presented by Brickiemart, Adam Sarson, BulletMagnet, and Racketboy
Even though I have been a Sega Genesis fan from the beginning, I didn’t quite realize how many Shooters the console had in its library until I saw this guide taking shape. I always looked at systems like the Saturn, Playstation, TG16, and the Dreamcast as being the primary resources for the genre. While that may be true, the Genesis / MegaDrive isn’t far behind and has quite a few titles to keep fans of the genre busy.
There are many sub-genres that are essentially shooters, but in this guide we will primarily stick to your traditional horizontal and vertical scrolling shooter. There are a few other shooters listed in here, but we aren’t going to be extensively covering run-and-guns or most multi-directional shooters at this time.
Anyway, we hope you find this guide useful and we look forward to hearing about your favorites in the comments below!
Thunder Force 4
Thunder Force 4 aka Lightening Force [sic] is a strong contender for the title of best Genesis/Mega Drive shooter. This is Techno Soft’s third entry of the series for this console (and the last sprite-based one). Like the previous Thunder Force you can chose the order you play the first stages in. The power up system also references the third game, you start out with two basic weapons which you can upgrade and slots for other weapons that can be picked up. Techno Soft once again weaves some developer magic to create the game’s visuals, which are stunning to say the least. If you want to show off how great the Genesis/Mega Drive can look, here is the game to demo. Another aspect of Thunder Force 4 that makes it a great shooter is the soundtrack. Unlike other Genesis/Mega Drive shooter gems (M.U.S.H.A., Eliminate Down), Thunder Force 4 will not cost you an arm and leg to own, copies go for a relatively affordable amount online.
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Eliminate Down stands among the best of the Genesis/Mega Drive shumps. The game is only available as a very high priced import. It is developed by an obscure company called Aprinet and published by another unknown company called Soft Vision. The developers here managed to create a game that is a gem on Sega’s platform and an essential title to play for any shmup fan.
Eliminate Down is comprised of eight levels. The game scrolls horizontally and features a graphically detailed sci-fi setting. In fact the visuals are one of the first noticeable features about the game. The graphics sport a high degree of detail, especially by Genesis standards. The gameplay is fast and the difficulty is high, but not impossible. Eliminate Down shines by having constant action, creative mini-bosses and bosses on every stage, and a good soundtrack.
Eliminate Down does not rip off from its predecessors, but instead manages to conjure up major fights and attacks that feel fresh and interesting. The only criticisms that one might have are against an annoying sprite flicker that can occur when the action heats up and that some of the sound effects can get aggravating after hearing them for over twenty minutes. These minor points aside, Eliminate Down epitomizes the term “rare gem” and should be discovered and enjoyed by any shooter fan.
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M.U.S.H.A. often ranks high on top lists for Genesis/Mega Drive shooters. The game has a strong reputation which it earns through great sound, graphics, and gameplay. The English title is actually an acronym for Metallic Uniframe Super Hybrid Armor. It a vertical scrolling game with seven levels and a solid soundtrack; M.U.S.H.A. itself is a part of the Aleste series by Compile (hence its original Japanese name, “Musha Aleste”). You play a character in a mech (as opposed to a space ship) with the ability to pick up smaller ships to accompany you as power-ups. These smaller ships can take damage for you and fire in a variety of methods. This game is beautiful and it plays great. M.U.S.H.A. is a must-play game for any shooter fan and anyone looking to experience one of the best titles on Sega’s console. If you are looking for a copy of the game to add to your collection it will cost you. The original cart is rare and goes for high price (always near the top of our Rarest & Most Valuable Genesis/MegaDrive list) when it is put up for sale, especially a CIB copy. However, if you want to own the classics of the Genesis/Mega Drive shooter library, M.U.S.H.A. is required title.
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Thunder Force 3
Several complaints that people often have with Genesis games versus Super Nintendo usually involve criticizing the sound and graphics. Technosoft proved themselves to be magicians with Sega’s console and with Thunder Force 3 they delivered a game that graphically and aurally rivals most SNES games. This game is among the best on the system and one of Technosoft’s top works. What makes the game succeed is how polished virtually every aspect of it is. The visuals in the game are among the Genesis/Mega Drive’s finest; there are graphical effects here that you will not see in any other Genesis title. Gameplay is smooth (I can’t emphasize that enough) and the bosses are big. The game is challenging, but does not get frustrating. A bit of practice and patience is all it takes to win. Thunder Force 3 is arguably one of, if not the best, shooters on the console. It is highly recommended and an essential title to own for any Genesis shmup collection.
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Steel Empire is a Genesis shmup with a good amount of character. It handles all the necessary gaming aspects very competently; controls, pacing, sound, and graphics. What sets this title apart from the rest is the unique choice of color palette and art style. This game was steam-punk before steam-punk was cool and the graphics have a rusted look to them (which, by the way, is not a criticism). Steel Empire has seven stages of horizontal scrolling; to get through them you have a choice of a zeppelin or an airplane which is basically a dichotomy of slow-with-a-lot-of-health versus fast-with-less-life. Steel Empire is solid throughout, the art style, unique design of the levels, and enemies make the game stand out above the typical space ship or fighter plane shmup fare. The game can get tough at times, but thanks to the inclusion of a health bar Steel Empire keeps itself from getting “Gradius hard” which make this game a shmup worth checking out.
