We have covered the 2D shooter libraries of many of the consoles that are known as a cornerstone for shmup enthusiasts. The Turbografx-16/PCE, the Sega Dreamcast, Playstation, and Sega Saturn are just a few that come to mind. The Sega Genesis/Megadrive also ranks highly on shooter libraries, but Nintendo’s 16-bit peer often gets overlooked due to the casual reputation of having shooters that are notorious for slowdown.
While it is true that there are handful of big-name shmup franchises that landed on the Super Nintendo early on that had slowdown, these are actually a minority and the issue can be overblown. In reality, the Super Nintendo (and its Japanese counterpart, the Super Famicom) has some top-notch exclusives and a deep bench of respectable shooters that give Sega’s 16-bit shooter lineup a run for its money. Sega’s Genesis might have had the faster CPU to give it that “blast processing” making it more natural for shooter developers to get solid performance, but Super Nintendo programers eventually learned how to optimize their code and creativity to make use of the SNES’s hardware.
Like many other consoles, there are a lot of shooters that are Japanese exclusives, but you might be surprised on how many great ones actually made it to other regions. Under each game’s title, we put the regions the game was published in original cartridge form.
It’s also worth mentioning that we roughly organized this guide in order of the quality of the games in each division (run-and-gun/shmup hybrids, fixed shooters, and other sub-genres are segmented at the bottom this article). Of course, the order of the games are purely subjective, but in general, you’ll find the strongest recommendations near the top. We also groups games of the same franchise together, so don’t read too much into that.
It’s also worth mentioning that we “upgraded” our light-gun and first-person shooter guide for the SNES to go alongside this SNES shmup guide in case you want a more full shooting experience for the Super Nintendo (but we haven’t covered dedicated run-and-guns like Contra yet).
Traditional Vertical or Horizontal Scrolling Shooters
Space Megaforce / Super Aleste
NA / EU / JP
The team at Compile is legendary in the shmup world. Much of their most famous work is that of the Aleste series that spanned a wide variety of platforms. Some of the games received different titles for their North American releases (the most popular instance being MUSHA on the Sega Genesis). Super Aleste is Compile’s primary effort for the series for the Super Famicom and saw a North American release for the Super Nintendo under the name Space MegaForce.
Released in 1992, less than two years after the Super Famicom’s hardware retail debut, Compile quickly learned how to use the SNES hardware effectively to make a killer shmup. Space MegaForce is one of the few examples of a fast-paced SNES shooter with almost no slowdown and rivaled many of the best arcade shmups of the era. Compile has always been known for being able to move lots of sprites around the screen without hindering performance and they weren’t going to let their SNES work interfere with that, despite the hardware’s limitations. In addition to maintaining flawless performance, the game features colorful and detailed sprite work and compelling background effects that flexes Compile’s programming muscles.
Of course, a good shooter is way more than graphics and speed. In addition to working so well with the hardware limitations, Compile didn’t skimp on creating a balanced and cohesive gameplay experience.
Fans of Complile’s other work will notice that there are many design similarities to their NES classic, Gun Nac. There are also some weapon and sound similarities to their other work on Gunhed/Blazing Lazers (1989 release on PC Engine/TG16) and, not surprisingly the original Aleste, which got ported to the Sega Master System (a 1988 release known as Power Strike in North America). The difficulty level also seems to adjust itself a bit to your available firepower somewhat like Zanac.
Even though there are similarities with their earlier work, Super Aleste/Space Megaforce’s deep weapon system is one of Compile’s most ambitious and deep firepower systems in their impressive history. Players can collect up to eight different types of weapons. The different weapons each correspond to numbers and abbreviations on the collectible upgrade spheres: Multiple Shot, Laser, Multi-Directional Shot (fireballs that blast in the direction you are moving), Missile, Circle (simple shot plus orbiting spheres to take out enemies), Power Shot (offering you a charge shot), Scatter (bombs that split into bullets upon impact) and Sprite (little ships that accompany you).
Each weapon type also has alternate modes that can be toggled with the R button. This gives players a total of 50 different weapon variations to deal with. The game is also designed in a way that the game can be drastically easier if you’re employing a certain weapon configuration. Some of the trickier parts of the game almost require you to think creatively with your weapons. Smart bombs are also available for wider destruction in an instant for those intense moments.
Each weapon type can then be powered up a maximum of six times. The power upgrades make each weapon act differently, from shooting extra bullets, launching missiles, or causing more damage. The player’s health is also dependent on the weapon levels — knocking weapons down two levels each time you’re hit (killing you if hit with less than two levels).
Your ship is just a bit larger than most shmups, but you benefit from smooth and precise control and your ship can’t be damaged by hitting walls or obstacles (as long as you aren’t crushed between two obstacles). This lets you focus on the enemies and grab all the upgrades you can. Experienced players in the genre won’t find the default setting to be especially taxing, but additional difficulty settings make sure everyone can find something to make them feel at home.
The levels are well-designed, but can feel quite lengthy. There is an optional checkpoint system built in to help cope with frustrations of dying near the end of a level. The level bosses are both visually impressive and interesting in their gameplay design.
Unfortunately, at the time of its release, Compile’s work didn’t have as much mainstream appeal as the likes of the R-Type and Gradius series so there weren’t a ton of units produced. Combine that fact with the increasing demand for quality shmups on a hot collector platform like the Super Nintendo and your surprise will be diminished when you find Space MegaForce on the Super Nintendo’s list of Most Valuable Games.
If you’re dedicated to the genre and collect physical games, Space Megaforce’s great balance of gameplay, performance, and visuals can definitely be worth the investment. In the end, it is one of the Super Nintendo/Super Famicom’s premier shooters and should not be overlooked.
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While Compile may have produced the most well-rounded traditional shooters on the Super Nintendo, Konami eventually produced one of the most ambitious shmups on the platform that left no doubt it was built for the Super Nintendo from the ground up. Axelay ended up crafting the level design, gameplay elements, and graphic techniques in a way that truly innovated the shooter genre in the 16-bit era.
After some sluggish technical performance with Gradius III (see below) on the SNES in 1990 (and some fun, but less demanding ports of Parodius and Pop N Twinbee), Konami returned with a vengeance with Axelay. When it was released in 1993, the Super Nintendo library was starting to hit its stride in showing up the Sega Genesis visuals, Axelay’s primary draw was its impressive graphical effects and presentation. Back then, it was jaw dropping to see Axelay in motion with its unique rolling perspective, which used the Super Nintendo’s custom graphics chips to create the impression of flying towards a distant horizon. In addition to all the technical tricks Konami did with the hardware, they also presented highly-detailed enemy ships and the incredible, multi-segmented bosses created some very memorable battles.
Like Thunder Force II and Konami’s Salamander, Axelay alternates between different perspectives. Axelay presents both the third-person, pseudo-3D stages going towards the horizon (similar to a vertical shooter) and more traditional horizontal side-scrolling stages. The 2D stages feature large sprites and lots of action, putting the slowdown-fests on the SNES to shame. The end result is a shmup that is one of the most impressive examples of a game that pushed the SNES hardware to its limits. Many will be quick to admit that some of the Mode 7-powered horizon techniques on the vertical stages do feel a bit gimmicky and awkward in hindsight, but they are still impressive and it actually does work quite well into the level design.
Unlike the majority of other shmups, Axelay features no weapon or item pickups at all. Instead, you gain access to more weapon options as your progress through the game. Your ship has three weapon slots (main weapon, side weapon and missiles) which can be toggled between in-battle with the L and R triggers. Much like Treasure’s Radiant Silvergun that later debuted in the 32-bit era, there is no best weapon, but instead pushing you to choose the most suitable weapon for the current moment.
Konami shows some interesting innovation in the weapon design. Even the weapons you start out with don’t feel especially typical of the genre. For example, one of the initial secondary weapons, the Round Vulcan, which fires two shots, rotates slowly towards the front of the ship if the fire button is held down, and rotates towards the back when it’s released. You are soon tested on this functionality early in the first level to get you acquainted.
You can configure your weapon setup between stages, and as you can imagine, certain configurations have different strengths and weaknesses for different stages. Your different weapon slots also act as a temporary shield from incoming fire — you can take a couple hits to your active weapon before it is disabled. This all means that you can get hit three hits before losing a life. However, this is balanced by the fact that a direct collision by another craft or part of the environment results in your ship instantly being destroyed.
Much like with the visuals, it is quite apparent that the team at Konami built an audio environment that utilizes the Super Nintendo hardware quite well. The soundtrack by Tarou Kudo, who also composed Super Castlevania IV, holds up quite phenomenally to this day. Like many other Konami shooters, each boss has its own darker theme variant to set the mood. To round things out, Axelay also sprinkles in some high quality voice clips to enhance the experience.
With perfect controls, alternating perspectives, unique boss fights, memorable music, and intricate level design, Axelay constantly keeps you on the edge of your seat from start to finish and has earned a place as many shmup fans’ favorite SNES shooter.
UN Squadron / Area 88
NA / EU / JP
What we know as UN Squadron was released in Japanese arcades as Area 88 — a licensed horizontal shooter based on the Area 88 manga. The arcade game this series inspired includes none of the key plot information, but it does feature the characters Shin, Mickey and Greg and their distinct planes from the manga.
In UN Squadron, you have a life bar and can thus take multiple hits. You can also earn money to spend on special weapons from the depot before each level. These special weapons have limited ammunition, with weaker weapons like simple dropped bombs being quite numerous and screen-clearing mega-crashes being extremely limited. The life bar system is unique from other multi-hit shooters in that each hit temporarily sets your plane on fire. If you are hit again while in this vulnerable state, you are immediately destroyed, regardless of your remaining life. The Area 88 setting is some time in the late 70s or early 80s, and all the aircraft are based on real-world designs, but with weird alt-modern technology. You fight everything from a submarine to a tank-tread-equipped land carrier, and waves of jets and helicopters, and even some tanks. The arcade title is graphically impressive and features a distinct soundtrack and play style.
The SNES port replicates the graphical style and sound of the arcade surprisingly well, but does a lot of unique things the arcade version does not. Capcom really gave this title the special treatment. You can still choose between Shin, Mickey, and Greg, each with a special ability, but instead of each flying a unique plane, you can earn money and buy upgraded planes from the depot as well as all the various special weapons.
Additionally, each enemy killed nets experience, which powers up your plane’s main weapon. So as you play, you can improve your capabilities and power. The SNES version also features some unique levels and the ability to periodically choose between available stages for a more non-linear approach. Do you go deal with the enemy’s new land carrier or stage a supply line raid to slow their advance? The result is one deeply immersive shooting adventure. Selecting and setting up the perfect plane for each mission is extremely satisfying especially considering the high degree of challenge involved. Overall, these unique and involving mechanics are what makes U.N. Squadron rank highly on this list of the best SNES shoot ’em ups ever created and strong replay value.
Several SNES arcade ports were unique games, featuring remixed content or even mixed up levels from a couple different titles in a series, but UN Squadron is a special case. Capcom has a history of making arcade ports on Nintendo systems that are heavily retooled to reflect the console play experience, and UN Squadron is a great example of that lineage. There is definitely more content here than was in the arcade. The combination of varied aircraft abilities with the 3 different pilots and the expanded stage selection makes this a rather replayable shooter. This is a standout title in the SNES shooter library.
