The Commodore Amiga Shmup Library Essentials


Presented by the_knives and Herr Schatten

Over the years, Racketboy has covered the shmup libraries of numerous consoles, including the Turbografx-16/PCE, Genesis/Megadrive and Playstation, just to name a few. This guide focuses on the Commodore Amiga, a personal computer with console-like qualities. Whereas largely unheard of in North America and Japan, the Amiga was the primary gaming format in many European countries in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

This guide is primarily written for fans of the shmup genre who have no prior experience with the Amiga and want to explore what the system has to offer. While the Amiga is not particularly remembered for its shmup library (or for action games in general), it does have some very good shmups not found elsewhere. This guide firstly covers the top-tier Amiga shoot-em-ups: games that can stand their own vis-à-vis the best of their 16-bit console peers. Additionally, it discusses honorable mentions: shmups with exceptional visuals and/or music, yet lacking something in the gameplay department preventing them from achieving greatness. A separate section is devoted to shooters in the style of Defender, Williams’s arcade classic from 1981, which represents a gameplay style not often seen on consoles. Finally, this guide discusses Amiga shmups which were hyped at the time of release, but which in hindsight were not so great.

Shmups 101 | Beginner Shmups | Defining Shmups | Hidden Gem Shmups

Shmup Libraries: TG16/PC EngineGenesis/Megadrive | PS1 | Saturn | Dreamcast | PS2 | Gamecube |
| Game Boy Advance | Odyssey 2 | Amiga |

The guide is limited to Amiga originals, meaning that excellent arcade ports of games like Silkworm or R-type are not covered here. Amiga enthusiasts may not find their favorite childhood shmup here as certain fondly-remembered games (e.g. Hybris, SWIV, Mega Typhoon) are decent yet of insufficient quality to compete with better console titles in a similar vein.

Many consider the Amiga port of Silkworm superior to the arcade original

The base Amiga hardware dates from 1985 and, while advanced at the time, was not primarily designed for action and arcade-type games. Compared to the Megadrive/Genesis, which uses the same Motorola 68000 CPU, the Amiga’s sprite and parallax scrolling capabilities are more limited.

Also, while the Amiga can display 32 or more in-game colors in action games, this is very challenging to achieve at smooth frame rates. Throughout its lifespan, programmers became increasingly adept in overcoming graphical limitations, with some later games rivaling, and occasionally surpassing, graphics seen on the Megadrive/Genesis.

The Amiga 500, the most common machine in the family of Amiga computers (picture courtesy Wikipedia)

The Amiga boasted impressive audio hardware which could natively play four PCM channels, with some later games using clever programming to enable seven simultaneous channels.

The system featured top-notch strategy and point-and-click games using a mouse, but its single-button joystick standard was not ideal for action titles. The Amiga 1200 and its console compeer the CD-32, released in 1992 and 1993 respectively, featured more powerful hardware and supported multi-button joystick support. However, the already declining popularity of the Amiga at that time meant few games were developed that took full advantage of the more advanced hardware. An in-depth overview of the Amiga can be found here.

To understand the Amiga as a shmup system, you need to understand the background of game developers working on the system. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the heyday of the Amiga, Japanese developers were far ahead of Western developers regarding arcade (and shmup) game design and gameplay. Japan had a sizable video game industry with many companies honing their craft in the highly competitive arcades.

The Amiga demo scene persists till the present day (picture courtesy Arstechnica)

In contrast, games for the Amiga were almost completely produced by European developers. This mattered greatly because European game development at the time was still in its infancy. Amiga game developers, typically young guys in their teens or early twenties originating from the demo scene, lacked the industry standards and experience of their Japanese peers. It is no surprise, then, that many did not have an intimate understanding of what makes a shmup good. To this day, the phrase ‘Euroshmup’ is used in shmup circles to describe shooters that fail to capture the essentials of good game design. However, as we will see, several Amiga developers did understand what makes a shmup great. Moreover, because European shoot-em-up developers operated in their own ecosystem, they produced some unique games with mechanics you won’t find on consoles.

