The Sega Dreamcast Shmups Library

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Presented by Racketboy & Ack

To complement the comprehensive guides to the impressive Sega Saturn and Playstation Shmups libraries, we’ve updated and expanded this Dreamcast 2D Shooter guide.   We now have more of the newer post-mortum shooters included and hopefully made it a bit more informative.  If you have anything to add, just let us know in the comments!

While it only started out with a few shooters from Psikyo and Capcom (most of which looked like nice 2D Saturn games), the Dreamcast 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

ikarugaA 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.  Treasure understood this challenge and included tutorials and a trial mode.

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, “chaining” these groups together.  Since bosses retreat after a set period of time, it’s also possible to make it through the game without firing a shot, so some attempt to make it through by merely avoiding one color while absorbing the other.

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. The game even features a TATE mode where   the game can be rotated into a horizontal shooter and artwork featuring ship designs.  While every gamer will not be up for this gaming wonder, it’s definitely worth looking into if you want a challenge.
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Under Defeat

underdefeat At the time of its release, Under Defeat was billed as the last Dreamcast game to be officially released.  And while this claim was a bit premature, this title would definitely have been a high point to end on.  Under Defeat is a retelling of WWII, where you play as a German-speaking helicopter pilot in a uniform reminiscent of the Nazis.  The enemy is a group known as the Union, who speak English and use WWII-era equipment and vehicles in an attempt to take you down.  The gameplay is done in vertical SHMUP style with 3D graphics, and follows a traditional system of controls.

That said, it also features different optional weapons with varying levels of firepower and recharge rates.  The weapons not only can deal massive damage but serve to add additional multipliers to score, so figuring out the best way to get points is part of the fun.  Multiple resolution modes can be jumped through on the fly as well, so there’s a large variety of ways to view the game, which is pretty cool for a game generally considered traditional.

And while the bosses can be a challenge, the player doesn’t actually have to kill them.  With each one comes a countdown.  Once it hits ‘0,’ the boss self destructs, for fewer points than would be given for beating them.  There’s also an alternate game mode known as 2-1 which flips the stages and increases the difficulty for those who make it through the game.

Three versions were presented when the game released, though they were functionally all the same.  The Limited Edition included a bonus soundtrack, while the Sega Direct version included the soundtrack, a poster, and a sticker.  The standard version was game-only.
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Bangai-O

bangai-0 Originally released for the Nintendo 64 in 1999, Bangai-O(or Bakuretsu Muteki Bangaioh) is much better known as a Treasure release on the Dreamcast.  The game features 44 levels, where a brother and sister named Riki and Mami pilot an enormous robot named Bangai-O as they fight a group known as the Kosmo Gang, know throughout the universe as an evil band of fruit smugglers.

Ok, so it’s a little odd, but what you end up getting is a non-traditional title with large stages, two characters you can flip between with different attacks, and a massive amount of firepower.  If you like quirky Japanese storylines and getting to destroy a lot of stuff, this is probably the game for you.  The Dreamcast version added new enemies, bosses, different level layouts, and utilizes an ‘Explosion Meter,’ which keeps track of the number of explosions to give better fruit from killed enemies.

Keep in mind that when you start playing, the starting AB control scheme is considered terrible(even the manual acknowledges it isn’t as good).  Changing to the ABXY scheme is recommended for everyone, and is the preferred.
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Border Down

borderdown 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.  The game is a horizontal shooter with a system of keeping score based on time, number of points accumulated in a stage, the hit-counter from boss fights, and so on.

Border Down features a unique “border system”, each stage has a green, yellow, and red border and these have 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. If a player dies on red, then the game ends.  One border is not necessarily harder than another(though enemies tend to fire faster on yellow and red, these versions also tend to be shorter), 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.

A limited edition of the game was released, including a soundtrack CD and different cover art.  Both versions received a very limited release.
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Zero Gunner 2

zerogunner2 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.  It offers nine levels of difficulty to play on and includes three different helicopters to play as.  There are 7 levels, which is brief enough for those who aren’t used to the genre to continue to the end.

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.
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Mars Matrix

marsmatrixIf 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.
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Triggerheart Exelica

triggerheart This is one of the more recent releases for Dreamcast, not seeing release until early 2007.  The game focuses on Exelica and Crueltear, two ladies in the Triggerheart team fighting a war against the Ver’Mith.  A portal opens and the two are accidentally sucked in, finding themselves trapped on Earth.  While making themselves comfortable on their new home, a second portal opens, and the Ver’Mith come streaming through.  So now it’s up to the two of them to save our planet.

The game is a vertical shooter with 3D style, though it’s a 2D experience.  While it’s graphically not as impressive as the Xbox Live port, the Dreamcast version did add a Story Mode and Arrange Mode to add more replay value to the game.  Players must choose which of the two leads to run through the game’s 5 stages, with both having different standard weapons.  To add more meat to the game, both characters can fire anchors to catch enemies, and can then use them as shields, clubs, and even projectiles by hurling them into other enemies for better scores.  Just watch out, because the higher the score you acquire, the harder the boss at the end of the level.