Super E.D.F.: Earth Defense Force (EDF)
NA / EU / JP
Super EDF is an early shooter in the SNES library and a fairly accurate port of the arcade Earth Defense Force game. This horizontal shooter from Jaleco features a robust selection of 8 weapons, but requires you select which one to use before each stage.
Weapon options range from damaging but slow-firing explosive shots to homing bullets to straight-firing lasers, and a number of other flavors in-between. You are then committed to that weapon for the entire level. Each enemy you kill, however, earns a bit of experience, and when your EXP bar is full you gain a level, making your weapon more powerful.
As you level up, not only do your weapons become more powerful, the two option-like bits that accompany you gain new modes as well. Initially, you can only tuck the bits into your ship to increase your main firepower or send them out to rotate around you, providing some auxiliary fire and defensive capabilities, but as you gain levels they can be set to trail behind you or even home in on enemies, unloading your chosen weapon directly into your opponents’ faces.
Super EDF also features a shield system. Your ship can take 3 hits, but you can earn additional shields at key score points. You’ll need every point you have, too.
The SNES preserves the graphical and auditory experience of the arcade fairly well, which is good, because the arcade soundtrack is top notch. A couple of the tunes are definitely worth a listen outside of the game. The sound effects are also pretty solid. The sound of enemies taking hits from your shots is a very tight, bassy slap, and is a very satisfying sound, especially when playing in rapid succession as an enemy takes a massive cluster of hits.
The game does have a bit of slowdown and a touch of flicker, but it’s not as pronounced as many other shooters from the same era on the SNES. This game is also one of the more difficult shooters on the system.
Despite having shields, this game will kill you. It will do so quite a lot until you learn how to respond to the waves of enemies it sends at you. The game isn’t cruel to the point of being unfair, however. So if you like a challenging arcade experience without as much of the characteristic slowdown the SNES typically brings with it, this is the game to play.
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Super R-Type was Irem’s first game on the then quite new Super Famicom. This horizontal shooter is a modified port of Irem’s R-Type II arcade game, featuring 4 arcade levels and 3 new home-exclusive levels. R-Type II and Super R-Type are the kind of sequel that really stay quite true to their predecessor.
The R-9 is back, looking very much like it did in the original R-Type, but with some extra detail and colors. The Force Pod returns and behaves exactly as before. Your original 3 main weapons, as well as the shield pods and missiles, also return, this time with two new main weapons in the mix as well. The wave cannon can still be charged up from your normal shot, but if you keep the shot button depressed it will overcharge, filling up the wave cannon bar a second time. Release this overcharged shot for a massive spread shot.
Another quality Super R-Type inherits from R-Type and R-Type II is crushing difficulty. Later stages must be memorized for any hope of survival. This is the R-Type way. The first couple levels always seem fun, but then you are tossed in the deep end. Unlike many contemporaries there are no checkpoints. You die and you go all the way back to the beginning of the level. Git gud, sucker. That’s the only way to survive.
If you can’t tell, Super R-Type is basically a lot like R-Type, only SUPER. This is reflected in the graphics and sound as well. While the SNES manages to lose some of the flangy FM-synth of the arcade, later tracks in the game do still have a foreboding and sometimes droning sound, but with a definite SNES soundbank influence. The very first level’s music, however, is fantastic and totally danceable. There’s even a bass solo you never get to hear because the level is shorter than the track. The graphics follow a similar theme. There are lots of grays and greens, but with smoother shading thanks to the SNES system palette.
Super R-Type is a perfectly-realized expansion of all the themes established by the original R-Type. It is not a perfect game, however. Early SNES games, especially shooters, have a reputation for significant slowdown, and Super R-Type was one of the poster children for this reputation. When the screen gets busy, Super R-Type slows to a crawl, a quality it shares with Konami’s Gradius III, another modified/enhanced arcade-to-SNES port. Frighteningly, this excessive slowdown may, at times, be the only thing keeping you alive.
If you don’t like R-Type and the unreasonable demands it makes of the players who attempt it, you won’t like Super R-Type (or R-Type II for that matter). But if the idea of memorization in a shooter doesn’t scare you away, and you’re the kind of player who wants the street cred that comes from beating the hardest of the hard, Super R-Type is your ticket.
R-Type III: The Third Lightning
NA / EU / JP
After two more years, Irem really learned how to maximize the SNES hardware for R-Type III. The results are just as beautiful as Super R-Type but without the slow-down. In fact, R-Type III really takes it to another level with its much more prevalent use of scaling and rotation effects. Sometimes these effects were even used to implement some very creative level designs. Because R-Type III was built specifically for the Super Nintendo hardware, it never made it to the arcades.
From a gameplay perspective, R-Type III reverted to the original Red-Blue-Yellow weapon system and the Diffusion Wave Cannon from R-Type II was replaced with a more standard wave cannon. Through going back to a lot of R-Type’s roots and refining them, the game received a solid response from fans.
Since other shooters started offering choices before heading out to battle, Irem created a couple more selectable Forces Pods, each with their own unique sets of weapons plus other abilities. The Round Force is the same found in every R-Type incarnation, however you only get 3 different laser styles instead of 5 in Super R-Type. The Shadow Force, can be retrieved much faster than the Round The turrets auto-aim at enemies and shoot at the angle relative to your ship’s position. The Cyclone force does not shoot when it is detached, but delivers more damage by sheer impact than the other two. In level 2 and 3, it enlarges when detached, and it makes an excellent blocker.
These new enhancements will come in quite handy as you’ll need all the help you can get if you ever want to beat this incredibly challenging game. One common critique of R-Type III is that after a welcoming first level, the game ramps up drastically and becomes EXTREMELY hard, requiring perfect memory and lightning fast reactions to survive. If you’re a diehard shmup fan, this could be a welcome challenge. In fact, those that are skilled at the game will attest to the fact that R-Type III is very manageable and comes down to using the resources of your ship skillfully.
Each of its six stages is huge and has an array of intricate details including memorable and thrilling boss battles (including some cameos from past installments).
To top things off, there’s a much-loved two player mode that brings in even more sensory chaos.
While it may not be the very best shooter on the Super Nintendo, R-Type III: The Third Lightning often ranks not only up in an elite group of shooter, but is also frequently on lists of the best SNES games and also as one of the best games in the R-Type series. This is all thanks to Irem’s attention to detail in crafting their first console-exclusive R-Type installment.
Macross: Scrambled Valkyrie
Chō Jikū Yōsai Macross: Scrambled Valkyrie is a horizontal shooter released in 1993 by Winkysoft (Also perhaps known for their SFC Beat ’em Up “Ghost Chaser Densei”).
You have 3 players to choose from, each sporting a unique shot type for each of its ship’s transformations (Fighter, Gerwalk, and Battroid, or for those less familiar with Macross: Ship, Ship-Mech, and Mech). Each shot type is powered up individually, and taking a hit will lower your current shot type’s power by one, and damage your shield. While each ship sports different weapons, they do all share one ability, the Minmay Cannon. If you stop shooting for a couple seconds, a force field will appear around your ship, and getting close to an enemy while its active will turn that enemy to your side, acting as a sort of option that
will assist you. Each enemy has its own unique shot and movement type, giving some weight to which enemy you choose to lure to your side.
Scrambled Valkyrie’s gameplay is excellent. It manages an arcade-pace and tightness, but offers choice in its Thunderforce-like weapon system and its enemy-stealing mechanic. All of the traditional horizontal fixings are here: Stage hazards, enemy-spawning pods, formations coming from every direction, and even a Gradius-esque fast scrolling section that limits your movement.
Enemies and bosses are varied as well, rarely repeating waves to kill time, and often introducing new types of enemies to fight against. Even the projectiles
here are above average, offering everything from gravity orbs that change the trajectory of enemy fire, to security cameras with sensor fields that need to be destroyed before
you are spotted. The bosses, in particular, highlight this strength, straying far from the traditional “shoot and dodge”. You’ll encounter an agile boss that tries to ram you, a boss
stuck on tracks that makes you react to its movement, and much more.
The presentation in Scrambled Valkyrie is top-notch, with beautiful, high quality spaceships and mechs, and some impressive backgrounds full of detail and parallax. Not only is there plenty of diversity between stages, but the stages themselves are dynamic, almost telling a story of their own as you move through them. Many effects are put to great use here, from debris of a fallen fleet scrolling by, to multi-layer parallax clouds, and even some impressive water distortion. The enemy and boss sprites are quality, too, with bosses often sporting multiple forms and destructible parts. The OST and sound effects here are on par with the rest of the package, fitting the theme of the game and providing a ton of energy to the player’s journey.
Chō Jikū Yōsai Macross: Scrambled Valkyrie is an excellent shooter, standing out not only among the SNES library, but among the entire 16-bit console line-up. Its design is tight enough that this could easily pass for an arcade game from the era, but still manages to allow player choice. It’s a gorgeous game to look at, and its stages and bosses are a ton of fun to take on, always offering up a new challenge with each new opponent. I would give this game the highest of recommendations, and can’t imagine a shmup fan not having a good time with it.
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As the Super Nintendo’s first shooter (since it was one of the five launch titles), Gradius III set the initial bar for what shooters would be like on Nintendo’s 16-bit system. It was a solid arcade port and had a lot going for it, but it also was a prime example of the slowdown that was present in a lot of SNES shooters. However, compared to many other SNES Shmups, this one is still pretty cool despite the slowdown.
This single-player shooter has the player returning as the role of the pilot of the Vic Viper Starfighter in battling the onslaughts of the Bacterion Empire. There’s a total of ten levels in the game with Stage 4 being a bonus level. The player controls from a vertical angle. The game does feature two hidden levels based on Gradius and Salamander. Many of Gradius III’s power-ups, level layouts, and enemies have become staples in the series.
Gradius III is known to be one of the hardest games in the iconic series. So hard in fact, that Konami pulled it from arcades fairly quickly. At the same time, it is a solid enough product that every shmup fan should at least experience a bit.
Fortunately for Super Nintendo enthusiasts, the original Arcade version is known for being considerably more difficult. Between allowing you to continue after losing your life, some conservative edits and the slowdown on the SNES hardware, this first console port is also noticeably easier than in the arcade (and compared to the later ports on the PS2 -see our PS2 Shmups Guide- and the PSP). Unfortunately, even on the SNES, Gradius III is also one of those sticklers in the shmup world that force you to start back up with no weapon upgrades upon dying.
In regards to the “conservative edits” mentioned above, the Super Nintendo port is a much more simplified version of the arcade game — probably as a balance of the initial response to the challenge level in the arcade and also trying to cope with the slower CPU on the Super Nintendo and what Konami felt they could deliver in terms of sprite count. The result is shorter stages (although many comment that it still feels “long” – possibly due to slower pace), fewer key enemies, different arrangements of enemies, and lower bullet counts.
Despite all these adjustments, the SNES version still looks and sounds great. Even the slowdown may be an overstated aspect. Other than on a few levels, it doesn’t really hinder the game all that much. It has probably aided in taking the edge off the difficulty more than causing gameplay frustration.