Top-Tier Amiga Shmups

Apidya

1992
Developer: Kaiko
Publisher: Play Byte

Apidya is a game that wears its inspiration proudly on its sleeve. So deep is its creators’ love for eastern-developed shooting games, they make their own game pose jokingly as a sequel to a fictitious Japanese predecessor on its title screen. Fortunately, they don’t stop at superficially recreating a certain outward appearance. It’s apparent that the developers have played the genre’s greats extensively and, most importantly, have learned from them. Thus, Apidya avoids most of the pitfalls its western peers infamously tend to fall victim to, their all-too-common misguided ‘enhancements’ nowhere to be found.

Mechanically, Apidya owes a lot to the Gradius series, utilizing the same kind of powerup bar that offers extras of varying usefulness in exchange for certain amounts of blossom-shaped tokens collected prior to activation. Thematically, however, it couldn’t be removed further from Konami’s classic. The game’s story, told via a nice anime-style intro sequence, is delightfully bonkers. It revolves around an evil wizard called Hexaae who sends a swarm of mutated insects to attack and fatally wound the wife of the game’s protagonist Ikuro. By means of magic, Ikuro then transforms into a bee and embarks on a quest for revenge and, hopefully, an antidote.

The player controls Ikuro in his bee form through five stages, each of which is further split into sub-stages. The game begins in the most mundane of places, at the edge of a meadow. Among vast blades of grass and towering flowers, Ikuro fights spiders, bugs and other garden-dwellers. Subsequent stages continue the battle in increasingly exotic locations, including a pond, a sewer pipe, and a weird techno dungeon, before eventually taking it to Hexaae’s lair, where a final boss gauntlet awaits.

Apidya’s unique setting works surprisingly well, and it’s presented gloriously throughout, with excellent graphics depicting the various locales and their denizens. The brilliant soundtrack adds another layer of sheen, its pumping tunes accompanying the action perfectly. Each stage has its own musical theme, and each of the substages remixes that in a slightly different way. The soundtrack proved popular enough for a CD album with studio-produced versions of the tracks getting released, which was a real rarity back in 1992. However, none of this would matter if the gameplay wasn’t up to scratch, but fortunately, the same love and care that went into the presentation permeate all aspects of the game. It’s challenging, but never overwhelmingly so. The stages are tightly designed, the bosses memorable, and the controls flawless. All things considered, Apidya is not only one of the best shooting games on the Amiga, it’s one of the best period. While it clearly stands on the shoulders of giants, and even cheekily incorporates little homages to some of them, it easily holds its own among the classics. If you plan on only ever trying one Amiga shmup, by all means let it be Apidya.

Check for Apidya on eBay

Battle Squadron

1989
Developer: Cope-Com
Publisher: Electronic Zoo

Battle Squadron is probably the best vertical shmup on the Amiga, which is all the more impressive for an early game from 1989. It looks awesome and is well-animated, featuring outstanding and distinctive environments, imaginative enemies and powerful explosions. One particularly cool enemy uses a Predator-esque cloaking system distorting the background. Sound-wise, the title track is awesome, and it is really worth booting up the game just to listen to this song. There is only one in-game music track, but it is an outstanding track that is lengthy and succeeds in setting the mood and propelling the action.

Instead of a linear sequence of levels to go through, the game offers an overworld level, the “surface” of the planet Terrainia where the game takes place. From this surface level, the player can enter three separate “inner cores”, each with its unique theme and enemy set. Once all the cores are completed, the final boss appears at the overworld level, ending the game upon defeat. The best way forward is to use the relatively easy surface area to build up firepower before entering the inner cores. Given the way Battle Squadron is structured, it is largely pointless to play the game for score, because you can just loop the outer surface level endlessly without any significant increase in difficulty.

