Even though it has very long way before it matches the massive shooter libraries of the Sega Dreamcast and Saturn, the Nintendo Gamecube is slowly building a modest library of shmups that is uncharacteristic of a more modern console. There is only one real exclusive in the bunch, but it had some of the better shooters of the generation.
While most of the games mentioned below are also on the Dreamcast, I still play some of the on the Cube more often as I am forever in love with the Wavebird controller. Since all Gamecube games are backwards compatible with the Nintendo Wii, these shooters are also playable on that system as well, so new-gen Nintendo fans can enjoy them as well.
As the most highly-acclaimed and most influential 2D shooter of this decade, Ikaruga is a must-own for shmup fans. Originally released in Japan on the Dreamcast, this classic from Treasure is a follow-up to the Saturn gem, Radiant Silvergun.
As a opposed to being a direct sequel, Ikaruga features a fresh gameplay mechanic while borrowing a color-changing gimmick from Treasure’s adventure game, Silhouette Mirage. Like Silhouette Mirage, your ship and every enemy is assigned one of two polarities: dark or light. While your ship can switch back and forth between light and dark, the enemies are static. White enemies fire white bullets, and black enemies fire black bullets. As the player you have a choice: by choosing the same color as an enemy you can absorb their bullets and charge up your super weapon. By choosing the opposite color as an enemy you can double the damage you inflict, but their bullets will kill you. If you want to score big you need to kill enemies in groups of three according to color.
Ikaruga is brutally difficult, but the gameplay is refined to near perfection. It has developed a strong cult following (much like other Treasure games) and is a common way to show up a shmup expert’s skills. The challenges in Ikaruga are nearly endless, and Treasure did an unbelievable job of presenting the player with all sorts of interesting and unique situations. While every gamer will not be up for this gaming wonder, it’s definitely worth looking into if you want a challenge.
I own copies of both the Dreamcast and the Gamecube version and the game itself is basically identical on both consoles. The main differences are the video options. With the Dreamcast you can get the superior picture quality with a Dreamcast VGA adapter, but the Gamecube version features widescreen support (which can come in handy if you want to tilt your screen).
As the second shooter to make the Dreamcast-to-Gamecube transition and the first in a series from publisher Milestone, Chaos Field puts its own interesting spin on some aspects of the traditional shooter formula.
Unlike most other shmups, Chaos Field features very few enemies on screen at one time. Large enemies that could be boss characters in other games are the majority of what you will see in Chaos Field — each with many points that must be destroyed before the player can advance.
In order to defend yourself, you have the traditional unlimited blaster, and a blade for clearing the incoming bullets (kinda like a windshield wiper). You will find this device indispensable, as often the screen becomes entirely filled with gunfire that must be eliminated to survive.
Finally, there is the ability to switch between an “Order” Field, and the namesake “Chaos” Field. Switching to the Chaos Field renders your craft’s fire more powerful, but makes enemy fire more damaging. Luckily, this is not a one-hit-you’re-dead affair. You are allowed to take more than one hit, and the amount is variable via the options screen.
Milestone was happy with the sales of its 2D shooters from hardcore fans on both the Dreamcast and Gamecube and decided to continue the trend by bringing Radio Allergy (aka Radigy) to the US on the Gamecube.
The gameplay also borrows heavily from its brother, Chaos Field such as the ability of the player’s ship to swing a sword to cause damage, and destructible enemy fire. It also features a cell-shaded graphical style like that of Jet Grind Radio, but in a two-dimensional, hand-drawn fashion.
Much like Chaos Field, you also have three different ships to choose from and the gameplay is said to be like a cross of Chaos Field and Mars Matrix. If you’re just playing for survival, it’s not a very tough game for experts. Going for the big score is another story though. It’s a huge challenge to keep the multiplier meter going, especially during a boss battle. It’s tough enough just to destroy the bosses before timing out.
Radilgy breaks the mold from traditional shmup style and will stand out in a crowd. While it’s not the best Gamecube shooter, collectors will probably want to pick it up for its hardcore edge and its late, limited print-run.
Hudson Selection Vol. 2: Star Soldier
If you are looking for even more of an old-school flair to your Gamecube shooting, you may want to consider importing a little gem from the folks at Hudson.
Since its release over a decade ago, the original Star Soldier from the NES has seen many updates/sequels with mixed results. However, with this Gamecube remake of Star Soldier, the series has returned to its roots and has added the benefits of audio and visual enhancements of current generation games. At the same time, those of you who have played the original Star Soldier and Super Star Soldier will feel right at home with the GameCube remake.
Hudson did an excellent job keeping a good balance of keeping the best parts of the classics and adding some modernization in the right places. The graphics have been updated a bit with 16-bit era graphics and respectable backgrounds and bosses.
Star Solider emphasizes on old school pattern based shooter play mechanics with challenging boss battles that should put some of your skills to the test. The gameplay, while not as fast paced as Super Star Soldier, is still solid enough to keep shooter fans coming back for more even after unlocking everything and completing the game under all of the difficulty settings.
Because of all the additions of customizable settings and extra levels, the Gamecube remake of Star Soldier is an extremely addicting game with tons of replay value. Even after finishing the game once you’ll want to go through it again and again to unlock more extras while trying to outdo your previous performance.
Shikigami No Shiro II
This beautiful shooter is the sequel to the game known as “Mobile Light Force 2” in the Western territories. Castle of Shikigami 2 enables players to control flying humans instead of ships. It isn’t ground-breaking in any respect, but is a good game to pick up for shooter fans.
The scoring device for this game is called a Tension Battle System (TBS). Your score multiplier increases the closer you are to an enemy or bullet. Therefore, to get the highest scores, you must destroy enemies while brushing up near an enemy bullet or enemy (Think of it as Crazy Taxi meets shmups). To compensate for putting your character in harm’s way, your character’s shot power and shot pattern are enhanced while you are close to your enemies and their bullets.
In addition to the TBS system, some basic mechanics of the shmup genre have been altered. For one thing, you have a life bar, as opposed to dying as soon as you are hit, as in most other games of this type. You can be hit twice and still live; get hit a third time, and your character dies. Also, your “bomb” is not what you may think. As opposed to the usual “blow everything on screen up” type bomb, you have a character-specific move that, while powerful, requires a bit of strategy to use effectively.
Ok, so this is more of a bonus selection as it’s not a typical shmup. If you get tired of flying your spacecraft around, why don’t you take a break and shoot up some baddies on the ground. The indie hit, Alien Hominid is based on the popular Flash game from The Newsgrounds but has a high amount of polish and more levels added for the console release.
This game features a little yellow alien who has been shot down by the FBI and crash-landed on the Earth, and must retrieve his now stolen spacecraft from the FBI. The gameplay is very similar to the SNK run-and-gun series, Metal Slug but has a more engaging art style and a fabulous amount of humor thrown in to complete the entertainment package. As with Metal Slug, Alien Hominid is great as a single player game, but gets amped up with a friend involved. It’s always exciting for you to team up on a big boss, take on a flood of enemies at once, or just blow a bunch of stuff up.
There is no denying the Alien Hominid can pose quite a challenge in the later levels and is known for its cheap shots, but the game’s charm compels you to keep trying to advance.
As an affordable 2D shooter than is unlike any other, Alien Hominid is an essential purchase for old-school gamers that like to blow stuff up.
If you know of any other shooters for the Gamecube, please let me know in the comments below and I’d be happy to add it to the list