For all the difficulty that Gradius III did give us compared to its earlier peers, it did one thing that changed the series forever: Gradius III introduced customization to the iconic power-up system allowing the players to freely choose their power-up tiers in the “Edit Mode”. This one change makes Gradius III a very important title in the history of the series.
In Gradius and Gradius II you were stuck with a choice of four weapon layouts. With Gradius III, along with the pre-defined schemes, players are able to mix and match missiles, doubles, laser, shield, and “special” power-ups into the customization. Some of the weapons are exclusive to predefined and custom schemes. There were still only 60 or so different combinations, but that let you figure out the best way for you to play the game, which was, and is, very important to gamers.
So even with the challenges that Konami had in delivering a high-profile shmup at the SNES launch and the infamous slowdown that came with it, Gradius III is still a cherished game among many SNES fans. It is also worth mentioning that we also chose Gradius III (and recommended new players start with the SNES version) for our Together Retro Game Club because of its place in the history of the iconic series and the relative accessibility (in both availability, price, and difficulty) of this SNES port.
EU / JP
Twinbee is one of the most famous cute-em-up series in Japan — a great two-player experience (in fact, the series is one of our two-player recommendations for Beginner Shmups), and is another superb Konami shmup series that has made an appearance on a variety of systems.
The original Twinbee was modeled after Namco’s Xevious, but with a cuter and more playful vibe. Much like Xevious, players can both shoot at airborne enemies and bomb enemies on the ground level below you. Pop’n’s predecessor, Detana!! Twinbee also added a powerful charge shot to help power through your opponent.
In the Twinbee series, you shoot clouds or bomb ground enemies to collect bells for points and power-ups, shooting them to change their colors/upgrade type. This system takes some discipline and patience, however, as it takes multiple shots to get a more desirable item and could be cycled back to the first color or even a bee if shot too many times. In addition to engaging the enemies, balancing the bell harvesting adds an extra layer of skill needed to thrive in the game. Pop’n Twinbee also has a punch button for close range attacks (and can destroy some of the more resilient enemies in a single blow), and a special attack similar to the R-Type shot.
Bringing the Twinbee series to the SNES pushed the franchise into more than one interesting direction. Pop’n twinbee jazzed up the antics a bit — colliding with your fellow player now sends him careening unstoppably around the playfield, knocking out enemies in his path. The game also offered a nifty “couple mode” option, which causes enemies to focus most of their attacks on Player 1. This is especially helpful if you’re playing with a friend/significant other/kid that isn’t the most skilled at shmups. Letting them play on Player 2 will lower everyone’s potential frustration. Pop’n Twinbee’s co-op mode also allows each player to pick their own difficulty and share health with each other.
If you remotely enjoy cute-em-ups, Pop’n Twinbee is highly recommended and is a masterful specimen of the sub-genre. I might even take it a step further to say that Pop’n TwinBee is highly recommended for any gamer that is interested in old-school games as is intrigued by the shooter genre (and check out our Beginner’s Guide to Shmups, if you’re interested. It also happens to be one of the most visually charming games in the Super Nintendo library. It also has lots of personality, varied dieting, catchy music, and top-notch animation. Unfortunately, it was only released in Japan and Europe. This one really deserved to be shared worldwide.
Parodius Da! Tako ga Chikyuu o Sukuu
Konami’s imaginative parody on the Gradius series also happens to be heavily influential for shmups with a sense of humor and creative style. The Parodius series plays just like Gradius (plus the Bell system from the Twinbee series), with the same power-up system, but features a far more bizarre and imaginative series of levels and characters. Parodius Da!, in particular, has four different characters that can be selected which all have a different game play style.
As opposed to the dark, space-like atmospheres of the original Parodius (on the MSX Computer System), these later installments in the series take full advantage of 16-bit hardware with much more vivid, charismatic and memorable artistic direction and sprite work.
Parodius Da! is the second game in the series, but the first of the series to be brought to the arcades and have console ports. On top of the quirky standard enemies, there’s some large enemy encounters and imaginative bosses to greet you. These often have some whimsical and humorous interactions and responses based on your attacks. It is this attention to detail that set the game as a standard in the shmup genre for years to come.
The PC Engine is also well-known for its port of Parodius Da! but the Super Famicom port is a bit more faithful to the arcade and has an extra bathhouse level, an “Omake Mode” (dubbed Lollipop in the European release) which is a time-attack bonus level. However, it is worth mentioning that the PC Engine version has superior bonus stages. Regardless, Parodius Da! is a visual treat and has the gameplay to match. It’s well balanced with a good difficulty curve and it just shines among the sea of shooters on the PC Engine. Essential purchase for shoot ’em up fans.
Gokujou Parodius is the second installment in the arcade + console Parodius games and plays very similar to Parodius Da!, mentioned above. However, this newer installment adds four additional playable characters from the arcade and three more Super Famicom exclusive characters (for a total of 11).
Some of these newer characters can power up their weapons for heavier damage instead of having floating options accompanying them. The game’s creator, Tokuda Tsukasa, wanted the expanded character selection in Gokujou Parodius to have a focus on living creatures instead of generic ships or fighter craft. The resulting roster includes Mambo, the ocean sunfish, the rocket-riding bunny girl Hikaru, and the stickman Koitsu that rides on a paper airplane and drops other stickmen as bombs. The Super Famicom bonus characters were favorites from some other Konami games: Goemon/Ebisumaru from Ganbare Goemon, Dracula-Kun/Kid-D from Kid Dracula and Upa/Rupa from Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa.
There are a few less levels in Gokujou Parodius than in Parodius Da!, but there are more interesting and creative levels as a contrast. However, many fans of the series say that Parodius Da! has a more balanced design from a pure shmup perspective.
Some of Gokujou Parodius’s bosses and stage designs are also parodies of those in other shooters, such as R-Type, Xevious, Galaga and Thunder Force. It’s always fun when Konami not only makes fun of themselves, but brings in others from the Shmup world.
Jikkyou Oshaberi Parodius
For this Parodius installment, Konami skipped the arcade and went straight for the Super Famicom (and then ported to the Saturn and Playstation a year later). The game is also known as “Chatting Parodius, but as our friends at HG101 has recognized, “a more fitting title would probably be “Parodius Talk Show Live!” This installment is known for a large number of Japanese voice samples shouted out in a style similar to that of a game show host. It’s not uncommon for gamers to get annoyed with this feature and turn over those sound effects in the options. (But annoyance aside, Jikkyou Oshaberi Parodius really pushes the SFC to its limits in the audio department).
Jikkyō Oshaberi Parodius used the SA-1 chip to help out with its rather advanced graphics. Its most impressive technical achievement is the fully scalable 3D polygons that show up in one of the stages.
Jikkyo Oshaberi Parodius’s most interesting elements, however, are gameplay-related. It has the largest character roster in the series (at sixteen), as well as the most scoring tricks and extras, including tandem two-player attacks, two “mini-modes” and a bunch of hidden collectible fairies to look out for. Jikkyou Oshaberi Parodius also has handful of Konami-themed stages such as Tokemeki Memorial, Lethal Enforcers, etc.
Jikkyo Oshaberi Parodius is probably the least taxing of the bunch challenge-wise, though Gokujyo Parodius is generally considered one of the most memorable in terms of pure comedy.
All three of the Parodius games above are highly recommended and it can be a challenge to decide on a favorite. If you’re interested, you can peek into a Racketboy forum discussion about which one is everyone’s favorite.
Flying Hero: Bugyuru no Daibouken
This gem is definitely one of the lesser-know cute-em-up shooters and is specially designed with the Super Famicom in mind. Its charm rivals that of TwinBee and the fun-loving goofiness is also inspired by Parodius.
Flying Hero also demonstrates splendid visuals with nicely-crafted sprites, imaginative and varied level designs, a very pleasant color palette, and impressive animation that seems to utilize the Super Famicom hardware well (without getting super technical/gimmicky).
To complement Flying Hero’s presentation and personality, it also has one of the best gameplay systems on Nintendo’s 16-bit console. Pressing either the L or R triggers while shooting will let you bend your shot diagonally to the left or right to help you aim while keeping out of the line of fire. If that wasn’t enough, if you hold down both L and R, you will be able to shoot directly behind you. Not only is this shooting mechanic rather innovative, but it also feels very natural on the Super Nintendo controller (this would have been weird to execute in an arcade or even on a Sega Megadrive/Genesis controller). Instead of these shot abilities being a simple gimmick, Flying Hero makes sure you learn and utilize these shooting patterns with different enemy flight patterns and boss movements.
You have three weapons at your fingertips: a basic gun, a much more powerful cloud attack that is handicapped by a slow rate of fire and a really devastating lightning attack that has the shortest range of the three. Little cupcake power-ups drop down the screen on a regular basis and collecting three of these enhances whatever weapon being used (with each one having three levels of power). Taking a hit downgrades the weapon or causes you to lose a life if you’re already at the lowest level. Unfortunately, when you switch weapons by grabbing a different cupcake, you’ll have to start with that different weapon at its lowest power level.
There are two other items you can collect to improve your firepower. One a bomb, but it isn’t a full screen-clearing attack, so you’ll need to decide on placement for the maximum offensive and defensive effect. The second extra item gives you homing cat-shots that are fired in pairs (these also have up to three levels of power).
Hitting the select button will let you toggle between three different speeds of which you can navigate around the screen.
The levels are filled with a ton of incoming enemies, but it doesn’t seem to bring the Super Famicom hardware to typical slowdown levels much. It’s all quite impressive (when you aren’t dodging them all to spare your life). The levels are also filled with various sub-bosses (sometimes more than one per level) that break up the journey with some variety.
Flying Hero has a wonderful balance of an intuitive control scheme, interesting level and boss designs, and an interesting power up system. However, once seasoned shmup fans learn the mechanics and effectively use the power-ups, they should find Flying Hero to be a breeze (although the final boss is still quite challenging). Of course, this doesn’t mean the the game isn’t well designed. Most everything is well-crafted and is a great selection for shmup fans that want to relax a bit or share it with a friend or family member that isn’t quite as skilled in the genre. It is also a great recommendation for those that want to build their experience from a beginner level while playing a quality title.
Flying Hero might not be considered one of the most essential shmups on the SNES/Super Famicom, but it is possibly the most under-appreciated currently. It is most definitely a quality game that has tons of things to shoot in an entertaining and beautiful environment and will challenge most gamers quite a bit.
NA / JP
Shooters with RPG elements were few and far between back in the day, but in this vertical mech-piloting game from Jorudan and Vic Takai, you can actually level up and receive new weapons. Being rewarded experience points for successfully taking out enemies works as a fantastic incentive to not let a single one escape.
Within Imperium, there are four weapons that are available when leveling up. Each of those weapons can then be upgraded to three different levels. You can also switch between these weapons as you desire, experimenting with the effectiveness of each weapon in different scenarios.
Instead of typical “lives”, you have a life meter with five hit points. However, when your life bar gets knocked down by hits, your currently-used weapon’s power also gets decreased. You can add a bar back to your life meter by getting your experience points back up to a certain level. (The “N[ext] EXP tally on the top of the screen lets you know how close you are).
Having your current weapon getting downgraded when damaged also adds the element of weapon management — perhaps you want to conserve your favorite weapon for later and potentially take damage to another during certain situations.