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Gynoug / Wings of Wor is a hectic rapid fire shooting game that, at times, feels like a bullet hell title. You play a winged character who flies horizontally through the levels, similar to side-scrolling levels from Legendary Wings on the NES. The game consists of six stages with a healthy dose of enemies and big end bosses. The power-ups system is not overly complex, one color orb gives you a wider shot and another makes those shots stronger, You can also collect bombs which will be vital to surviving some of the harder levels. The game has unique enemies on every area and some great effects like a rocking effect that can give you vertigo. Overall, this is another great shooter that fits in well to any shooter collection. Thankfully, obtaining a copy will not cost arm and leg, the game is fairly affordable.
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Gleylancer is a title that never had a release outside of Japan until Nintendo brought it to the virtual console in 2008. The game is good and definitely worth owning due to the fact that it is very playable despite the language barrier (and like many popular retro imports, an original cart will cost you). The game starts with a great cut scene introducing the player to the main character; you are a young girl on a mission to save your father. You commandeer the best ship you can find and you’re on your way. There is nothing here that is revolutionary, but it’s a fun game. You have two orbs that accompany you and can behave in a manner that you define at the beginning of the level. The game has nice levels and two endings depending on whether or not you can save dad on the last stage. Another solid entry to the Genesis/Mega Drive library of shooters!
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Techno-Soft arguably had their best years making Genesis/Mega Drive games. While not as well known as the Thunder Force series, Elemental Master stands as a worthy addition to their catalog of games. For this title the developers decided to break away from the science fiction themes of Thunder Force and Herzog Zwei and instead draw upon fantasy elements for the game’s visuals. Elemental Master is a top-down shmup where you control Laden, a sorcerer trying to stop the evil King Gyra. The game opens up with an impressive cutscene which lays the foundation for the plot. It is revealed in a twist that the game’s antagonist is none other than your own brother, possessed by darkness.
The player takes control of the game after the introduction. The first half of the game is broken down into four selectable stages, each representing an element and a corresponding power-up that is gained after the level’s boss is defeated. The default weapon available at the beginning of the game is a standard parallel two-beam shooter. Unlike many other shmups all the different weapons are permanent and cannot be lost once gained. The four elemental power-ups can be charged up to release an explosive blast; the main default weapon becomes chargeable after the first four stages are completed, which gives the player the game’s most powerful weapon. Other helpful items are scattered throughout the journey including shields, multiple shot, and energy to replenish your health bar.
The gameplay involves you controlling Laden by moving in any direction on a vertical scrolling map. The levels are designed to look like different landscapes, each offering various non-lethal obstacles (and, of course, tons of bad guys). Laden can fire any selected weapon up or down. Graphically Elemental master does not shine as brightly as Techno Soft’s other two shmup masterpieces, Thunder Force 3 or 4, but it does not trail them by much. The bosses are huge and the game’s soundtrack is among the Genesis’ best. Some may say the game is too easy and I agree, unless the game catches you sleeping you won’t have too much difficulty navigating through. Difficulty is still balanced pretty evenly and increases mostly on the last three stages; everything flows well enough that it never gets boring.
The US version of Elemental Master was published by Renovation. It’s a great addition to any shmup or Genesis collection. The game is not too uncommon and copies can be picked up on the cheap. Also Japanese copies of the game seem to be almost as abundant as their US counterparts; being a shooter with little Japanese text in the actual game, Elemental Master had a good number of copied imported when it was released in Japan.
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Super Fantasy Zone
If you are a fan of the classic Sega franchise Fantasy Zone then you are in luck, unless you live in North America. Super Fantasy Zone is a 16-bit entry into this classic Sega series, the game received a release in Japan and Europe, but not North America. Nintendo rectified this by releasing it for the Wii’s virtual console in 2008. If you are familiar with how Fantasy Zone plays, there will be no surprises here. The game lets you roam freely left or right, like Defender, and it features bright colorful graphics. Like its predecessors there are shops that can be found throughout the levels that gives you temporary upgrades. Unless you count Keio Flying Squadron on the Sega CD, Super Fantasy Zone is the best option available for a bright colorful shooter on the Genesis/Megadrive.
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Gaiares is horizontal shmup released stateside by Renovation. Among the large amount of Genesis shooters, Gaiares rests relatively high among the bunch. The developers had no problem using the console’s color palette to generate some excellent looking visuals. This is highlighted in the boss fights at the end of the game’s eight stages. Each one is massive and fills up a good portion of the screen.
What really sets Gaiares apart is the power up system. Following your ship is a Gradius-like option, but unlike Gradius you can launch it at an enemy and gain their unique type of firepower; repeated launches into the same enemy equals a more powerful version of said weapon. Gaiares is not easy, it’ll give any gamer a good challenge and will probably not be completed on the first playthrough. The game is not uncommon and can be tracked down relatively easily but a CIB version, while not as pricey as some import Mega Drive shmups, might require a bit of extra coin.
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Toaplan! Truxton (known as Tatsujin in Japan) was an early release for the Genesis/Mega Drive, hitting shelves not long after the debut of the console. It is an arcade port that I remember being one of the games used in European advertisements to show off how much more advanced the Genesis/Mega Drive was over the 8-bit NES. The game still looks great and it will ooze nostalgia to anyone who paid attention to Sega’s 16-bit console in its early days. It’s not the best-looking game on the console anymore, but that’s excusable due to the fact that it was an early release and based off of an arcade game. Even though all Genesis/Mega Drive shooters are technically retro and old school, Truxton feels a bit more classic than then the rest. The game comes highly recommended to anyone that enjoys old school shooters with an arcade feel. The arcade-exclusive (save the Japan-only FM Towns computer system) sequel is great too.