When it released, Triggerheart Exelica also had a special edition release, including a guide book and soundtrack.  A phone card and poster were also included if ordered from Sega Direct.
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Castle Shikigami 2

shiki2a This beautiful shooter is the sequel to the game known as “Mobile Light Force 2″ in the Western territories. Castle 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.

There are five difficulties to play on, and an unlockable “extreme mode” for those who make it through the game.  Once again, a special edition released in Japan with a soundtrack and trading cards, while the Sega Direct version included a phone card.
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Psyvariar 2

Psyvariar2 To earn points in Psyvariar 2, you must destroy your enemies and also “buzz” their attacks, meaning get as close as possible to their bullets without actually getting hit.  Large portions of your ship are invincible, save for a couple of pixels in the center.  This means to get the best scores, you have to willingly risk death and pray you take nothing straight up the middle.

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.  Unfortunately the Dreamcast version would go without some of the features made available in the PS2 and Xbox ports, but that doesn’t mean the game was unpopular.  In fact, the Dreamcast version’s the most sought after.
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Twinkle Star Sprites

twinklestarsprites 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.

There are also bosses to contend with, Death Attacks if the match stretches on too long or if a player is idle for thirty seconds, and different kinds of attacks which can be created by reflecting enemy shots(creating Reverse Attacks or Extra Attacks).  To further instill competition, whenever a player takes damage, their opponent gains back half of that amount in health, helping to extend the match.  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.
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Last Hope

lasthope This game started as a homebrew project for the Neo Geo AES  by German independent game developer NG:DEV.TEAM.  The DC version was published via redspotgames.  It centers on the impending destruction of Earth, which can only be defeated by a single ship, the Z-42 Warpstar, which can be warped behind enemy lines to destroy the alien leader.

To do this, you have to pilot it through horizontally aligned levels, wielding a shield that can be rotated around you in full circular motion to deflect enemy fire.  The game is similar to R-Type in presentation, but features fully hand-drawn backgrounds across its six stages, and it runs at a smooth 60 frames per second.  Controls are simple, with one button to shoot and two to rotate the shield pod to the left and right.  The game features four difficulty settings.

Unfortunately, it’s difficulty has actually been one of its greatest criticisms, as shrapnel from exploding enemy ships was often the same color as enemy bullets.  To counter this criticism(as well as a few others), the development team has been working on a retooling, known as Last Hope: Pink Bullets, which does include pink bullets, as well as faster ship speed, lower difficulty, and slightly altered colors to make the game brighter.  The original version released alongside a limited edition version, which included the soundtrack.
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Trizeal

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.  Backgrounds are also played with a bit to show distant ships or things coming in from various angles, giving a sense of depth to the screen.

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.  Also included in the Dreamcast port are several levels not in the arcade release, a score attack mode, and a sound test.  Both Omake Mode, where levels are short but enemy patterns are much faster, and Lifting Mode, where you have to juggle a stone on your ship to gain points, are both unlocked by beating the six stages of the game.  A ship from Triangle Service’s older game, XII Stag, is also hidden in the game.
While a sequel was released in 2007 under the name Exzeal, a Dreamcast port has not been officially announced.  That doesn’t mean it’s not rumored however, so keep your ears open for this one.
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Chaos Field

chaosfield 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.  Generally this style is known as “boss fest.”

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.
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Gunbird 2

gunbird2 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  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.  Humor seems to be the real focus of the game.

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.
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GigaWing & GigaWing 2

gigawing2 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.
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Radilgy (aka Radirgy, Rajirugi, or Radio Allergy)

radilgyThis is an odd game.  Much like Chaos Field, you 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 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.

The graphical style is very unique for a shoot-em-up as it sports an 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.  A Sega Direct special release included a phone card, while another included a phone card and a refurbished Sega Dreamcast.
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Karous

karous With this release, the Dreamcast was officially dead to third party titles.  Featuring a visual style and some gameplay elements similar to Radilgy, this vertical shmup included a strange system known as the D.F.S. Bomb.  Wheranever a bomb is used, a shield goes up around the player which can then be used to kill enemies, garnering more experience points for them.  Both the weapons and shield can be upgraded after getting so much experience points, up to level 100.  Weapon levels are also treated as experience multipliers, and the sword generates more so if you’re going for a high score, that’s the way to go.

To further gameplay, there’s an interesting item system which can upgrade weapons, affect speed, recover health and shields, or fill the SP meter, so the Bomb can be used again.  Enemies and their shots aren’t very quick, and there’s a very limited number of enemy types, so after a couple of levels, you’ve seen everything.  Enemy waves also don’t vary much, so don’t expect a sudden change in gameplay.
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DUX

dux DUX is a horizontal shooter, developed and released by HUCAST.net & KonTechs Ltd.  A mysterious new material, named DUX, has been discovered, and a ship has been built out of it to fight a war against a group known as the Spiritual Spacers.  However, the material isn’t exactly stable, so they have to find a real nut to pilot it.  That’s where you come in.