In addition to your four possible weapons, there’s also a bomb option that fills the screen with missiles that damage everything on screen, wipe out regular bullets and provide brief invincibility to the robot. Since all your weapon upgrades are based on your experience points, the only item to pick up is extra bombs and are released by specific large enemies.
The visuals are pretty solid in Imperium. It includes respectable sprite design, filled with robots design of all shapes and sizes, giving off a very Aleste series vibe. Imperium also has nice scrolling background effects (although the backgrounds themselves aren’t the greatest), and very minimal slowdown (there are some boss battles that will slow things enough to hinder your movement, however).
One other unusual thing about Imperium compared to most shmups is the ability to change your movement speed between 4 different levels at will.
There are a few difficulty levels offered, but most gamers will find even the easy level to be quite challenging, requiring a great deal of practicing. Enemies arrive in huge clusters, some of them taking multiple hits to destroy. Even the smaller bosses will throw out simple yet effective attack patterns and take up more than half the screen. The larger bosses will give you very little room to navigate and execute your attacks. Don’t let this all scare you away though. Imperium is one of those challenging games that is still quite fun. It is a shmup that makes you work for its respect, but is gratifying as you make progress. It is also worth mentioning that mistakes with button presses (due to all the options available) can be the source of many mistakes for a new player.
For those that enjoy tracking high scores in shmups, there isn’t technically a traditional score tracking, but only the experience point tracker.
It should be noted that the Japanese Super Famicom version, Kidou Soukou Dion, offers more than a few changes. There is a different weapon, different enemies, and some major graphical changes.
Firepower 2000 / Super SWIV
NA / EU / JP
As the spiritual successor to Silkworm (Firepower 2000 was originally called Silkworm IV on the Amiga), this [mostly] vertical scroller lets you select from utilizing either a Helicopter or a Jeep in your battles.
The helicopter is faster and can traverse around the screen quicker. It will be what traditional shmup players will be most comfortable with (but I encourage you to experiment with both). It can also avoid ground obstacles. However, the helicopter can only fire forward,
Even though the Jeep is land based, it still is quite nimble and maintains a typical shmup feel. Although, some players comment that it feels like driving in mud compared to the best shmups on the system [maybe that’s the point]. The Jeep can fire 8 directions, which comes in quite handy in certain areas. You can also lock your weapons in any direction by holding down the fire button. The Jeep can run into obstacles on ground, but won’t crash into air-based enemies. It can also jump over land obstacles as well.
During some parts of the levels, the game actually has you switch to other vehicles entirely such as a fighter jet or a speed boat.
To amplify the interesting aspect of different vehicles, Firepower 2000 offers a two-player co-op setup with each player selecting a different vehicle. This makes for possibly one of the most fun two-player shmup experiences on the SNES.
Even though both vehicles have significant differences, their weapons are consistent between them. You activate the extra weapon by picking up chips released by yellow boxes. There’s five different weapon types to collect: bullets, flame, plasma (a spread shot that especially helps the Helicopter that can normally only shoot straight ahead), laser and ionic (straight shots that split in two when an enemy is hit). Once collected, the different weapons can be interchanged by using the SNES shoulder buttons.
In addition to the primary weapons there are specially weapons with finite usage that allow you to unleash some impressive attacks (like a typical “bomb” but with more variety). You pick them up one-by-one, but can save them up.
There are three other powerup items in this game to watch out for. Bubbles are glowing spheres on the ground that, when shot, release a small glowing bubble that can either be collected to make the player invincible for a short period of time or be shot to nuke the screen and kill all enemies on it.
Stars are a small collectible item that will appear when you destroy some of the more challenging enemies throughout the levels. Stars are primarily a score bonus, but those points can eventually translate to extra lives.
Firepower 2020/Super SWIV has a solid presentation, but doesn’t quite make the best use of the SNES graphical capabilities. But it does manage to run with minimal slowdown — even with the 2-player co-op running. Having the second player does add just a bit more slowdown, but not to the point of being unplayable. The game also has some great explosions that make up for the less-impressive visuals.
As I alluded to above, Firepower 2000 doesn’t feature purely vertical scrolling, but it also allows you to explore horizontally a bit as well. It’s a novel addition, but it could be found more of a distraction to dedicated shmup fans.
There are six levels filled with fast gameplay that do feel quite lengthy, but it’s a fun title that has decent pacing and is good for getting into a zone of shooting mayhem. You’ll find that it has a strong emphasis on pattern detection and utilizing your chosen vehicle effectively.
Overall, Firepower 2020/Super SWIV is an interesting shooting experience and an innovative game in many respects, but there is much room for refinement and polish to elevate it to the level of shmup greatness.
For those interested, there was a Sega Megadrive port of the game under the name Mega SWIV that was exclusive to the PAL regions.
Aero Fighters/Sonic Wings
NA / JP
The first in an impressive arcade series from Video System (many of whose employees went on to work at Psikyo), this is the only console port of the original game in the series. Considering it has some relatively impressive sprite work and the reputation the SNES has for the genre, this is a competent port with very minimal slowdown. Some might argue that the music is actually superior on the SNES version.
Sonic Wings takes place in something resembling our own world with pilots from different countries teaming up to fight for the fate of the planet. However, as you progress, you will start to notice some oddities that bring it a little farther from reality.
Once you’ve adjusted to the designers’ surreal sense of humor, you’ll find yourself largely at ease with the easy-to-grasp mechanics. The SNES version is known to be more challenging than the arcade original, however. The levels aren’t especially long, but the barrages of enemies and the intense boss battles are what make the game feel longer than it is.
There are just a couple things to mention that different the typical “shoot/bomb stuff and don’t die” mechanics. First of all, collecting score items near the top of the screen makes them worth more. Secondly, while at max strength your shots will automatically “power down” one notch after a short time, but recharges are plentiful so it’s not a huge deal.
Sonic Wings also offers four different pilots/ships to choose from, which adds some replay value for both single-player and co-op mode. Each of these characters have unique features such as firepower, bomb and speed. The pilot you choose also determines which area you start from. Overall, Sonic Wings has solid controls, but even this can vary a bit based on the pilot you choose. It’s also worth mentioning that some stages offer branching paths, too, so try them all out if you can.
Sonic Wings is well known for its two-player experience. Not only does a wingman’s extra set of guns come in handy when things start to heat up, but between levels the two characters you’ve chosen will engage in a bit of interesting dialogue.
As a complete package, Aero Fighters/Sonic Wings is a pretty solid straightforward representative of the genre that is fun to play and well-balanced, but it isn’t necessarily one of the stand-outs of the SNES shmup library.
Regardless, Aero Fighters has actually become one of the most expensive standard retail North American SNES releases. The US version was sold in rather limited quantities by a North American office of the developer instead of working with more established publishers that could get more distribution. While Aero Fighters is one of the most desired cartridges, but not really worth the price considering other options.It is really more for fans and completists. Of course, you’re always free to go the route of the much more affordable Sonic Wings Japanese release.
There was also a Sonic Wings Special release that combined stages and features in Sonic Wings, Sonic Wings 2, and Sonic Wings 3. It was released on Sega Saturn (see our Saturn shmup guide) and Sony Playstation (check PS1 Shumps guide) (and then later brought to PSN and Android)
The Spriggan series of shooters had a bit of a following on the PC Engine CD. Even though both games had a lot of differences, they were both developed by Compile (of Aleste/MUSHA/Super Megaforce fame) and were full of robot-inspired designs.
Unfortunately for Compile fans, this third and final installment was actually developed by Micronic (which handled the SNES port of Raiden Trad and Acrobat Mission, both mentioned below) but still published by Naxat Soft. Much like the first two games, the similarities between them and Spriggan Powered are actually fairly loose. We’re still dealing with a mech character and general sci-fi designs, but no story.
There is still some gameplay similarity with the mechanic of changing weapons by collecting colored orbs. As you kill enemies, your charge meter in the top right corner fills. This meter is used for using either a shield or making a super attack. To utilize the super attack, you need to hold the shot/B button and utilize 1/3 of your charge meter. As you might imagine, The super attack type depends on the orb you have taken before.
The A button utilizes your shield that lasts for just a second or two, but wipes out enemy fire and enemy craft near you. This too eats up 1/3 of your charge meter. So you will be needed to decide how to best use that resource.
From an aesthetics standpoint, Spriggan Powered is rather interesting. The sprites are pre-rendered components that look pretty good, but perhaps haven’t aged as well as some of the better pure pixel art we see in the better SNES games. The backgrounds in Spriggan Powered are quite impressive however. Between the two, it makes for an above-average presentation in this shmup library. There’s also some variety to the level presentation, so you can give Micronic some credit for not phoning it in here.
If you’re a fan of trying to maximize your scores on shooters, Spriggan Powered also has a “TECH” bonus for flying close to projectiles without actually touching them. This is a cool little touch that adds to the game’s charm.
Unfortunately for those that don’t yet own a cartridge, Spriggan Powered also happens to be the most valuable Japanese-exclusive pure shmup on the Super Famicom. Rendering Ranger R2 (mentioned below in the Shmup/Run-N-Gun Hybrids section) is worth quite a bit more, but this one is still rather pricey for a Japanese release.
Overall, Spiggan Powered is a pretty solid shooter to add to the Super Famicom library. It might not live up to Compile’s typical standards, but Micronic and Naxat Soft should still be commended for making a pretty good conclusion to this little series.
NA / EU / JP
Even though BioMetal isn’t one of the most notable shooters on the Super Nintendo, it was a rather bold step forward for the genre at large. Aside from a highly Giger-esque aesthetic for the alien enemy designs, things look rather pedestrian at first. However, before long, a LOT more unfriendly bullets are sent your way than you’d ever expect from a 16-bit shooter, especially on the non-Blast-Processed SNES.
How could one expect to survive such an onslaught in the days before microscopic hitboxes became all the rage? With an impressive shield of rotating spheres, known as GAM (Gel Analog Mutant), which can be deployed at any time but must be regularly turned off to recharge the batteries.
This indispensable device has offensive applications too: it can be hurled, boomerang style, to pierce right through larger targets, or expanded outwards to pick off pesky small ones. The boomerang effect’s direction can also be controlled, the inverse direction controls can take some practice to master. The boomerang and expanding shield attack can also be combined for one deadly force-field attack. There’s also a cancel command for the boomerang that lets you call the shields back to help protect you in a time of need.
With its intense bullet barrage, BioMetal could be thought of as a pre-cursor to games like GigaWing and Mars Matrix and the strategy around the GAM shield element is a satisfying gameplay element that builds strategy and some interesting rhythms as a player.
The GAM Charge, GAM Smash, and the GAM Spread take up three out of your four face buttons on the SNES controller, but you do have the B button there for your primary weapon along with any of the three types of missiles you pick up along the way.
The animations are pretty cool — especially the swirling orbs and weapons. Primary weapons include the plasma cannon you start off with as well as any of the upgrades that you have picked up by shooting the floating ships. These additional weapons include a V Spread, a Laser, and a Wave Shot (which can also shoot backwards when charged).
BioMetal does have a lot of interesting game design on its side, but it’s a shame that it does indeed suffer from some slowdown issues. There is also some flickering that can make things a bit more challenging.