Battle Squadron offers four different weapons that are upgraded and switched via collectable powerups dropped by a particular enemy in the style of Raiden. The red weapon is a spread gun, the green weapon focuses firepower, the blue weapon fires forward and backwards simultaneously, and the orange weapon offers a balance between forward spread and damage. Every death downgrades weapon power, and the renewed supply of smart bombs after dying becomes crucial in later stages to survive and secure new powerups. Overall, the game plays very well. What elevates Battle Squadron to even higher levels is its superb co-op mode. A 1CC is possible but will take considerable practice.

Battle Squadron was ported to the Genesis/Megadrive but it looks, sounds and plays worse than the Amiga original. Also, the difficulty of this Megadrive port is borderline unfair making it less fun to play. If you want to try Battle Squadron on the Amiga, and you should, ensure that you play the original Amiga’s European PAL version, as the NTSC version has a smaller playing field. Also, get a patched version that lets you use the second button to fire your smart bomb, something the original lacked.

Check for Battle Squadron on eBay

Uridium 2

1993
Developer: Graftgold
Publisher: Renegade

Uridium 2 is a prime example of a type of shmup you won’t find on consoles. It is the sequel to the popular original on the Commodore 64 with enhanced graphics, music and gameplay. The basic concept of Uridium 2 is simple. You pilot a small attack craft, and your mission is to destroy fleets of huge enemy dreadnoughts. You control the direction and speed of the scrolling, trying to destroy ground targets, and attack waves of flying enemies while evading bullets and obstacles. You have a scanner at the bottom of the screen, which shows a simplified dreadnought map, and it serves the function of locating walls, incoming ships, deck foes and mines. Attack waves appear randomly, and every time a new wave appears, you hear a sound that alerts you to check the scanner to see where they’re coming from.

When you’ve destroyed a suitable amount of the dreadnought’s superstructure, you can land the craft on one of its landing pads. Once you’ve landed, the view switches to the inside of the dreadnought’s reactor, and a mini-game starts. Your job is to control the pilot as he circles the dreadnought’s core while trying to blast it to bits. This is easier said than done as the core has a shield and will try to protect itself with defensive systems. Also, the controls here are pretty tricky as the core exerts a gravitational force alternating between attraction and repulsion. Once the core is destroyed, you will progress to the next level.

Your standard weapons are twin-mounted cannons. Picking up power-ups allows you to obtain different types of weapons, including homing missiles, circular lasers, and napalm bombs to rip up the dreadnought’s surface. The game looks fantastic in action, particularly when run on an A1200, where it automatically detects the extra memory and throws in extra special effects. The sprites may be small, but the animation is fast and fluid and the dreadnoughts look wonderful. The sound is very good with plenty of explosions plus there are a few selected speech samples to top it all off. The tunes are nice (although not particularly memorable) and add to the frantic pacing of the game. A nice touch-up is the two-player team mode in which the lead player controls the speed and roll position of both crafts.

Uridium 2 has a high difficulty level which is partly due to its insane speed. The game borders on sensory overload. At times the screen is so busy with ships, enemies, bonus items and bullets that it can be hard to track it all. Controlling your ship is tough to start off with, and in the beginning, you won’t progress far. But with practice slowly comes a mastery of the controls and an understanding of how to preemptively deal with attack waves, evade obstacles and destroy the dreadnaught’s core. This makes Uridium 2 a fun and rewarding game to play.

Check for Uridium 2 on eBay

Z-Out

1990
Developer: Advantec
Publisher: Rainbow Arts

What’s in a name? As far as its creators were concerned, their independently developed game, originally called Wargate, was never intended to be a sequel to the earlier successful X-Out (see below). It was solely the publisher’s decision to label it as such by renaming the game to Z-Out, even though the two games play nothing alike and have little in common besides both being horizontally scrolling shoot’em-ups. It’s a good thing that the two similarly named games are so dissimilar, though, because while X-Out is pretty much the epitome of a Euroshmup, Z-Out takes its cues from the Japanese school of shooting game design and is all the better for it.