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Raiden is a classic shooter franchise. As of this writing it spans four official releases and various spinoffs. Raiden Trad is a modified version of the first arcade game released for the SNES and Genesis/Mega Drive. The game is not a visual masterpiece, but Raiden is a franchise that 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 perfectly 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. The best part about it is that if you want to own a copy it rather common and affordable!
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Bio Hazard Battle
Bio Hazard Battle starts by letting you pick one of four “ships” to play. They all seem modeled after something aquatic, in fact the whole game’s aesthetic features a biological/oceanic theme which makes it visually unique among the typical ‘space ship in space’ shooter. The game overall is good, if not great. The uniqueness of the enemies and the stages is what puts it a notch above other such shooters. The four ships each have advantages and disadvantages over the other ones and there are plenty of power ups to find throughout the game’s eight stages. Bio Hazard Battle (or its more oddly-named Japanese edition, “Crying”) is common to come across and fits in well with any shooter collection.
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Sub Terrania is a shooter with a twist to the usual horizontal and vertical scrolling. The game gives you free range to move, but it also imposes heavy restrictions on you. Mainly, you have to manage your fuel. Each stage has a set of goals that does not necessarily just consist of killing a boss, often times you will find yourself rescuing hostages a la Choplifter. If you are craving a typical on-rails shooter where you only have to worry about dodging and shooting, Sub Terrania will get very frustrating very fast. If, however, you have an idea of what you are getting into and you take the time to master the thrust mechanic Sub Terrania can be a very fun game.
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Wolf Team is a defunct game developer that had was quite prolific during the Genesis/Mega Drive years. Thanks to publisher Renovation, gamers outside of Japan were able to play some of their great titles (as well as great games by other Eastern developers). This may be a point of contention, but neither Wolf Team nor Renovation had their name on many games that would be considered classics or must-haves for Sega’s 16-bit console.
They were, however, two great companies that brought over a lot of good games that helped the Genesis/Mega Drive stand out from its competitors and expand its library to include unique games found nowhere else. Now, Granada is one of those games. It does not have the legacy that Sonic or Zelda has, but it’s downright fun. This game is not a typical scrolling shooter, but instead it plays like a twin stick shooter before consoles could do twin stick. You can roam freely on the stage and your goal is to kill the bad guys and the things that spawn them (not unlike Gauntlet). You fire in the direction you’re facing and you can hold a button down to continue firing in that direction while moving in different ones. This is how the game creates its twin stick feel. The game is not a system-seller, but Granada is great mindless shooting and definitely worth playing.
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If you made a three-category list of Genesis shmups which included best, middle, and worst, Verytex would likely be at the top of the middle list. There is nothing wrong here; Verytex is a pretty vanilla shmup developed by Operahouse and published by Asmik which never saw a release outside of Japan. It has some things going for it, but in contrast to the Genesis’ hefty shmup catalog it fails to shine too bright.
The game is comprised of six vertically-scrolling stages. The graphics are decent and its soundtrack ranks slightly above average. There are three weapon types, missiles and shield power ups, nothing too extravagant. The one issue with the game that can cause frustration is inconsistent difficulty and a few cheap shots that will be thrown at you. For example, in some levels of the game enemies will spawn behind you with no warning, killing any player hugging the bottom of the screen. Some levels are simple and can be beaten on the first try while others may take a few attempts. The part that really amps the difficulty, of course, is the end boss. On its last incarnation the final enemy goes into nightmare mode and becomes a series of eyes shooting non-stop heat-seeking fire and fast moving lasers that can hit almost every inch of the screen. The game does not allow you to continue where you died, but instead at mid-points in the level; the final boss is no exception.
These faults don’t break the game, Verytex is worth playing and if you are going to spend the money on an import shmup for your Genesis, Eliminate Down would be a better choice, but if you already own that Verytex makes a good addition to a Genesis collection.
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Slap Fight (also known as Alcon) might have some value to collectors since it was only released in Japan. This game, released by Tengen for the Genesis/Mega Drive, feels very much like an arcade game (which should be no surprise because it is a port of one). Slap Fight is a vertical shooting shooter that will look a bit aged on the Genesis when you compare it to other games released at the time. The power up method appears borrowed from Gradius, but the game does offer some nice things beyond that, like having multiple ships attach to you in a Galaga-like fashion. Similar to Raiden Trad, Slap Fight does not visually blow you away, but it does capture that arcade feel that shooters developed specifically for consoles just don’t have. It’s not a handicap for those other games, just a different type of gaming experience. If that statement makes sense and you enjoy that arcade feel replicated on a console, Slap Fight will be worth your time.
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Sagaia is decent shooter that is faithful to the Darius series (except for the name of the game; for some reason “Darius 2” didn’t cut it for the title of the game so it was renamed. The same anomaly occurred for “Lightening Force”). For Sagaia you get to choose your path after each level which gives the game a lot of replay value. The levels all branch off from the previous ones; you can finish the game without having seen most of it. If you ever played the arcade game this is based off of you will miss the massive letter boxed screen, but if you don’t have that as a point of reference Sagaia is a fun and very challenging game. In typical Darius fashion the robotic fish themes are littered through each level. The game falls short of the brilliance that the 32-bit Darius games are, but it’s still a good title to play.