Otherwise, BioMetal has a moderate challenge with three different difficulty settings. It also has some decent pacing, but the level design could be edited a bit tighter. The graphics are very nice overall with solid color, transparency, and impressive backgrounds.
Biometal was lucky enough to be tapped for localization back in the day, though its publisher was none other than Activision, who even back then thought it’d be a swell idea to replace the game’s soundtrack with remixes of songs by 2Unlimited (including a 16-bit rendition of their hit, “Get Ready for This”). It does have a very 90s feel to it, but actually gets you in the mood for the game if it doesn’t make you cringe. In contrast, the Japanese soundtrack feels rather “standard”, but unmemorable.
Biometal might not be one of the very top recommendations for a shooter on the SNES, but it is thoughtfully designed and interesting enough to recommend digging into if you want to dig deeper into the genre. This is one of those games that you kinda wish the developers knew how to harness the hardware better (it was released in late 1993, after the masterful Space Megaforce and impressive Axelay). Perhaps, they got a bit carried away with the number of enemy and bullet sprites were on the screen at once.
Dezaemon (Daioh Gale)
We are growing into more of a culture of games in which you can build areas and levels yourself, but in the 80s and early 90s, it was a very novel concept — especially on consoles.
Some of the more modern, expansive “do-it-yourself” releases of recent years, like LittleBigPlanet, pack enough tools under the hood to allow players to cook up a shooter-ish end product, but the user-creative spirit has actually been a legitimate part of the genre since the 8-bit era, courtesy of Athena’s Dezaemon series, basically the shmup equivalent of Fighter Maker or RPG Maker.
Dezaemon on the Super Famicom also comes with a built-in game called Daioh Gale. Everything in this sample game was made with the Dezaemon construction kit. It’s a relatively basic shooter with six stages and shares many gameplay characteristics with Athena’s arcade shooter, Daioh. It isn’t really a sequel to the game, but instead is meant to show what is possible with the builder. If you’re familiar with Raiden, you’ll feel at home with Daioh Gale, but it’s more tame when it comes to difficulty and bullet count. But it’s still not easy and is a very competent shooter overall. It is full of frantic action, clean graphics, and avoids any noticeable slowdown — even during the boss fights.
To use the Dezaemon builder system, you will need to deal with some Japanese (or be willing to undergo lots of trial and error) to get the most out of the tools it gives you. However, there are also some icons along the way that can help you figure things out. If you’re using a standard cartridge to play, you will want to make sure you have a fresh battery in there to save your work reliably. Once you’re up and running, you can edit Daioh Gale or start completely from scratch.
Daioh Gale is a pretty solid game on its own, but the impressive editor makes the complete Dezaemon a solid recommendation for shmup fans. It’s definitely worth looking into. (There are also newer installments on the Sega Saturn and PS1 and other systems as well)
NA / EU / JP
Phalanx is a horizontal shooter that not only features a hard to pronounce game but also contains infamous box art in its American release; it depicts a bearded, elderly man dressed in overalls, wearing a fedora and playing a banjo while a futuristic spaceship flies in the background. The developers admitted to using it only to attract people to buying it.
From a gameplay perspective, The differentiation of Phalanx is often viewed as its length. The game is particularly long, especially as only a single player game, but the player ship can switch through three different speed levels: Slowing down to weave enemy bullets, or moving fast to avoid enemies and obstacles entirely.
To its benefit, Phalanx has a good amount of variety within its space-inspired levels. Many of the levels have one or two mid-bosses to break up the stage.
Your ship can switch to different three speed levels at any time, allowing the player to move fast to avoid enemies and obstacles entirely, or slow down to weave between enemy bullets. Your ship can also take multiple hits before losing a life: the Phalanx had three hit points which could be restored by a certain power-up
There are two types of weapon items — each of which can be increased with item pickups: one for the main shot (lasers, homing/hunter, energy charge, and ricochet) and another for missiles (homing, straight, and guided) .
What’s really neat is that you can store three of the power-ups at once and swap between them on the fly. Also, when you die you only lose the weapon power-up that you currently have equipped and get to keep the other two. To further the variety and strategy allowed to the player, you can sacrifice a power-up in order to unleash a screen-clearing bomb. This “sacrifice” is also helpful to free up one of your three weapon spots when you have acquired more than three weapons (a fourth weapon disappears from the display until you make room for it).
There is also a “P” capsule, which is the power-up that upgrades one level of the main shot and refills one cell of the energy meter of the spaceship.
Phalanx has a respectable presentation with some nice parallax scrolling, but otherwise, nothing too showy. The gameplay is rather balanced, but is on the easier side of the genre. However, the enemy bullets are a bit smaller than normal, so visibility can create a bit of a challenge.
Slowdown is apparent throughout Phalanx, but it doesn’t really get in the way. It’s almost as the developer was aware of it and tried to fit it in a way that wasn’t too distracting. This may also factor into the game’s relative ease.
Phalanx originated as a game for the Sharp X68000 computer in 1991 before making its way to the SNES. It also eventually received a Game Boy Advance port as well.
Cotton 100%: Marchen Adventure
The Cotton series of shooters is a fairly well-known franchise to those that enjoy cute-em ups. In Cotton 100%, you control a sweetie addicted witch who has fairies. The foes vary up from cuddly lions to angry mushrooms. The original game was in the arcade and had a handful of ports.
This follow-up is actually a revision of “Original” and was primarily targeted for the Super Famicom (but also eventually received a port on the Playstation — albeit with less-impressive soundtrack quality). While the earlier Cotton installments had a darker vibe, Cotton 100% brings in many more bright colors that feel truer to the “cute” atmosphere. Cotton 100% also brings a more simplified presentation of its magic attack systems. You can now select from four “configurations” at the start, a la Gradius II. Each of these gives you three magic shots and three option formations which can be switched between at will, giving the player a bit more variety and freedom than before. Also, your magic is activated by a separate button, so you don’t have to wait for it to charge if you’re in trouble.
Along the way, you can pick up yellow and pink gems to upgrade your special moves and charge the EXP gauge. The bigger the gem is, the more charge you’ll get, and thus, the more times you’ll be able to execute the Special Moves.
Cotton 100% contains seven stages, each of which have a mid boss and a final boss (some of which are new to 100%). Unlike most of the previous games thus far, there is only a single player mode. Though, this is a type of Shoot-Em-Up that might actually be fun to have friends watch you play on a couch.
While it still has some challenge to it, shmup fans will find that 100% is easier than the original.
Overall, it’s a pretty solid cute-em-up with its own personality. It also happens to visually fit in with some of the Super Nintendo’s best.
Check for Cotton 100% on eBay
This port of a little-known arcade game has some interesting aspects and charm. Acrobat Mission utilizes some chunky sprites that, while colorful and animated, don’t look quite as refined as most SNES classics. However, the game does run fast and smooth throughout. The music is also respectable, with the first level’s musical score being rather epic.
The ship gets up to two different weapons aside from its single-shot default weapon including the Hurricane Shot which consists of a swirling, area based weapon and the Wave shot which is like an oversized laser-like Vulcan shot that spreads out when you shoot it. Both of these weapons can be upgraded by collecting bonus capsules. You also can hold to charge these two extra weapons for a special attack, but the Hurricane weapon is glitchy and rather useless as a special attack. The charged Wide shot, however, even has the ability to wipe out enemy fire.
There are also bombs that you can collect, but you can only hold up to two at a time. The two bombs get physically mounted under the ship’s wings. If an enemy shot hits one of the bombs, then the bomb will detonate, creating a destructive shield for the player. Of course, you can also manually detonate either bomb at will. However, it actually takes a while for the bomb to detonate, so you need to get a feel for the timing to be successful. If you aren’t careful, you can actually die waiting for the bombs to execute.
One other interesting touch from both a presentation and gameplay point of view is that whenever your ship shifts direction, a flame from the ship’s exhaust will shoot out from the opposite direction the player moves the ship in. This jet exhaust not only serves an aesthetic purpose, but it can also damage nearby enemies and objects.
One of the more interesting concepts in Acrobat Mission is that colliding with enemies doesn’t actually hurt you — you just kinda bounce off of them. However, these bounces can actually send you ricocheting into a stray bullet or laser. In addition, when you do get hit by enemy fire, you start spiraling out of control and have a three second timer to try to take out other enemies when you finally blow up.
One heavy disappointment in Acrobat Mission is the lack of any options for rapid-fire. You’ll be doing a lot of button-mashing along this adventure.
Overall, Acrobat Mission had some potential and interesting aspects to warrant a playthrough, but it just has enough flaws to really reduce its replay value and put it among the SNES greats.
Check for Acrobat Mission on eBay
Even though the arcade version of Syvalion made its way to the Taito Legends 2 compilations and some connections to their Darius series, this is one of Taito’s more underrated shooters — partially because it has otherwise never made it to North America. Syvalion also happens to be designed by the father of the Bobble Bobble series, Fukio “MTJ” Mitsuji.
The original arcade game was originally designed to be played with a trackball to have a natural-feeling control of a metallic dragon with several trailing segments. The main thing that sets Syvalion apart from most other shooters on this primary list is that it removes forced scrolling and allows the player to move in any direction at any pace they wish. The levels are very maze-like in design, so this setup will be a factor more often than you might otherwise expect.
Your attack is a wave of fire that spews from the dragon’s mouth when you hold the attack button. As you hold it, the flames are reduced in power and distance. Moving around restores your flaming ability; the faster you move, the faster the flame power is regained. However, the faster you move, the more difficult it is to avoid attack, so it’s difficult to strike a balance.
You can use the fire to clear enemies or bat away obstacles/bullets and you can also swing the fire around in a circle using the shoulder buttons. It takes a bit of getting used to controlling this train around, but is a very interesting mechanic. At the same time, the dragon’s trailing segments make it vulnerable to hits, so the player needs to carefully keep moving to stay out of harm.
Most defeated enemies leave behind “molecules” that give you points. The score you gain from them grows larger if you collect more consecutively, but if you miss one, the string starts over again. Occasionally, they’ll drop a precious life-restoring power-up, so keep your eyes open.
Obviously, the trackball control experience was downgraded a bit when the game was migrated to the Super Famicom/SNES. Not only is the control not nearly as fluid, but the speed is slowed down quite a bit. Both these aspects were crucial to the impressive experience in the arcade, so this is rather disappointing. The gamepad-based control also makes navigating the maze-like levels a much more frustrating experience of running into edges and corners.
Aside from those core aspects, the Super Nintendo version actually maintains a lot of the visual style. It is obviously downgraded a bit from the arcade version, but Syvalion actually does utilize the SNES’ high resolution display setting for 512×224 for story scenes.
Syvalion definitely had an interesting concept, but it’s a shame it couldn’t pull off the full arcade experience on the Super Nintendo. For those that like the mechanical dragon experience in a shmup, but with a more typical open and scrolling setup, Jaleco put out Tenseiryuu: Saint Dragon in the arcade in 1989 (a year after Syvalion’s arcade release) and it received a PC Engine port in 1990 (two years before the Super Famicom Syvalion port). Although, it should be stated that Saint Dragon ranked as one of our least favorite arcade shooter ports on the PC Engine.