At first glance, Z-Out appears to be terribly derivative, but writing it off as a mere rip-off doesn’t do it justice. Granted, Z-Out does borrow several of its key gameplay elements from R-Type. The charge shot, the detachable force pod, and the protective bits above and below the player’s ship are all present and work as expected. However, these similarities are only skin-deep, as Z-Out often handles the core mechanics in interesting new ways instead of just imitating its peers. The secondary weapons in Z-Out are less memorable than their counterparts in Irem’s classic. In fact, they almost feel like an afterthought. The game’s stages, however, are all carefully built around being mastered with a minimum of powerups, so this is not that big of a deal. Speaking of the stages, it’s clear that an unusual amount of care went into their construction. Each new one does not just add a new lick of paint, but introduces unique enemies and fresh elements that alter the gameplay in fun and interesting ways. Z-Out is generally a little faster-paced than its main inspiration, offering a welcome change of gears to anyone who generally likes Irem’s R-Type series, but finds it too slow and plodding. As a bonus, Z-Out throws in a mode for two players simultaneously, something no other game of its ilk has to offer.

If there’s one big bone of contention regarding the game, it’s that the quality of the graphics is really uneven. There are parts, like the last two stages, that look utterly fantastic, but the rest of the visuals are, for the most part, merely competent, with some bits and pieces dropping to decidedly subpar levels. Fortunately, things are more consistent on the audio side. The soundtrack is catchy and engaging, but also doesn’t shy away from the occasional experiment, like the dark and foreboding tune that plays during stage five, whose lead voice is played by a church organ. Z-Out is a meticulously crafted game with solid mechanics, varied stages and some brilliantly designed bosses. Anyone who doesn’t outright hate R-Type’s mechanics should definitely give it a go.

Check for Z-Out on eBay

Deluxe Galaga

1993-1995
Developer: Edgar M. Vigdal
Publisher: shareware

To many, it may be a surprise that the highest-rated shoot-em-up on the popular Amiga website Lemonamiga.com is not a heavy hitter like Apidya or Battle Squadron but a shareware release called Deluxe Galaga. Over the years, Deluxe Galaga has attracted a strong following in Amiga circles and for a good reason. The game builds upon Namco’s original Galaga from 1981 which was a smash hit in the arcades. You control a small starfighter, and your mission is to protect the earth from alien attackers. Deluxe Galaga maintains the core gameplay of its source of inspiration. This means that the player can only move horizontally and that the levels, with their waves of different types of enemies the player must blast through, do not scroll.

Each wave progressively increases in difficulty, along with the occasional boss battle. When you start, your ship has a limited supply of bullets and is moving a bit slowly, but by shooting the aliens you can collect falling bonuses and get all sorts of weapons, speed and ship powerups. The gameplay is spiced up by giant enemies joining the formations and a flying saucer that flies across the top of the screen, firing homing missiles. The visuals retain the style of the original yet have been improved, although don’t expect anything fancy. Booting the game on an Amiga 1200 results in a few more colors and larger enemy explosions. The game has decent tunes and cool speech synthesis which fit the 1980s vibe.

While the core gameplay is simplistic, Deluxe Galaga has a ton of features that make it addictive and give it longevity. There’s a minigame system that offers a break from the core gameplay and allows you to collect goodies like points, money, extra lives, credits, and bonus multipliers. There are also lots of secrets in the game, you can either find these yourself, or you can buy them in a shop, which will appear every fourth level. Additionally, the shop will allow you to get game upgrades in exchange for your collected money. Various random events keep things fresh, including warp malfunctions, thief ships that take your money, money ships that explode into thousands of dollars, and rare power-ups.

There are 75 levels to contend with, plenty of different alien craft designs, bosses and attack patterns, a simultaneous two-player mode not found in the original Galaga, and many more options available to customize your game. When it’s ‘game over’ the hit/miss ratio page of the original is included, plus a saveable high score table and ranking system that only further encourages re-play. Being shareware, there have been several updates and enhancements over the years, and it’s plain to see that this is a real labor of love. Deluxe Galaga comes highly recommended.

Check out site for Deluxe Galaga

Honorable Mentions

The Amiga features some cool shmups with exceptional visuals and/or music that stand out from the crowd, and as such are interesting to check out, but lag behind in terms of gameplay. This section discusses these ‘honorable mentions’.