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Dangerous Seed is an arcade game developed and published by Namco that was ported to the Mega Drive for a Japanese-only release. The console version deviates from its arcade counterpart a bit, but it still manages to bring an arcade feel to the system; something that the large Genesis’ shmup library doesn’t have too much of. The game is long, it’s comprised of 12 levels at about a medium difficulty. Dangerous Seed uses an interesting ship mechanic where at different stages you get another ship attached to your own which (depending on how you arrange them) affects how you fire. They also each have a health bar.
Most of the enemies are the same with little derivation. The various bosses are big and usually their most lethal attack is them quickly lunging at you, not a spread of bullets. Overall this is a good little import shooter for the Mega Drive. It falls short of great by being a bit monotonous and graphically average, yet really never fails anywhere else.
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Master of Weapon
Master of Weapon (Taito’s error, not mine!) is yet another Japan-only shooter. The game is an arcade title made by Taito. It features a gun and bomb mechanic similar to Xevious where you have one weapon that can only hit aerial enemies and one solely for ground units. Unlike Xevious, the game is fast-paced. The graphics range from average to good and the difficulty is solid. The boss fights can drag a bit which can result in a loss of interest for those with short attention spans. Otherwise, it’s a solid vertical shooter with a good arcade feel.
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Twinkle Tale is a free-roaming shooter that some people might say is not a real shmup. Regardless of how you make the distinction, this game will satisfy your urge to gun down 16-bit enemies. Twinkle Tale looks great on the Mega Drive and its gameplay makes me think of Elemental Master, but with less restrictive movement. Every stage in the game is diverse and forces you to navigate through various rooms and environments; it is not on-rails so you will not be forced to constantly move vertically or horizontally. Twinkle Tale manages to keep itself interesting throughout each stage; one level even has platforming elements (minus the jumping) in a scenic sky setting. Twinkle Tale never got a release outside of Japan (but it did receive a fan translation) and it can get rather pricey for import copies.
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Anybody that has a healthy Genesis collection most likely has a few Renovation titles floating around. They were a great publisher that provided a variety of niche titles to the Genesis crowd. Whip Rush is one of the shmups they brought stateside. The game is comprised of seven mostly-horizontal scrolling levels: by “mostly” I mean the game does not always move left to right, some parts of the level will scroll down into a body of water, or in every cardinal direction through a labyrinth-like stage. The presentation features average Genesis-caliber graphics that appear cartoony at some points due to (what I imagine is an intentional) lack of detail. The sound effects show the worst side of the Genesis’ sound capabilities; they can get irritating fast, usually when the ship is firing. In typical shooter fashion there are a few different shot types that can be powered up by getting the same type repeatedly. Having a weapon that can fire behind you is essential to beating the game. Whip Rush also has one of the most varied speed controls I have ever seen in a shmup
Criticisms aside this is a competent little shooter that does little wrong. There is an effort by the developers that shows in the game, from the initial cut scene to the ending. The boss fights may irate some due to the bosses having a hitbox that has limited exposures, but there are more than a few innovative and difficult challenges to be found there. Whip Rush may be generic, but it definitely has its charm and is worth checking out.
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Phelios features the Greco-Roman God Apollo flying on Pegasus in attempt to save his significant other, the goddess Artemis. This is a vertical scrolling shooter that isn’t bad in the slightest. It is reminiscing of Legendary Wings, at least the portions of it where the character(s) are scrolling vertically. Phelios is a port of an arcade game of the same name released by Namco. This is from an era when the arcades were still ahead of console hardware, so it’s no surprise that the port lacks the graphics and details of its arcade counterpart. Phelios loosely bases itself off of mythology for it visual themes and style. And despite the game’s graphics falling short of the arcade version, this Genesis/Mega Drive title is still nice looking game with a good amount of color. For the price this usually demands (not much) Phelios is worth adding to a shmup collection.
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Battle Mania 2 / Battle Mania Daiginjō
Battle Mania Daiginjō is the sequel to Trouble Shooter (as it is known outside of Japan) and it’s a game that never left Japan which is a shame because it is much better than its predecessor. Like it’s prequel you don’t play as a ship or airplane, but as a person (or persons) flying through the air and shooting. This setup and its mix of both horizontal and vertical scrolling gives the player a good change of pace from more traditional shmups. The controls are very responsive and tight and the game has solid pacing throughout. Because of its more unique play structure, it is a bit of a cult classic within the Japanese Megadrive library.
If you enjoy retro shooters and importing games (assuming you are not Japanese) owning a Genesis/Mega Drive could be a very rewarding experience. Curse is yet another shooter that never saw the light of day outside of Japan. This game sits right on the bell curve for me in regards to Genesis/Mega Drive shooters. Some of the visuals are nice and it’s not broken, but it feels a bit sluggish. Your ship does have a shield (aka energy bar) that reduces frustration when you make a careless mistake. Overall, the parallax scrolling is nice eye candy and if you are looking to grow your gaming collection you could do a lot worse than Curse.
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Aero Blasters is a game developed and published by Kaneko. It is an above-average shmup that was ported from the arcade (where it was known as “Air Buster”) to both the Genesis and Turbografx. Of the two console versions the Genesis has the better graphics; in fact the game looks great all around. Kaneko managed to take advantage of the Genesis’ color palette and made a shmup that is as colorful as some Super Nintendo games.