Strike Gunner STG
NA / EU / JP
This vertical scroller was originally an arcade title by Tecmo that was ported to the SNES by Athena. In the arcade, Strike Gunner was a fast and frantic shooter, but the console adaptation ended up being a bit more lackluster, despite having some interesting aspects worth exploring.
Strike Gunner involves a lot of special weapons available to select at the start of the game – you can pick one of 15 options, but you can only select each variation once. After playing that stage, that particular sub weapon is removed from the list for the rest of the play-through. Not all of them are especially good. So you’ll want to adapt your weapon strategy as you get experienced in the game.
What makes the Multiplayer in this game unique is that players can link their aircraft in two different ways by pressing the X or Y button and can utilize a deadly combination of special timed attacks.
The eight stages portray a variety of locales, ranging from a desert to an alien mothership, but overall the background seems rather drab in appearance.
There are a lot of level sections that feel rather slow and predictable and other parts that have some cheap shots. So while some aspects like the weapons arrangement and the co-op experience is fairly innovative, the level design leaves much to be desired.
NA / EU / JP
Through the early years of the Sega Genesis, Technosoft’s Thunder Force series put on a great show representing the shmup genre. In the early 90s, the series was synonymous with the elite console-based shooters instead of originating in the arcade. Technosoft eventually did an arcade port of their successful Thunder Force III game (yes, they ported a Megadrive game TO the arcade) under the name Thunder Force AC. Thunder Force AC has been described as a retooling of Thunder Force III as the weapon system returns from Thunder Force 2, and the player is allowed to choose stages, as well as adding some original content. This arcade version was then ported by Toshiba to the Super Nintendo in the form of Thunder Spirits. This Thunder Spirits port eliminates level selection, modifies several levels, and features an alternate soundtrack.
Unfortunately, Thunder Spirits is one of those otherwise decent shooters on the SNES that shows significant slowdown during the more intense moments. Along with Gradius III, Thunder Spirits gave a lot of people the impression that the SNES can’t handle intense shooters at a decent speed. While it may be the port code quality from Toshiba, but Gradius III’s slowness was the result of Konami using an inferior cartridge type to reduce costs.
From a shooting gameplay perspective, things remain quite similar to Thunder Force III. You start with two standard weapons: a Twin Shot and Back Fire, both of which can be upgraded with power-ups. There are also three additional weapons you can also pick up along the way: a Wave shot, a Front shot with missiles, and Homing Spheres. There’s also a Claw item that provides you with two rotating options that amplify firepower and provide protection against normal bullets. And finally, there are also shields and extra lives to grab as well. When you die, you lose the weapon you were currently using (except for the defaults)
Thunder Spirits adds some interest with a story involving visiting different planets, which feature many robotic dinosaurs and other types of enemies through-out. Finally, Thunder Spirits does benefit from those awesome tunes, massive bosses, and visually stunning alien worlds. It’s just a shame that the subdued pace not only makes the game less exciting, but it makes it easier than its Genesis peer (which was already known for not being super challenging).
Thunder Spirits remains as the only port of any Thunder Force game to make it onto a Nintendo Console. The later games saw their releases on Sony and Sega platforms. While Thunder Spirits is not an exceptionally good shooter, it’s far from terrible. The primary flaws are the lackluster graphics and the slowdown issues, both of which are rather expected due to it being one of the earlier Super Nintendo Games.
NA / EU / JP
While Taito’s Darius series has been an arcade mainstay, this third installment in the aquatic-themed series was a Super Nintendo exclusive. Some of the Darius console ports (even in later console generations) haven’t often produced great results, so the fact that this Darius was built from the ground up for the SNES benefited in a technically suitable production with smooth control (while other established developers struggled to make smooth shmups).
However, don’t get too excited that everything in this game is fully original: Darius Twin does seem to reuse sprites and background designs from Darius, and Darius II. The most of the boss designs also are reworkings of previous bosses. There are mini-bosses within the levels but they are often larger versions of standard enemies that require some extra firepower to destroy.
Of course, the Darius franchise is known for atypical background music, many different levels branching paths, and unusual bosses. Darius Twin reinforces these consistent features. However, it should be noted that Darius Twin does begin more linearly as the branching paths don’t start until the fourth zone. There is also only a single final level that is essentially a boss run with no additional power-ups to be found.
Your ship features two different types of cannon fire: your primary straight shot and a secondary weapon that will initially drop bombs but can be powered to be a much more effective four-diagonal shot that is handy for swarms of enemies.
Where Darius Twin diverges from its earlier peers is in the players power-ups. After collecting a certain amount of power-ups, they stay with the character post-destruction while also instantly respawning. Darius Twin features five color-coded classes of power-up: Pink/Main Weapon, Green/Side Weapons, Blue/Strengthen Force Shield, Orange/Extra Ship, and Yellow destroys all on-screen enemies. At two points in the game, the player can find a red power-up that switches the main weapon shot style between that seen in Darius and Darius II.
Many hardcore shmup fans will find the gameplay experience to be average much like many other Darius installments. The ability to keep powering up and keeping those weapons actually can make the game a bit too easy once you pick up on its mechanics. However, this setup in addition to predictable, non-aggressive enemy patterns make Darius Twin suitable for beginners. However, the difficulty level starts to kick into overdrive in the second half and you will have to master the game’s system if you want to get the best ending.
Darius Twin also features two-player co-op, unlike the console ports of its predecessors. Players also have their own amount of separate lives, but no continues.
Those that are familiar with the series and its ultra widescreen arcade presentations should not be surprised that this SNES exclusive is the first Darius to be designed with a 4:3 aspect ratio in mind. This is nice from a gameplay design perspective, but Taito didn’t really do much graphic enhancements to make the level designs stand out amongst other 90s console shooters. Perhaps this was intentional to keep the game running smoothly on the SNES, especially with co-op offered, but this keeps it feeling a little stripped down. However, in hindsight, we can cut Taito a little slack as Darius Twin has some respectable graphics for an early Super Nintendo release.
One other complaint when comparing Darius Twin to more exciting peers is the relatively long and monotonous stages. Overall, Darius Twin lacks the energy and adrenaline rush that the best shmups can deliver. However, at least it doesn’t lag from the slowdown that many of the other SNES shmup releases fall victim to.
At least with a wide distribution in those early days of the Super Nintendo, copies of Darius Twin are plentiful and it makes for a cheap addition to a SNES library while still being a respectable game experience. It’s just a shame that Darius Twin doesn’t quite live up to the engaging world that made the Darius series so memorable.
Darius Force / Super Nova
NA / JP
Even though Darius Force (named Super Nova for its North American release) is technically an installment in the same aquatic-themed franchise and is another SNES exclusive, the game is very different from its brother, Darius Twin (mentioned above).
While Darius Twin was more forgiving, Darius Force is a lot more difficult in more ways than one. In stark contrast to Darius Twin, Darius Force makes you restart stages upon getting hit and strips away the power-ups you’ve built up. The stiff controls of Darius Force also add to the challenge a bit. It is worth mentioning that Darius Force does offer continues, whereas Twin simply gives you a Game Over after getting hit a few times.
On the bright side, players have the ability to choose from three distinct ships with different weapon abilities. The different ship options offered within the game include the Silver Hawk of Darius (Green). The Silver Hawk of Darius II (Blue), and a new “prototype” of Silver Hawk that is exclusive to Darius Force (Red). Each has different strengths and weaknesses found in their weapon lineup. This is the first time this concept is introduced in the Darius franchise and it’s a nice addition.
The configuration of challenge and ship options makes Darius Force/Super Nova much more targeted toward experienced shooter fans vs the novices that Darius Twin accommodated better.
However, much like Darius Twin, Super Nova/Darius Force has much of the same relatively slow-paced action and robotic-feeling enemy movements that seem to strongly put a focus on memorization and careful gameplay. The pacing and lack of strong innovation also seems to hold it back significantly from the top games on this list. Darius Force definitely is not a bad shooter, but it is hard to recommend strongly other than than a cartridge can be found in the $30 range (compared to some higher prices of the more desirable games).
Darius Force has a darker aesthetic and the graphics and sound are a nice step up from the early Super Nintendo release that was Darius Twin. Some may actually prefer the brighter aesthetic of Twin, but it comes down to personal preference. However, from the very beginning of Darius Force, you can see that Taito had become much more familiar with some of the background effects you can pull off with the Super Nintendo hardware and the asteroid and ship sprites look much more organic against these backdrops. Darius Force won’t win any graphical awards against the likes of Super Aleste and Axelay, but it shows that Taito was really trying to move the franchise further and make use of the hardware for this console exclusive.
The Darius series is often known for re-using many boss designs, but there are some rather fresh boss designs in Darius Force. However, you’ll still feel a lot of familiarity.
It is difficult to come to a solid conclusion which of the two Darius games are the “best”. They both have very different strengths and weaknesses that can appeal or turn off different gamers.
Raiden Trad/Raiden Densetsu
NA / JP
Raiden is a franchise that was one of our Games That Defined the Shmup Genre as is a great example of a classical shooter. Raiden Trad is a modified version of the first Raiden arcade game released for the SNES and Genesis/Mega Drive.
Raiden Trad is not a visual masterpiece by any means, but the series has a standard of quality among shooters; this entry in the series helps to establish it. There are eight vertically-scrolling stages that move along at a slow to medium pace. Raiden Trad lacks the fast-paced rush some shooters can give you, but that’s fine. There are two types of weapons to upgrade and (of course) large, devastating bombs. Like Truxton, this is an old school game that feels a bit older still than the rest of its contemporaries.
With that being said, Raiden Trad for the Super Nintendo came out a year after its counterparts on the Sega MegaDrive/Genesis and the PC Engine. One could expect that this SNES port would top them both, but sadly this wasn’t to be.
Compared to the original arcade version of Raiden, the SNES Raiden Trad did preserve the lack of checkpoints and maintained the option for co-op play. Otherwise, this SNES port is sadly watered-down and doesn’t quite live up to its legacy. In addition to some odd frame rate and scrolling speed changes, there are also some gameplay experience items that had some unfortunate alterations. The cool homing missiles in the arcade have become less-inspired versions of themselves and the mid-sized and larger tanks end up getting blown up way too easily. To top off these unfortunate changes, colliding with enemies won’t actually kill you (aside from the meteors in stage 6). None of these alterations break the game, but if you’re expecting a semi-arcuate port of a classic, this SNES version will leave you disappointed.
If you’re playing primarily on a Super Nintendo, it’s still a decent game (and cartridges are rather plentiful and cheap), but if you want to experience a better port on a retro console, check out the Sega or PC Engine versions.
This backstory behind this game is a bit of a mystery as far as I can tell (please feel free to let me know if you know more about it). But it was developed/published by Gokuraku and Okiraku in 1994. It seems that it was either a commercial work-in-progress game or a bit of a home-brew project. I’ve only ever seen ROMs of the game.
It only seems to be a single level but even at the very beginning of the game there are swarms of relatively large enemies with bullets coming in from different directions, giving you very little room to maneuver. Your ship also has a rather large hit box, so you’re guaranteed to be knocked out on your first few attempts. I’ve also heard that there is some randomness built into the game engine that could add to this difficulty.