Agony

1992
Developer: Art and Magic
Publisher: Psygnosis

Agony is the shmup you used to show to your console buddies back in the day to convince them your Amiga kicked some serious ass. The game oozes high production values and is, without doubt, the best-looking shoot-em-up on the system. It features a beautifully animated owl as the main protagonist with six fantasy-themed levels, including a raging sea, a gloomy swamp and ruin-littered mountains. Three layers of parallax scrolling offer a great sense of depth which is further enhanced by numerous animations such as crashing waves and waterfalls cascading down mountains. The in-game music has an orchestral and bombastic quality and the tracks can be described as intense, powerful, foreboding and dramatic. Particularly memorable is the menu music, which is a hauntingly beautiful classical-themed piano track.

In terms of mechanics, the owl has only one type of shot, an echo-location projectile, which can be powered up by collecting magic potions. The player can also briefly activate spells such as homing shots or shields by collecting magic scrolls which can be activated by pressing the spacebar or holding the fire button. Also, the owl can carry two ‘drone’ swords that deal damage when in contact with enemies. Despite all its audiovisual brilliance, Agony has some issues. Certain enemies use a color palette which blends them in with the background. What doesn’t help then is that the owl’s hitbox is quite big and its flapping wings constantly leave the player guessing about its actual size. What remains is a game that is not remembered for its gameplay, but for its impressive technical and artistic qualities.

Check for Agony on eBay

Disposable Hero

1993
Developer: Boys without Brains
Publisher: Gremlin Graphics

Disposable Hero is a side-scrolling shooter featuring five levels and a final boss stage to blast through. The pixel art is superb with creative enemy and level designs and an abundance of small details in the environment, like rotating fans and pulsating alien hearts. The in-game music mostly consists of upbeat electronic tracks with an early 1990s vibe which can’t fully match the game’s graphical brilliance but still sounds very well. The game’s release on the CD-32 a year later featured a new Redbook audio soundtrack with a similar electronic vibe and more produced although not necessarily better tracks. Disposable Hero features tons of upgradeable weapons and power-ups and to install them, you need to collect blueprints scattered throughout the levels. Once you reach a power-up bay, of which every level has a few, you can add or remove weapons to maximize your attack capabilities.

The game features tight controls, a small hitbox, auto-fire and a fair checkpoint system. The uniqueness of Disposable Hero’s power-up system and the ability to choose between ships in the power-up bays in later levels greatly enhance its replay value. Yet, several design choices and a very high difficulty keep the game from reaching its true potential. Enemy bullets move very fast and when bullets are flying towards you from multiple angles weaving through them unscathed can be nearly impossible. The difficulty is further enhanced by the fact that enemies take multiple hits to kill regardless of your firepower. The CD-32 version partly rectifies these issues by reducing enemy bullets and hit points, resulting in a more enjoyable gaming experience. If you intend to check out Disposable Hero, this is the preferred version.

Check for Disposable Hero on eBay

Wings of Death

1990
Developer: Eclipse
Publisher: Thalion

Wings of Death is a vertically scrolling fantasy-themed shmup. Depending on the active weapon powerup, the player’s avatar assumes the form of a dragon, a gryphon, an eagle, a bat or a dragonfly. The smaller creatures can dodge enemy attacks more easily, but their weapons are relatively weak. The larger creatures can deal some heavy damage, but their bulky shapes are unwieldy and it can be difficult to navigate the stages’ hazards with them. Luckily, getting hit doesn’t automatically mean losing a life, as the game has an energy bar, although it uses it in quite an unusual way. Enemy projectiles don’t disappear when they hit the player, they keep on dealing damage as long as the player touches them. This means that a desperate quick dash through a wall of bullets can get you out of a sticky situation, but also that a single lone bullet can kill you if you’re not careful and keep touching it.

Power-ups are abundant, but since each change of form resets the player’s weapon to its lowest power level, avoiding the wrong power-ups is as important as picking up the right ones. The themes of the stages are fairly generic. However, the graphical style of the game is quite unique and interesting, which makes the stages memorable despite their lack of originality.