The game is a basic side-scroller. It features a limited number of power-ups that really contribute little, the one main fault of the game in my opinion. The stages are varied, starting in a beautiful metropolis (which you watch get decimated) and ends in a fortress. Aero Blasters features plenty of the dodging and shooting you’d expect, Kaneko did, however, add some variety to keep the player interested, though not everyone will agree with all of their choices. On stage two the play will be forced to move at full blast-processing speed through a variety of corridors that take twitch reflexes or memorization to navigate through. Stages three and four change the game physics to mimic zero gravity, and stage six has Ikaruga-like maze elements.
This game is worth checking out if you are going to explore the Genesis’ shmup library. It’s a competent game that offers a good challenge without getting frustrating. While everyone may not agree about Aero Blasters being a great game, few shmup fans will call it a bad one.
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Undead Line is a tough game that plays a lot like Elemental Master. This is yet another title to add to the list of Japan-only shooters for the Mega Drive. You can choose the order you play the stages in and each level has its own motif, a cemetery, forest, etc. There is a mid-boss and end boss for each stage along with a variety of chests containing power ups to help you out (like a very valuable shield). The game doesn’t look too bad and the end bosses are typically huge (although they often lack a significant amount of animation). The game will require practice to beat due to the fact that it can difficult at times. If you are not interested in hard gameplay there are difficulty adjustments in the options. Undead Line is a good title that falls short of being great. It’s a good game to own, but only if the price is reasonable.
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Vapor Trail: Hyper Offence Formation
Vapor Trail began as an arcade game by Data East and was ported to the Genesis/Mega Drive by Telenet Japan. Renovation saw fit to bring the title stateside. The console port is faithful to the arcade; the game itself is a vertical shooter that puts the player in the cockpit of one of three different fighter planes. Vapor Trail is a competent game and a fun shooter that features a power-up system based on four weapon types and a shield which takes the place of a bomb that is used in many shooters. Strangely, the game got a sequel in the form of a horizontal mech shooter that was released to the arcade, PSX, and Sega Saturn called Wolf Fang: Kuhga 2001. Following that the series went back to vertical shooting with another sequel called Skull Fang.
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Hellfire, as the name suggests, is one of the more difficult games on this list, but it’s also one of the most under-appreciated The name references the most powerful weapon that you have at your disposal, but it might as well be an ode to how tough the game can be, especially in the later levels. Initially a port of Toaplan’s arcade version, Hellfire holds up very well even to this day. It’s one of the better-looking and sounding games on this list, despite being released in 1990, and it retains the same solid gameplay that made it a popular arcade title in the late 80’s. What sets it apart from many shmups is the shooting mechanic, which allows you to choose one of four directions (forward, backward, vertical, four-way diagonal) to shoot in with the press of a button, and it works very well. It’s not one of the most well-known Genesis titles out there, but it’s worth a look, especially if you’ve played the rest. If you can find a CIB version, you can expect to pay at least $40.
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Forgotten Worlds is an arcade game by Capcom that got a port to a variety of consoles. The game does not follow the traditional shooter formula. You can play a one or two-player game, the two playable characters are beefy unnamed tough guys armed with BFGs. The gamplay for Forgotten Worlds is unique due to how you fire. Your gun can be powered up with several upgrades, but you don’t just fire forward in this horizontally scrolling game. Two of the gamepad buttons will allow the character to rotate themselves in a circular motion thus changing the direction they fire. One button rotates right and the other to the left. Upgrades can be bought in shops that appear throughout the levels. Forgotten Worlds is fun game, though the transition from the arcade’s twin-stick mechanics to the Genesis pad might be too much to overcome for some. If you can get comfortable with the rotating shooting mechanic there is a very enjoyable gaming experience here.
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Fire Mustang is a port of the arcade game USAAF Mustang released by Taito exclusively for Japan. The game is a side-scroller that takes place during WWII. The game takes some liberties with its history, but most people don’t play 2-D shooters for a history lesson. Oddly enough, this Japanese-developed game put you in command of a US Air Force P-51 Mustang, you fly horizontally through the game fighting off the Germans and Japanese. Shooting consists firing a direct shot forward (or multiple forward shots depending on your accumulated power-ups) and bombs that will fall to the ground. The game is competent and worth playing if it can be found for a reasonable price. If you are going to import only one shooter for the console, this wouldn’t be the top choice.
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Toaplan! This is another Toaplan game that made its way to the Genesis/Mega Drive. Fire Shark is a sequel for the shooter Sky Shark (an arcade game ported to a variety of platforms). One way to imagine Fire Shark is like Truxton if it had a WWI theme; the games have a very similar feel to them. Fire Shark is not incredibly difficult, but you do have to be careful since your airplane can only take one hit. Luckily, Fire Shark got a multi-regional release and it can be bought for a reasonable price tag online. The title comes recommended for that reason to collectors, if you are looking for a decent shooter for a rainy day you could do a lot worse.