There does not seem to be any power-ups, but you begin with some pods that you can move around and shoot in different directions (like Gleylancer on the MegaDrive) and lock them in place. However, there’s almost too much going on for it to be especially practical. The boss battle has some tricky bullet patterns that feel more at home at a more modern bullet hell shooter.
For the bit of the game that is available, it seems to have pleasant pixel artwork (the beginning of the level reminds me a bit of Radiant Silvergun on the Saturn) and it feels above average for the era from a presentation standpoint.
I suppose if you’re really up for an odd challenge, Fuzzy Shooting could be a task you could take upon yourself, but just make sure you realize what you’re getting into.
Check for Fuzzy Shooting on eBay
Based on an anime series, Tekkaman Blade is pitched as a hybrid shmups/fighting game. However, this blend isn’t quite as satisfying as you might expect as a fan of both genres.
In the “shooter” sections, you might find it odd that it doesn’t really feature a blaster of any sort. Instead, your mech flies around and swings its staff weapon to take out enemies at a close range. You can also throw your staff boomerang style at enemies that are further away. However, the delay really minimizes its effectiveness. This throw mechanic is really only useful if you get used to the timing.
The one-on-one fighting battles occur on the ground of several orbital stations and have a bit more of a very limited Street Fighter fashion with crouching, jumping and blocking. If you happen to lose your weapon by taking a certain number of hits, you are left to punch and kick while flying through the air. You can regain your weapon if you haven’t been hit in a while. Unfortunately, these fighting sections are even less satisfying than the “shooting” parts of the game. Not only is the fighting system quite limited, but the opponent AI is quite primitive.
There are some power-ups along the way that appear after certain waves of enemies are destroyed. Green crystals help replenish your health bar, Blue makes Tekkaman Blade invincible for a little while, and the Red crystal gives you a Smart Bomb that can be used for that level only.
You can give them some credit for trying something different, but the execution of the ideas just doesn’t result in a very good gameplay experience.
Check for Tekkaman Blade on eBay
Hunt for Red October
NA / EU / JP
This one isn’t your typical shmup, but has some similarities to the genre (go right and shoot things). Your submarine has a limited quantity of missiles, torpedos and depth charges and you need to manage these resources effectively. The levels are slow paced (you’re underwater after all) and you must take out enemies and avoid obstacles. Instead of dodging enemies, you are mostly dealing with environmental hazards.
To be successful in the game, you’ll need to keep good tabs on the HUD that has a radar to indicate the location of nearby enemies and items. This HUD also reminds you of how much you have of your limited offensive resources and your remaining armor (like health).
You can upgrade both the torpedoes and missiles up to three levels by picking up the appropriate item icons along your journey. The second level of each weapon increases the weapon’s range and the third level adds homing abilities. Once you deplete that particular weapon it gets reduced to the lower level.
In case you didn’t realize, the game is based loosely on the novel and movie of the same name, but this is also a port of the NES game of the same name. This SNES version has slightly better graphics than the NES version, but it is below average for the 16-bit platform. Also on this SNES version, when you complete the level and you get access to a bonus level that utilizes the Nintendo Super Scope.
The end result has a bit of a generic feel to it. Some of this might be the result of being a port of an NES game. It’s not a bad game, but it’s not an especially good game either. But it does offer something different than most of the genre.
Once you beat the six submarine stages, there is actually one final level that takes place inside the Red October itself and plays more like a platforming adventure game.
NA / JP
Blazeon is a horizontal shooter with an interesting gimmick, but a lot of other unfavorable factors holding it down.
The main draw of the game is the freeze missiles, which allow the players to hi-jack enemies and either use them as a shield or morph into that form as your playable character. This ability is kinda cool, in theory, but some of the units you can take over have very large hit boxes and can have troubles maneuvering obstacles. Some units can be useful, but it will take some experimentation to get a lot of benefit from it. This gameplay innovation would be more notable if Gaires hadn’t done a similar concept on the Sega Megadrive/Genesis with better execution.
The beginning of Blazeon has some early R-Type vibes to it, but the game doesn’t offer a lot of sprite design to compete against most of its SNES peers.
Not only does Blazeon have a rather dull appearance, but it also has a very slow pace and frame rate. To make the slowness worse, there’s also quite a few sections in levels that have very little activity. If there’s one shooter on this guide that might put you to sleep, this might be it.
If the paragraphs above weren’t enough to turn you off, it’s also worth noting that the SNES version of Blazeon also lacks the multiplayer mode that the arcade version had.
Caravan Shooting Collection
The Caravan Shooting Collection is a collection of the first three shooters that were originally part of the “Hudson All-Japan Caravan Festival” video game tournament on the Famicom (Japanese NES): the 1985 NES port of Star Force, 1986’s Star Soldier and 1987’s Hector (a.k.a. Starship Hector). There are some minor enhancements made to them during their transition to the SNES, but nothing as dramatic as something like Super Mario All-Stars. For these shooters, the sound was improved in many cases, but the graphics were largely left alone bar a few cosmetic improvements.
Star Force and Star Soldier are basic textbook one-button shooters that serve more as a historic retrospective of HudsonSoft’s shmup work that occurred before they hit their stride on some of the best TurboGrafx-16 shooters. Probably the only game that would feel more relevant to modern shmup fans would be Hector ’87, which offers a shield system plus both horizontal and vertical scrolling.
D Force / Dimension Force
NA / JP
Aside from some gimmicky Mode 7 zooming effects, Dimension Force feels like a very generic shooter. It is a rather early SNES game, so it feels like the developer uses these capabilities for things like because they couldn’t think of anything else to make the game interesting.
Not only do many of the zooming effects feel gimmicky, but the game often uses it to the point that it makes the game’s transitions feel much longer than needed. As if dying in a shmup isn’t bad enough — you have to sit through a painfully long spinning dive before you can continue. D-Force also offers the ability to zoom in on the area of your ship with the tap on the shoulder button. I guess it helps offer a bit more precision of movement while sacrificing a larger view area, but it isn’t that beneficial.
Throughout D-Force, the enemy movements feel very odd and unnatural and also create a lot of cheap hits. Combine this with the game’s jerky scrolling and lousy hit detection and it’s a recipe for shmup disaster.
Even if the gameplay was a bit more respectable, the visual presentation just feels very dated and there’s not a lot of excitement to be found. There just isn’t much to redeem this one.
Shmup / Run-N-Gun Hybrids
Rendering Ranger r2
The brainchild of Turrican creator, Manfred Trenz, R2 was in development for over two years and transitioned from being a standard horizontal Shmup to the game we see today. Rendering Ranger R2 works as a unique combination of Platforming and Shoot-Em-Up, but it still primarily lands in shmup territory and it excels most in these areas.
You begin with only a vulcan spread shot, but other weapons can be found in floating orbs, and each color holds a different type of gun. Each of these weapons also has a “megaweapon” command that can be utilized on a limited basis and are re-charged when you’re not using them.
For shmups-specific areas of the game, there are also capsules that provide players options above and below the ship that simultaneously increase firepower and absorb incoming bullets.
This rare (and expensive) Super Famicom title is one of the finest examples of a game that will make you wonder if you’re looking at a Sega Saturn or Playstation shooter instead of something running on Nintendo’s 16-bit machine.
In addition to the massive sprites, drop-dead, stunning explosions, transparent foregrounds, and backgrounds crammed full of parallax effects. Even with all this, you can have large amounts of sprites flying around the screen without even a hint of slowdown.
If you are drawn in by massive bosses you’ll find an abundance of them following the levels of constant action. Even with their large size, the bosses are all interesting, detailed, and serve well as motivation to reach the end of each level.
Experienced shmup fans will pick up on numerous homages to genre mainstays within his creation. The end result is a cohesive piece of work that has held up quite well over time.
Cybernator / Assault Suits Valken
NA / EU / JP
Cybernator (aka Assault Suits Valken in Japan) is an intense side-scrolling, mech shooter that takes you through a steep difficulty curve. In this shmup, your ‘Assault Suit’ can jump, thrust, dash, punch and use various weapons to do your damage. Control is great (but different) with a real ‘chunky robot’ feel. Cybernator boasts many original features and the mode 7 explosions throughout are huge, frequently filling the screen.
Cybernator is similar to Render Ranger r2 with even more giant robots. This game excels in almost every aspect compared to the usual Shoot-Em-Ups. The game features a heavy storybase, with the possibility of failing missions, a wide variety of weapons, and of course, wonderful graphics.
Compared to other Konami action games or shmups, Cybernator differentiates itself with an emphasis on strategic thinking and accurate shooting than on quick reflexes or fine-tuned jumping skills. The thing that makes Cybernator so special is the shield that makes this game less hectic than other action games. Instead, you must study each enemy and learn their patterns so you know when to take down the shield and attack and when to hold your ground.
Another very interesting thing about Cybernator is its three different styles of play. A good portion of the time, you’ll be in areas bound by the laws of gravity, in which you must dash around and hover in attempts to outwit your foes. Other times, you’ll be in Zero-G zones where your assault suit is free to float about the countryside, giving you chances to explore more drastic landscapes. Lastly, there are a few segments of “forced movement” that resemble something from a classic shmup. These exist for the sole purpose of setting up some awesome action sequences, like weaving about a sky rife with bullets or blasting through an asteroid field.
Fans of Shmups have critiqued the game for failing to deliver on the last two levels – The first five missions are clever and brilliant, but the last two missions suffer from being way too long, way too many jumps, and overall hap hazardous game design.
SD Gundam – V Sakusen Shidou & SD Gundam 2
These two shmup/platforming hybrids from Bandai & Angel put you in command of a super-deformed version of a RX-78 Gundam unit in the Mobile Suit Gundam universe.
These charming little adventures autoscroll in both the shooting and platforming sections. There is an upgrade bar that corresponds with different weapons/resources your Gundam unit can use in battle.
The first installment is a little rough around the edges and it can be rather slow, frustrating, and repetitive. Bandai didn’t take long to release the follow-up, so perhaps they realized they needed to refine the game a bit more.
SD Gundam 2 not only follows the story of the first installment directly, but lets you choose between three stage/story paths depending on which of the three units you choose to battle with. These are essentially three different smaller games in one, with only some levels and bosses appearing in more than one storyline.
As I alluded to above, SD Gundam 2 also refines some items like removing ammo constraints and adding auto fire before default. It also has a much-needed quicker pace, better enemy design and AI. Even the more refined SD Gundam 2 isn’t going to impress you on a gameplay standpoint (especially compared to Rendering Ranger r2 and Cybernator), but you could find them somewhat enjoyable if you’re into this style.
NA / EU / JP
Who could forget Space Invaders on a best SHMUP list? While it’s more in the Fixed Shooter genre, it’s still worth including here. Space Invaders is the foundational two-dimensional fixed shooter game in which the player controls a laser cannon by moving it horizontally across the bottom of the screen and firing at descending aliens. The goal is to defeat the row of aliens before the aliens come. The loops only get more and more difficult.
This cartridge aims for re-creating the original arcade experience without any enhancements that might be typical of an SNES era game. It allows you to choose from four different screen-types that were based on the different arcade cabinet variations. I’m partial to the American upright cabinet design with the transparent white sprites overtop the color space landscape.