Between various gameplay-related peculiarities and a relatively low frame rate, Wings of Death is not really a game that’s easy to recommend, but it has one standout feature that alone makes it well worth revisiting: its stellar soundtrack. From the moment you hear the sinister speech samples of the game’s title track, you know you’re in for something very special. The soundtrack consists of super-catchy synth pop that absolutely shouldn’t go well with an intense action game, but miraculously, it does.

Check for Wings of Death on eBay

Banshee

1994
Developer: Core Design
Publisher: Core Design

Together with Super Stardust and Overkill, Banshee is one of the few Amiga shmups that was solely developed for the more powerful Amiga 1200 / CD-32 hardware. It is clear that Capcom’s 194X series was a major source of inspiration for Banshee although it does have a distinct identity with its steampunk look and humorous features (the hilarious background story has to do with aliens and the invention of the microwave oven). The pixel art is superb and detailed with lovely animated sprites, huge end bosses, many on-screen colors and even transparencies (rain, snow). The game is brimming with great touches like collapsing hangars revealing airships or plummeting troop transports spewing burning parachutists.

There are four large levels, which also scroll a little bit horizontally. The power-up system is Twinbee-inspired, meaning you can shoot power-ups to rotate through their effects. There are speed-ups, loops, double and triple shots, angled shots, heavy missiles, homing missiles and bombs. The loop mechanic, which can be activated using the second button, is a bit like 1942’s, except it will cause damage to anything airborne that you pass over as you do it. The two-player mode is a nice touch, and you get the choice of whether to split the power-ups or not. There is fun to be had with Banshee, but it is not perfect. It completely lacks in-game music. More importantly, it features one of the greatest sins in the world of shmups: the player’s ship has inertia. If someone could patch that out somehow, it would be so much better.

Check for Banshee on eBay

Stardust & Super Stardust 

1993 (Stardust) & 1994 (Super Stardust)
Developer: Bloodhouse
Publisher: Bloodhouse (Stardust) & Team 17 (Super Stardust)

At their core, Stardust and its successor Super Stardust are single-screen Asteroids clones with graphics that were jaw-dropping at the time, incredibly smooth animation, a high color count, (mostly) great 90s techno music and digitized voices. The player controls a ship through successive waves of asteroids and other enemies, which are drawn using ray-tracing techniques which were novel at the time. The two Stardust games are lumped together here because Super Stardust is essentially a remastered version of the original. Both games feature 5 worlds, each with its own boss, split into 30 levels.

Each level features rocks to destroy. Their color defines their endurance: greys are the easiest to be destroyed while yellows are the hardest. There are six types of weapons available: 3-way, bouncer, plasma, flamer, burster and missiles which can be collected after destroying certain ships. Each weapon can be powered up via a menu with the option to equip shield enhancements and acquire smart bombs. Both Stardust games also feature 3D tunnel levels which besides diversifying gameplay are a sight to behold.

Stardust was very well received although reviewers complained about the game’s high difficulty level and control scheme which only used one joystick button. Super Stardust, released one year later for the Amiga 1200/CD-32 hardware, rectifies these issues with a gentler difficulty curve and the option to assign thrust and shield to separate buttons. Graphically, the original Stardust game has aged better, despite fewer on-screen colors, as the hand-made backgrounds look better today than the dated 3D renders of the sequel. Nevertheless, given the gameplay and control enhancements, Super Stardust is the preferred pick if you are interested in these games. Despite being good games in their own right, the Stardust games are ultimately held back by the Asteroids template on which they are based which makes them something of an acquired taste.

Check for Stardust & Super Stardust on eBay

Defender-Inspired Shooters

If there is one sub-category of shmups that’s genuinely western, it’s games following the template laid down by Williams’s arcade classic Defender (1981). Consequently, games that feature both the signature wrap-around stages and fast player-controlled scrolling are almost nonexistent on consoles. Exceptions are few, even if you count the Fantasy Zone series, whose pedestrian pace makes it feel like it doesn’t belong to the same category after all. In contrast, there’s a plethora of games modeled after Defender on the Amiga. Below you’ll find three of the most noteworthy of these defender-inspired shmups for those who want to try out this gameplay style, although they are not necessarily top-tier shooters.