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You can look at some games and know right away that they are Amiga games. EA was kind enough to bring a handful of PC/Amiga games to the Genesis/Mega Drive and Battle Squadron is one of them. Like many Amiga games this was not developed by a Japanese development team, but a Western one. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but anyone who has played a good variety of shmups will be able to immediately feel the difference between a Western-made shooter and an Eastern one. This is not the best shooter for the Genesis/Mega Drive, but it is unique. It is difficult to find this kind of shooter experience on a console and for that reason alone Battle Squadron is worth owning, especially if you are a fan of games along the lines of Tyrian.
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Even more Toaplan! If you have played Truxton and/or Fire shark you will be right at home with this shooter. Twin Hawk is a WWII-themed shmup developed by Toaplan and released by Taito. It was originally an arcade game that got a Mega Drive release for Europe and Japan (not North America, unfortunately). Like 1942 you play as a warplane that is in charge of decimating waves of enemies. Unlike 1942 all of your foes consist of tanks and boats. This is a unique feature of the game that isn’t a fault, it’s just a bit odd compared to the plethora of other WWII-themed shooter. Another unique feature of the game is that instead of having a bomb, you call upon additional planes to fly with you and shoot at whatever is in front of them. They are pretty weak overall and similar to the stone centurions you can free in Kid Icarus with the mallet. Still it is an interesting way to do a special attack. The game is not exceptional, but a good title for any shooter or Toaplan fan; since it is not highly priced, it’s a welcome addition to any shooter collection.
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Bio-ship Paladin, or “Gunship Gomora”, was released in 1991 on the Mega Drive, a year after it had made its debut in the arcades. It’s a pretty standard shmup in most regards, with the story revolving around the attempted destruction of a city by a fleet going by the name of the Aggressors. It’s your job to pilot the Paladin and stop the alien horde over ten levels. You control a standard gun which fires directly in front of you, but you also get a second weapon that can be used with a crosshairs for more accurate shooting, and a laser which is accessed by holding down the shoot button. The difficulty of the game is lessened a little bit by the power-ups that are available, including enhancements to your armor, which also increases your ship size, speed boosts and attachable weapons. The game looks good, with colors that really pop and stand out, and while the audio is mostly forgettable, it never gets on your nerves. Multiplayer is also available, with two players working together or competing against each other for points. The framerate slows down at times when there’s a lot going on, but for the most part, it runs quite smoothly. If you can find a copy, it comes recommended.
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Sol-Deace is not a bad game, but it is a “meh” shmup for the Genesis. The game was brought to the states by Renovation and made by Wolfteam. For Sega’s consoles it exists in three versions, the cartridge, the Sega CD, and the Mega CD (the latter two bearing the name “Sol-Feace”). The cartridge version is a port of the CD version and the Western and Japanese version differ from each other mostly in sound. The voiceovers are done in accordance to the region’s particular language, but for some reason the makers of the Sega CD version did not use the CD for some of the sound effects that the Mega CD did; there are bits of the game in the Japanese CD version that produce sharper and better audio effects as opposed to Sega CD version which got its sound effects from the Genesis console. This aside the game is an alright seven-level horizontal shmup. The power ups are weak and the graphics okay. If you have access to a Sega CD definitely get that version if you are going to give the game a go, the saving grace of this title is the soundtrack. Sol-Deace feature some of my favorite game tunes with some really standout tracks. And luckily for the game, a shmup with a great soundtrack gains a lot more playability.
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Trouble Shooter stars two young heroines, Madison and Crystal as they attempt to stop the bad guys and rescue a hostage. The game is decent enough, if you are looking for something spectacular look elsewhere. Trouble Shooter does manage to distinguish itself from other Genesis/Mega Drive shooters by featuring two jetpack-wearing females instead of a space ship. You can choose your weapons at the beginning of the level and you have the ability to have both girls focus their aim forward or one fire backwards and one fire forward. Trouble Shooter is not a very difficult horizontal shooter. The Japanese- and Korean-only sequel improves on the formula quite a bit.
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Task Force Harrier EX
Treco would release a handful of gems for the Genesis/Mega Drive including the only North American release of a Langrisser game (Warsong). Task Force Harrier EX is one of several shooters the company ported from the arcade to the Genesis/Mega Drive. In this game radical Communists have a new bomber that could destroy the free world and only you and your Harrier jet can stop them. This is not a game you play for colorful graphics. It’s a vertical scrolling shooter that doesn’t look as good as its arcade source, but it can give the player some enjoyment. You have a main attack for flying enemies and a bomb for ground units. The power ups mostly revolve around two smaller ships that flight adjacent to your Harrier and they can be aimed in various positions. Overall, it’s an alright shooter that is not broken and available for a relatively cheap price.
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This was a late release by Tengen in the Genesis/Mega Drive’s lifespan. It was developed by Toaplan for the arcade and is ported to the Genesis/Mega Drive by Tengen just like Slap Fight. Unlike Slap Fight, Grind Stormer did get a release outside of Japan. The port has been criticized as being a poor representation of the arcade version, if you can separate the title from its source you have a decent game here. It’s not without its flaws, mainly a lack of polish that other games (Thunder Force 4, Eliminate Down) proved were possible on the console. This is not the best shooter around, but if you are a collector or a Toaplan fan then it’s worth tracking down. Copies of the games are not outrageously priced, but it will cost you a bit to own.