This region free game includes six levels, an upgradeable weapon system that can be charged up for more power, and an upgradeable shield pod(yes, like R-Type) device that can be launched as a weapon if necessary.  The scoring system features a similar risk/reward system to Psyvariar 2, though this time your ship’s a bit bigger than a single pixel.  The game’s graphics are an interesting point of contention: you either love them or you hate them.  Still, backgrounds can be disabled by choosing the “perfect” video selection in the Options menu, and if you really like the images, the game was designed with the Dreamcast VGA box in mind.

Unfortunately the game apparently had some bugs when initially released, though word is that replacements are free.  A special edition was also released that included the game’s soundtrack.
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Honorable Mentions

Drill
While it is possible to find the demo for this vertical shooter on the Internet, the production team making it apparently fell apart soon after its release when the lead programmer was given offers to work on titles for the Nintendo Wii.  So it appears Drill will never be released.

Rez
Some folks may debate whether this rail shooter should be on the list alongside all the scrolling shmups present on the Dreamcast.  That still doesn’t mean it’s not at least worth a mention, especially considering how many people seem to love this game.  REZ features the player as a hacker in a computer world, attempting to destroy viruses while stopping the central computer, Eden, from shutting down.  But killing enemies also adds beats, causing the player to affect the music.  Throw in the multi-colored wireframes that make up the game, and it makes for one unusual, but incredible, experience.

Note:
If you’re a Dreamcast owner, be sure to check out the Sega Dreamcast VGA cable in the Racketboy Store

16 Comments

  1. enderfall says:

    Nice article as always. I’m starting to get into shooter games but have always been terrible at them. Of course, practice makes perfect right?

    Anyway, how many of these actually had a US release? I can think of only Bangai-O, Giga Wing 1 & 2 and Mars Matrix. Am I missing any others?

  2. Franco says:

    I have to lament over this article because so many amazing Dreamcast shooters came out after I started collecting games for it again.

    As a Dreamcast fan I’m so sad that I will never have a chance to open up a brand new copy of Under Defeat and Border down……I will just have to do with my burned copies of these games.

  3. hans says:

    perhaps Noiz2sa could fit into “Honorable Mentions”.

  4. racketboy says:

    Good suggestion — I realized we should add Cannon Spike as at least an honorable mention 🙂

  5. Jackie says:

    Gunbird 2 also had a US release.

  6. crux says:

    The article makes it sound like Pink Bullets is still being worked on, whereas it was released over a week ago (and had time to get from Germany to my house in the U.S. a few days ago, no less).

  7. crux says:

    Err, I also meant to say: I still don’t understand the order of this article. Seems like by matter of esteem from the first few games, but then comes Trizeal and Chaos Field before Gunbird 2 and GigaWing.

  8. Eddie says:

    Games don’t have to be 3D to be awesome. I would hope with these new Mario and Wario games coming out in 2D it would spark a new trend. I also hoped that Mega Man 9 would cause an 8-bit revolution but that’s not likely.

  9. LithuanianGamer says:

    I`ve never found shmups interesting

  10. Ack says:

    Actually, Pink Bullets wasn’t out when I finished the article.

    As for the order, I put it in one based on one of the member’s preferences, though Racket had the opportunity to edit the order after I was finished. Truth is, I had no idea what order to put this list in.

  11. jackspicer says:

    Thank you, i love these lists so much…. They make it so easy to add to my dreamcast collection! It’s like a warm toaster stual glazed in sweet sweet sugar.

  12. xxxlance says:

    DREAMCAST SUCKS

  13. Omnibot2000 says:

    So does your mom.

  14. Anonymous says:

    there is a typo in the Under Defeat ebay link

    also… HOLY CRAP these games are EXPENSIVE. like unrealistically expensive. you have to be a total nerd/virgin to actually spend over $100 on one of these things. god damn.

  15. silvermjax says:

    Awesome games, truly classic, reminds me of when times were simpler, fun to play with friends unlike newer 3D, graphics heavy games, gr8 list guy enjoyed the article…..nw just one article on DC platformers that would b nice 🙂

  16. LordHypnos says:

    For those of you reading this in 2013/2014, since this article, NG:Dev has released Pink Bullets (naturally), as well as a newer game called Fast Striker (vertizontal), which I haven’t played but looks cool, and Hucast has released their Dux update (Dux 1.5). Sturmwind is another Hori, with pretty visuals released by Duranik in Summer 2013, which has had somewhat mixed reviews, but mostly very positive (I think it’s kinda love-it-or-hate-it).
    Additionally, there are a few new shmups slated for early 2014, specifically Redux, the sequel ( or remake?) to Dux, by Hucast, and Neo XYX, by NG:Dev, a heavily Toaplan and Raizing inspired shmup, which has already been released for Neo Geo, to fairly high reviews.
    Also, there’s the Ghost Blade, by Hucast which hasn’t had a release time announced, but is probably not going to be the previously estimated Winter 2013 release. That one looks cool though, as it’s supposedly going to have a Caravan mode.