StarRay

1988
Developer: Hidden Treasures
Publisher: Logotron

StarRay is one of the earlier Amiga games, and it shows. The visuals have not aged gracefully, even though they look a lot better in motion, with some nifty multi-layered parallax effects going on in the background. The gameplay, however, is spot-on. Everything moves smoothly and speedily, and the way the game introduces new enemies every few stages keeps things interesting. On top of that, StarRay’s difficulty curve is relatively gentle, easing the player in before slowly ramping up the challenge.

Check for StarRay on eBay

Datastorm

1989
Developer: Visionary Design
Publisher: Visionary Design

Visually, Datastorm is as basic as it gets, with its tiny sprites and barren planet surfaces. The game makes up for it with its blistering speed and an astonishing variety of enemies to fight. It also throws a couple of large boss-like enemies into the mix, which make for really memorable encounters. Beware, Datastorm is no cakewalk. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by huge numbers of foes attacking all at once and, in contrast to other games in its niche, the player ship in Datastorm is subject to gravity, which makes controlling it extra fiddly.

Check for Datastorm on eBay

Overkill

1993
Developer: Vision
Publisher: Mindscape

Overkill was released exclusively for Amiga 1200/CD-32. The game has some neat visual tricks up its sleeve, such as the impressive pseudo-3D effect in the background. Enemies explode satisfyingly into clouds of debris and flying limbs when destroyed. The little humans running around don’t need to be saved for a change. They are your ground troops and have to be brought near enemy crystals, so they can destroy those. Overkill is not an easy game, but it’s fairly generous with powerups and extends, so it never gets frustrating. This is probably the most accessible, balanced and visually appealing Defender-inspired shmup on the Amiga.

Check for Overkill on eBay

Hype vs. Hindsight

Shooting games often used to double as showcases for the power of the host system and the prowess of their creators and sometimes impressive technical achievements were able to make less accomplished gameplay seem more acceptable. In hindsight, some of the biggest names in the Amiga’s shmup library haven’t actually held up all that well.

Xenon 2: Megablast

1989
Developer: The Bitmap Brothers / The Assembly Line
Publisher: Image Works

Xenon 2 received ridiculously high review scores upon release. In subsequent years, however, probably because more people experienced the game through the inferior (and incomplete) console ports, its reputation plummeted. Neither is deserved. While to the shmup connoisseur, the game has nothing to offer beyond its incredibly stylish exterior, there’s definitely still some fun to be had for more casual players, especially if they’re specifically looking for an experience that deviates from the genre’s arcade roots.

Check for Zenon 2: Megablast on eBay

X-Out

1990
Developer: Rainbow Arts
Publisher: Rainbow Arts

X-Out, while in development, was billed as some kind of all-star project, with renowned cover artist Celâl Kandemiroğlu doing the in-game graphics and games music legend Chris Hülsbeck handling the sound. The finished product delivered in the audiovisual areas as foreseen, but as a whole, the game couldn’t live up to the high expectations. Like many other European-produced shooting games, X-Out futilely tries to transcend the boundaries of the genre while at the same time neglecting to get its basics right.

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Project-X

1992
Developer: Team 17
Publisher: Team 17

Following the developers’ earlier smash hit Alien Breed, Project-X was met with an overwhelmingly positive response. To be fair, the game’s questionable controls and uninspired attack waves didn’t go unnoticed, but reviewers seemed all too willing to gloss over its apparent shortcomings and hand out good scores regardless. Unfortunately, while Project-X is a dazzling feast for the eyes, it’s severely lacking in the gameplay department. The revised ’93 Special Edition tones down the brutal difficulty of the original release slightly, but it fails to address any of the fundamental flaws.