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In this bug-themed horizontal shooter you control what can best be described as a giant mechanical wasp armed with a forward cannon. There’s nothing wrong here with the game, Insector X is a competent-enough game that doesn’t have anything broken within it, but overall the game is just average. The graphics aren’t terrible and the environments are interesting for the most part. In traditional shooter form every level ends with a large boss, in Insector X they will be modeled after an insect or arachnid. The game originated as an arcade title (whose visuals and sound were much more cartoony in nature), and found it’s way to the Genesis/Mega Drive by the way of Sage’s Creation. The game doesn’t cost much so it does come recommended if the price is low enough.
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The best part about Mega Swiv is the two different control options. Players have the choice between a helicopter (which can fly over certain obstacles) and a jeep (which can shoot in multiple directions), and both can be used at the same time when a second player comes aboard for co-op play. The story is pretty standard for the time, with you being sent in to eviscerate a group of bad guys who have stolen military equipment, and plan to use it on the rest of the world. It’s your job to make sure it doesn’t happen, and while the story doesn’t represent anything great, it doesn’t get in the way either. It’s a pretty run-of-the-mill shmup, and the visuals aren’t anything fantastic, but the co-op is solid and the different play styles add a little variety to the experience.
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As a general rule, shmups are usually known as being for hardcore gamers who love a challenge. Arrow Flash, released on the Genesis exclusively in 1990, is the exception to that rule, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some value here. The game lets you switch on the fly between two different ships, a smaller one and a robot-like transformer. They both typically play the same, but some players might prefer one to the other. Due to the comparatively tame nature of the game, it’s a perfect introductory title for those who are interested in the shmup genre, but haven’t really explored it to the level that others have. The visuals are decent, but the sound definitely needs some work. The one thing that really frustrated me about the game was the need to continually press the shoot button to fire, instead of being able to simply hold it down. It’s not the most widely available game out there, but if you find one, you can expect to pay $15-$45 based on condition and completeness.
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Thunder Force 2
Thunder Force 2 was one of the launch titles for the North American Genesis in 1989, and while it’s not as revered as its sequel, it’s still a quality game that should be in the collection of any shmup fan. The game alternates between top-down and side-scrolling stages, and while the top-down levels are decent, the game really shines with the side-scrolling. Obviously the developers agreed, as when the sequel was released the following year, the overhead portions were completely removed in favor of pure side-scrolling. You have two options for weapons, with a more powerful one that shoots just straight ahead, or a secondary option that shoots forwards and backwards at a reduced level. The opening level starts off easy enough, but the difficulty spikes once the second area begins and becomes increasingly difficult throughout the game’s nine stages. Being a launch title, you can forgive the slightly below-standard visuals and audio, but it does take away from the game when looking at it now almost 25 years later. It set the stage for arguably the best shmup on the system, and even though it’s not as good as TF3, it’s still a must-have for serious collectors and players.
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Atomic Robo-Kid started as an arcade game and it was later ported to nearly every console that would take it. If you are looking for fast paced shooter action, you’re in the wrong place. This game is slow (as in, you have to scroll the screen manually), sluggish, and difficult. Atomic Robo –Kid is a one-hit-you’re-dead horizontal shooting/action title. This game may float some gamer’s boats, but overall I see it having a hard time finding a large fanbase. The title isn’t broken in any way, there are just a lot of other titles on the Genesis/Mega Drive that will offer more immediate gratification.
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If you are familiar with the “All Your Base” internet meme, this is the game where it comes from. Besides the infamous poor translation what else does this game have going for it? Zero Wing is a Toaplan arcade shooter that was brought to the Mega Drive in Japan and Europe, but not the States. This is not Toaplan’s best game, but it is not a train wreck either. The port is very close to the arcade version and it looks decent graphically. One interesting aspect in the game is a tractor beam that you can use to grab and throw enemy ships. This may sounds great, but it doesn’t enhance the game too much. In fact it seems a lot better in writing. Ultimately, all the feature does is pull and throw small baddies, not anything cool like the weapon-stealing beacon in Gaiares. Overall, due to the import price tag (for North Americans) Zero Wing is a game that is best left to collectors who are completionists and people who are interested in it just for novelty’s sake.
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Let’s get one thing out of the way off the top: Viewpoint is much better on a Neo-Geo arcade unit than it is on any other platform, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it on the Genesis. The gameplay is a pretty faithful rendition of the arcade version, with the full complement of weapons and power-ups present throughout the game to go along with a varied enemy and obstacle set. Of course, the original did present more enemies than the Genesis title does, but if you’ve never played the original, that won’t matter. When it comes to the visuals, you’re playing from an isometric (or “¾”) perspective, and despite the obvious step down in horsepower, it looks pretty good, though the audio is really just average at best. The biggest knock on the game is that it lags, and to be honest, it can get pretty bad at spots. If you can look past the framerate issues, and the fact that you’re not getting the full experience on the Genesis, you’ll find a solid shmup that probably doesn’t get enough respect on the platform due to it not being the best version of the game.
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As you may have guessed from the title, evolution plays a key role in this one. In Darwin 4081, a port of the arcade title Super Real Darwin (not, oddly, its predecessor, Darwin 4078), the planet Lakya has inadvertently released their life force that drifts to another planet, Cokyo. The two planets end up going to war with the use of their constantly evolving weapons and ships. The storyline is probably the most interesting thing about the game, along with your ship consistently changing and evolving based on the items that are dropped by your fallen enemies. Darwin 4081 is a vertical shooter that allows you to have a standard weapon that will deal with most of your foes, as well as a ground weapon, specifically for dealing with lizard-like enemies that patrol the land. The “upgrades” to evolve your ship won’t be for everyone, so it’s advised that you try them all out and plan to avoid the ones that don’t help you out. Darwin 4081 is a pretty fast and fluid game, but it certainly won’t blow anyone away in the presentation department, as it’s one of the more bland, generic shooters on this list. Outside of the concept, there really isn’t anything spectacular here, but there’s nothing truly awful either. If you’ve tried all of the rest, give Darwin 4081 a go.
