreamcast shmups.

Drill features the same slow bullet patterns you might find in games like Shikigami no Shiro 2, so they won’t stress you out too much like Mars Matrix. When reviewing the weapons, the player has a normal wide tap shot, streaming press shot, a drill that slowly decreases in size, and a extremely destructive mega-drill.

The graphical style is very fresh and does not seem overly influenced by any other games. The level designs are nice and there are already a number of different enemies shown in the demo. Overall, I’m very impressed and I have great confidence in how the shmup community will help shape this into a great game.
Info and Screenshots of Drill

 Last Hope
This homebrew project was started as an expensive Neo-Geo cartridge, but the developers have pledged that a Dreamcast port is in the works.

Lost Hope looks like kind of a cross between R-Type and Gradius with the style of another Neo-Geo shooter, Pulstar. All of the graphics and sound effects on Last Hope are completely original and it looks like a professional game.

Not only does it have some beautiful sprite work, but it had hand-drawn Neo-Geo-style backgrounds, fully animated CGI enemies, plus lighting, transparency, and smooth plasma effects. On top of all of that, the game runs at a constant 60 frames per second while using up to 4 parallax layers.

Last Hope also sounds like it will be a very well-rounded title in terms of gameplay. It will have six different stages (with checkpoints) and four difficulty levels.
Info and Screens of Last Hope

Related Posts:
The Best Undiscovered Sega Dreamcast Games
Shmups: Sega Saturn vs. Sony Playstation
Survive Bullet Hell On Your Gameboy Advance
The Best Dreamcast Games For Today

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19 Comments

  1. ScottPilgrim says:

    Wow racket, you sure do know your shmups! Exellent article!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Man I gotta dig my dreamcast out and play it after reading about all these games. I wonder if these games will eventually be made playable on xbox live or sony’s new online service for ps3.

    Xander

  3. Kiltak says:

    Oh, sweet nostalgia!

    Seeing this almost brought tears to my eyes 🙂 Gotta find a dreamcast somewhere!

    Cheers!

    Kiltak
    [Geeks Are Sexy] Tech. News

  4. Anonymous says:

    Excellent article! I am fan of shooters since the early days of the C64 and I recently got me an Dreamcast with Under Defeat, and man, the game AND the machine (DC) totally rocks, now I got to play some of the others above! Cheers!

  5. monkeypox says:

    don’t forget about cannon spike! it’s not a traditional shmup, but it’s definitely one of my favorites.

  6. Halmtier says:

    Interestingly, ‘Bangai O’ was remade in a slightly different fashion in the the game ‘Every extend extra’ for Psp.

  7. kissgz says:

    “‘Bangai O’ was remade in a slightly different fashion in the the game ‘Every extend extra’ for Psp”

    oh what do you mean by that? I haven’t got EEE yet, just asking is the Bangai-o thing you mentioned a hommage or something else? have to get a PSP soon if that’s the case…

  8. shmupfan says:

    Great list, but with one huge omission: Triggerheart Exelica.

  9. racketboy says:

    This was written back in 2006 — that’s why. I hope to have an updated version in the future.

  10. BTD says:

    If anyone is interested, Drill has been cancelled (this is not new news). Racketboy, I’d be more than happy to write up a review for Karous if you like. 🙂

  11. A bit of help for overwhelmed newbies. This is how the games rate:

    Best:
    Ikaruga
    Zero Gunner 2

    Excellent:
    Bangai-O
    Border Down
    GigaWing 2
    Mars Matrix
    Under Defeat

    Good:
    Castle Shikigami II
    GigaWing
    Psyvariar 2
    Triggerheart Exelica

    Okay:
    Chaos Field
    Gunbird 2
    Radilgy
    Trizeal
    Twinkle Star Sprites

    Poor:
    Karous
    Last Hope

  12. SlyEnemy says:

    Thanks for that list ShmupDreamcastfan, I’m starting up a (planned) huge Dreamcast collection and would like to pick up the best first 😀

    Also, huge thanks to Racketboy as usual. I find myself visiting this sort more than my own mother – Can’t wait for that VGA cable to come too!

  13. DCgamer says:

    Although I think ShmupDreamcastFan’s list is very useful and mostly right, I’d like to offer two corrections.

    1. Both GigaWing games should be one group lower (i.e. Good: GigaWing 2, Okay: GigaWing). If you look at the games GigaWing 1&2 are currently grouped with, they’re all significantly better. For example, Mars Matrix is very similar in gameplay to GigaWing 2 but is hands down the better game.

    2. Last Hope (a potentially-good but flawed game with an excessive difficulty level and hard-to-see enemy bullets) does deserve to be in the worst group. However, in 2009, NG:DEV.TEAM released an updated and much improved version of the game, called Last Hope: Pink Bullets. In this version, you can actually see all enemy bullets and thus dodge them! In my opinion, it deserves to join Castle Shikigami II, GigaWing 2, Psyvariar 2 and Triggerheart Exelica in the Good group.

    Last Hope article:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Hope_%28video_game%29

  14. PALgamer101 says:

    There’s about 2 games on this whole list I can actually play, and only because they were ported to the PS2. Damn, it sucks being a PAL gamer.

  15. GonoMainax says:

    Great article. Dreamcast has one damn fine shmup catalogue. It’s not as large as other consoles but its quite interesting in quality and some exclusives games really stand out.

    Following ShmupDreamcastfan list.. I’ll give you mine (IMHO)

    Best of the best:
    Ikaruga (I think it’s just perfection)

    Amazing:
    Zero Gunner 2
    Under Defeat (this one goes up, I think technically is on par with Ikaruga)

    Excellent:
    Border Down
    GigaWing 2
    Mars Matrix
    GigaWing
    Trizeal (Really enjoyed this one)

    Good:
    Castle Shikigami II
    Psyvariar 2
    Triggerheart Exelica

    Okay:
    Chaos Field
    Gunbird 2
    Radilgy
    Twinkle Star Sprites
    Bangai-O

    Poor:
    Karous
    Last Hope