Check for Project-X on eBay

Conclusion

While the signal-to-noise ratio in the games libraries of classic home computers traditionally isn’t the best, and the Amiga is no exception, the sheer number of releases means that there’s plenty to discover that’s worth one’s time. Hopefully, if your interest is piqued, this guide can be a good starting point for exploring games and maybe discovering future favorites.


10 Comments

S says:

uhh, not well prepared article. where’s SWIV ? (among many people, best shoot’em up on amiga/atarist)

racketboy says:

Hi there — the authors actually called out SWIV as one of the games mentioned in the third paragraph of the intro:

“Amiga enthusiasts may not find their favorite childhood shmup here as certain fondly-remembered games (e.g. Hybris, SWIV, Mega Typhoon) are decent yet of insufficient quality to compete with better console titles in a similar vein.”

So while the game is an admirable achievement on the Amiga, they were focusing on their top recommendations in the genre for the Amiga.

Hopefully, this helps clear things up. Perhaps, in the future, we will have more expansive Amiga coverage. If any Amiga enthusiasts want to contribute on future pieces, please let me know!

prfsnl_gmr says:

Great article! I’ve been into retro gaming a very long time, but until now, I never knew the Amiga was such a shmup powerhouse. I picked up the wonderful retro shmup 1993 Shenandoah (a/k/a 1993 Space Machine) a while back, and thought it was strange someone would make a tribute to Amiga shmups. I get it now, though!

racketboy says:

Thank for the support! The duo was very excited to share this one!

JB says:

Awesome article as usual, thanks for the great work!
I had no idea the Amiga had so many good looking shmups, I guess it’s time to set the mister Amiga core and test them out.

RT says:

Excellent list. I grew up with the Amiga (owned an A500, A1200 and a CD32 in the past, still have a CD32) and definitely agree with just about everything written here.

Apidya is still one of my favourite games of all time and stands out as the Amiga’s best shoot ’em up especially if you’ve experienced a lot on different platforms.

I know X-out but surprised I don’t remember much about Z-out so will have to give that another try sometime, cheers!

Mikerochip says:

Since its release, just FYI, all models of Amiga supported a 3 button joypad/stick, along with analogue stick support.

Its a crying shame no one bothered to actually make a 2 or even 3 button controller.
With the release of the cd32, and it’s 7 button controller, the system finally had day 1 hardware support of a multi button controller.

Too bad the company folded, what seemed like only minutes later.

With the advent of whdload, developers have been retroactively adding both 2 button, and even cd32 pad support to games.

Its my number one complaint about Commodore; they didn’t include a joystick as standard, and, didn’t actually push for 2 button support from day 1.
Had they done so, I truly believe that commodores position in the market may have ended up very differently.

I mean, ffs! Amiga Inc, the company that designed the Amiga, masqueraded as a joystick company while designing the A1000. How much work would it have been to include a controller design too…. (though, maybe they did, and commodore ignored them!)

Congratulations on a well-written feature with expert statements, even doing justice to typically overlooked titles like “Z-Out” and “Overkill”. I might only disagree with your judgment of “Hybris” as I think it’s a more fluent, challenging, and enjoyable experience than its spiritual successor “Battle Squadron”. But that might be a matter of taste.

Readers might have appreciated it if you added modern homebrew Amiga exclusives for comparison, like “Inviyya” or my own humble production “RESHOOT R”.

racketboy says:

Thanks, everyone for the feedback/support and for follow-up suggestions! This is great and I’m excited to keep expanding the shmup series!

RuySan says:

Great and fair article, although I would have included banshee among the very best. It commits many sins of the euroshmup, but excels in them, making it a very unique and incredibly fun game. The sense of destruction of a fully powered up plane is incredible. Agree with the lack of music though. The Amiga has the best sound of any machine from that era, so it’s kind of a sin to not include any.

Apydia is the best gradius clone ever, and imo is better than any gradius game. The soundtrack is pristine, as is expected by hueslbeck.

Agony might not be a great, or even good game, but it looks so unique and special that it needs to be experienced by everyone

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