Implant Games Video Review
Cosmo Gang: The Video
Following the fixed shooter template brought from Space Invaders and from Namco’s own Galaxian, comes Cosmo Gang the Video (in early trade show demos, the game was known as “Cosmo Galaxian”). In fact it almost seems like a modern almost-cute-em-up version of the Galaxian series and I think they could have seen more success with that branding.
It is a fun and colorful experience, but it was often criticized at the time for not adding enough to the legacy of its predecessors Space Invaders, Galaxian and Galaga.
For those digging for Super Famicom gems, it still does present quite a bit of value with its vibrant graphics, catchy soundtrack and addictive gameplay. It also innovated with its energetic bonus stages and useful power-up items all while avoiding slowdown.
Simultaneous spaceships are also available, where the player can either control one or control both with a friend. Lives are shared between the other players, due to this, so if one player is killed, the other is killed as well.
Additional Fixed Shooter
- Moon Cresta – Featured on the Nichibutsu Arcade Classics. This Galaga clone allows your ship to dock with larger ships between stages to become more powerful. Overall, a pretty average game. (eBay)
Top-Down Multi-Directional Shooters
Pocky & Rocky 1 & 2
NA / EU / JP
This cult-classic series from Taito and Natsume is a charming top-down shooter that has an adventurous story and support for 2-player co-op. The series was rather under-appreciated in the first decade of its existence, but has since become a staple
Pocky & Rocky follows the adventures of a young Shinto shrine maiden named Pocky and her new companion, Rocky. What made these games different was that the screen can move either horizontally or vertically and the player controlled characters can move and shoot in eight directions. The difference, though, is the game allows you to go at your own pace. Thanks to the eight directional shooting, the game designs itself around with its enemy waves to accommodate that.
Players can play as either Pocky or Rocky. In the Two-Player mode, though, both characters are on the screen at once. Featuring six-levels, many different power-ups than usual, an unusual story, and playing unlike the average shmups, the game really appeases to a niche.
Despite this, it’s worth trying for any fan of Shmups – Whether their familiarity with the genre is high or low. It’s unique and contains infinite continues!
Super Smash TV
NA / EU / JP
Designed as a dual-stick shooter — Essentially a sequel to Robotron: 2084, but heavily inspired by violent sci-fi films like Robocop and The Running Man.
Super Smash TV has attained a cult-like following in the years since its release in 1992, and surely the modern Hotline Miami took some inspiration from the bloody gore fest designed by Probe and Acclaim.
The game is set in the future, with your character on a TV show where he must fight for his life. The goal is to kill as many enemies and bosses as possible, with money and prizes being the reward at the end. The game is fast, with enemies coming at you from every possible corner, while weapons and power-ups are consistently dropped for you to add to your arsenal.
The game’s difficulty does see a pretty big spike as you progress, and the bosses present a sturdy challenge. Adding a second player for co-op adds to the fun, and helps out with the tougher levels, without question. On the negative side of things, the audio could have used some more work, and the controls can sometimes get in the way, but there’s nothing here that stops the game from being fun, especially with two players. It’s one of those games that was better in the arcades, but the SNES controller actually makes a pretty good substitute. The dual control aspect of the game works particularly well, as the SNES controller’s four main buttons, A, B, X and Y, are laid out like a D-pad, enabling the player to shoot in one direction while running in another.
Other Top-Down Shooters that are less Shmup-Like
Behind-View On-Rails Shooters
Star Fox / Star Fox 2
NA / EU / JP
Possibly the best-known SNES game on this list, Star Fox was one of the Games That Defined the Super Nintendo’s history. Released in early 1993 Star Fox was one of the first console games to take full advantage of 3D polygon-based technology and do it well. The smooth scaling was powered by the Super FX chip — a custom-made co-processor that was embedded in the cart and was used in only a few Super NES games. The polygons were simple and flat-shaded but did the job without much slowdown.
At the heart of Star Fox was a gameplay style borrowed from games like Space Harrier and Afterburner. However, in classic Nintendo style, Star Fox put a new spin on a tired genre with interesting but simple gameplay innovations.
The player takes control of a ship equipped with a single- and double-shot laser and a screen-clearing bomb. But the varied settings – from planetary surface assaults to runs through asteroid belts and tight tunnels – helped Star Fox play as good as it looked.
As opposed to most on-rails shooters, Star Fox allowed the player to temporarily speed up and slow down their aircraft instead of continuing at a constant speed. This came in handy when maneuvering around enemy attacks as well as other obstacles.
Star Fox’s difficulty levels also strayed away from the norm. Instead of typical difficulty levels (ones that simply decide the number of lives a player has, the speed of enemies, etc), Star Fox gives players a choice of one of three routes to take. Each of these routes correspond with a certain level of difficulty, but they also have their own series of unique levels. This gives Star Fox somewhat more replay value and depth when compared to earlier shooters.
While Star Fox was incredibly revolutionary at the time of its release, it is starting to show its age and it doesn’t quite make for a fast-paced shooter experience that most gamers would expect today. Even though the Super FX chip did provide some relatively smooth 3D graphics, they were still only running at about 10 frames per second. Most of the 2D-based shooters mentioned above will give a more thrilling experience. However, the game design itself is still excellent and represents Nintendo’s great planning and execution.
Star Fox 2 was never released during the run of the Super Nintendo, but the company eventually released it “officially” as a bonus on the Super Nintendo Classic/Mini.
NA / EU / JP
This very early SNES release (just a few months after launch) from HAL Laboratories (of Kirby fame) is often pitched as “F-Zero with Weapons”. However, the tight proximity makes one wonder how aware of F-Zero HAL Laboratories while developing Hyperzone. It also feels like a more limited version of Star Fox, but relies heavily on Mode-7 effects instead of the polygon-based FX Chip graphics.
After watching some of the eye-catching visuals, you’ll catch on that Hyperzone was intended to be a showcase of these Mode-7 effects that were touted as a selling point of the Super Nintendo hardware. To differentiate it from the likes of F-Zero, Hyperzone mirrors the floor to the ceiling, creating a mesmerizing effect that suits itself surprisingly well for a rails shooter. The floor and ceiling combined also helps define the barrier your ship must stay contained within. If you go outside of the barrier, it will do a great deal of damage to your ship. However, like F-Zero, there are zones that can replenish your energy as well.
In this seemingly infinite journey towards the horizon, enemies are always approaching you, but projectiles move at you much quicker, so dodging can be quite a challenge. The narrow track often adds to the dodging difficulty.
If you can manage to get a feel for your movement and aim, you may score enough points to upgrade your ship for the next level. These upgrades are essential for you to tackle the bosses that confront you in later levels. Along the way, you can hold down the button to charge your shots, but there’s not many other options for increasing your offense.
While Hyperzone was an early way to show off what the SNES could do graphically, it was rather rudimentary in terms of gameplay and can feel rather repetitive. Because of this, Hyperzone doesn’t hold up as well as other early showpieces like F-Zero and Pilotwings. And while it is still a relatively fun shooter, Hyperzone doesn’t give you as much freedom of movement as more iconic rail shooters like Star Fox or Space Harrier.
That being said, it can typically be an affordable pickup for a SNES collection and can be some quick fun when you want a different shooter to experiment with.
The Super Nintendo kicked off an exciting period of tinkering with 3D effects — even before the Super FX chips were a thing. Accele Bird is an example of a developer (Genki, in this case) trying different approaches to create stunning 3D effects.
The result here is admirable, but somewhat trippy and chaotic at times. Backgrounds are all pre-rendered and then expanded to fill the screen. This results in an ambitious visual setting that just doesn’t benefit the game or age well. One of the more significant issues is that the sprites such as enemies and such don’t seem to react at all to the changing backgrounds. This disconnection breaks the believability of the environment and makes your brain work harder than it needs to.
Gameplay is rather sluggish and it isn’t helped by an annoying mechanic where your weapon is drained down every time you use it. As a result, you need to wait for your weapon to recharge, but your enemies don’t exactly wait for you.
You do have options on the kind of weaponry you want to equip, but the more firepower you pack, the slower you are. You can also select between an “Attacker” (like a jet) and “Defender” (like a tank) form at the beginning of each level. You can temporarily switch to the other form mid-level, but the transformation only lasts about 10 seconds or so.
Accele Brid is an interesting concept, but the execution of the idea just isn’t there enough to make it a strong recommendation for anything other than a novelty.
Additional Behind-View Shooters
- Turn and Burn: No-Fly Zone / Super Dogfight – The goal of Turn & Burn is to be more of a simulator than a shooter experience. The 3D cockpit view on the 16-bit hardware is pretty impressive from a visuals standpoint. It has a smooth presentation. However, the gameplay just isn’t especially exciting. It feels more like a tech demo for the SNES than something you’d want to spend a lot of time with as a shooter fan. This game was released as F-14 Tomcat on the Game Boy Advance. (eBay)
- Lock On / Super Air Driver- Slow and not-very-engaging dogfighting game. You can’t even crash into the ground. It lets you choose between four different aircraft. However this doesn’t touch the likes of After Burner and doesn’t have the graphical flair of Turn & Burn. (eBay)
- Super Air Diver 2 – Adds some strategy elements and uses DSP chip, but it’s not much of an improvement on the original, however. Unlike its predecessor, this one was exclusive to Japan. (eBay)
Horizontal Multi-Directional Shooters
The Gameplay is similar to the style of Defender as well as Stargate, Scramble, and Robotron: 2084. The player controls the hero who is trying to rescue scientists on a horizontally side-scrolling game field. Players must elude or engage various aliens – some are slow and others are faster. The player must shoot the enemy aliens and catch the falling scientists. Sometimes aliens will carry androids instead, which must be avoided.
The game features 99 levels, and then the levels would repeat starting at level 95. It’s definitely addictive, and the Super Nintendo version adds new weapon types and end-level bosses.
The game sends you back to Jupiter’s moons with a jetpack and a pea-shooter to take on yet another bunch o’ nasty aliens – seeing as they’re even meaner (and toting along some boss critters) this time around, though, you’re packing some new power-ups yourself, including rotating shields and spread and homing guns. Of course, you’ve still got your old faithful cloaking device and smart bomb as well.
Additionally, some fans of the first Dropzone feel that the control is a bit clunkier than it used to be, though obviously this isn’t a “traditional” scrolling shooter to begin with. For the price this isn’t the worst pickup you could happen across, but it’s certainly not among the system’s elite either.
Choplifter III: Rescue Survive
NA / EU / JP
The series originated on the home computer systems before Sega created an arcade version (and then created the Master System version based on that arcade installment). Choplifter III was a fresh take on the series, but brings it back closer to the feel of those classic home computer installments. As a result, if you were more familiar with Sega’s arcade or Master System Choplifter games, you might find that this one has a less exciting pace.
While containing mostly the shoot-em-up part of gameplay, it served differently due to its strategy elements. The game allowed the player to scroll through anywhere, but they had a limited number of shots and had to save hostages. Definitely brutal and different from the usual shmup fare, but thought I’d share this for those interested.
Additional Credits: Thank to shmups.com, 1CC Log, and Hardcore Gaming 101 for helping me to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge of the Super Nintendo’s shmup collection in addition to providing some of the screenshots.