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Cross Fire (Super Airwolf)
Cross Fire (aka Super Airwolf) is a game that switches up it’s gameplay. In Japan the game proudly sports the Air Wolf brand, but outside of that region it is known as Crossfire. I assume this is due to licensing issues. At first the game is very similar to Tiger Heli, you control the helicopter (Airwolf) and lay waste to other airborne bad guys. After that comes the ground phase; you have one more opportunity to use your helicopter, this time you can take out ground unit (mostly foot soldiers) so that the third game phase will be a bit easier. The third phase is straight NES Commando-like shooting. The main character is on the ground and he can freely roam in any direction while dodging fire from other ground units. It’s not a bad combination and it is worth giving the game praise for trying something different. That being said the title is ok at best. There are a lot of better shooters to spend time with on the Genesis/Mega drive.
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Adding to Toaplan’s long list of Genesis/Mega Drive games is Twin Cobra. This is an arcade game that was published by Taito. It is the successor to Tiger Heli and like that game it is a vertical scrolling shooter that puts the player in control of a helicopter. You have a forward shot that can be powered up and a bomb that damages all enemies in a circular range. The graphics are only ok by the console’s standards and the game has a fair challenge (which can be adjusted with eight difficulty settings). Twin Cobra falls right on the fence, if you are not a shooter fan already, Twin Cobra will not convert you.
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There isn’t much to say about XDR, outside of the fact that you probably won’t have much fun while playing it. There are six stages of horizontal shooting, each with a boss at the end, and while some have compared it to Gradius, at least in concept, the two games couldn’t be more different. Graphically, XDR isn’t too bad, but the audio is uninspired in both the music and sound effect departments, and just ends up making the whole experience worse. The gameplay is too slow, and you never really feel like you’re in total control of your ship, which happens to be bigger than most ships in similar games, causing you to have more trouble than you should when it comes to dodging enemy fire. When the best thing you can say about a game is that it has cool boxart, it’s a sign that you should stay far, far away.
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Heavy Unit is a game by Kaneko, a company with a decent shooter resume including Air Buster (PC Engine & Genesis/Mega Drive), Nexzr (PC Engine CD), and Cyvern (Arcade). Unfortunately, Heavy Unit does not stack up to the aforementioned games. It’s not broken, but it’s bland overall. You control a ship that has the ability to transform into a mech, similar to a “variable fighter” in Macross. There are some colorful stages and bosses, but if you are looking for that action-packed thrill that shooter fans expect from the genre, you will be disappointed. The game’s biggest crime is just that it is boring overall and its shooting sound effect gets annoying fast. Heavy Unit never got a release outside of Japan, so it does get a bit pricey. It’s recommended for collectors and completists only.
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Xenon 2: Megablast
Xenon 2 is the prime example of a game that simply hasn’t held up well. The background graphics aren’t bad, and it is nice to be able to travel in reverse in a vertical shooter, but that’s pretty much where the positivity ends. It’s painfully slow, to the point where it’s almost unplayable. The speed of the game actually contributes more to the difficulty than anything else, and even though you can upgrade your ship, it doesn’t make the game any more enjoyable. It’s a good thing that you can reverse too, because there are several instances in the game where you’ll be trapped and have to back up, though there’s a good chance that you’ll get destroyed in the process. Note that if you want to purchase the game, it was originally region locked to Europe, so you’ll need an adapter if you’re planning on playing it on a standard console from another region.
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Xiao Monv: Magic Girl
Few people have even heard about this unlicensed Mega Drive title from Gamtec, but it’s actually pretty fun to play. I’d love to tell you something about the story, but it’s in Chinese, and I can’t translate. If anyone knows anything, please let us know in the comments. From what I can tell, it’s a vertical shooter, but it doesn’t look anything like a standard shmup with the cute and colorful appearance. The game tends to be a little slow and the frame rate can be choppy, but it doesn’t seem to affect the difficulty of the game, which remains pretty easy throughout the five levels that are present. You have three different weapons at your disposal, and enemies ranging from smiling faces to pencils will come at you from all directions, so sitting at the bottom of the screen will lead to trouble with enemies sneaking up on you from behind. The most interesting part is that the game contains a life meter, which isn’t usually present in games from the shmup genre. It’s not a long or difficult game though, and is a largely forgettable experience.
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Gadget Twins’ art style is very kiddy and calling it a shooter is a bit of a stretch. You don’t actually shoot, but punch in a short range in one of four of the cardinal directions. You play a happy little submarine that is always smiling unless you die. All the environments and enemies in the game have a cutesy look to them, which is fine and works for some games like Parodius and Harmful Park, but this game feels like some cheap Fisher-Price product. There are shops throughout the level like Fantasy Zone, but that doesn’t make it interesting. The game is weak overall and hard to enjoy. Add this to your collection only if you are morbidly curious or a collector that is a completest.
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Stay far, far away from this one. Much like Magic Girl, Divine Sealing was an unlicensed game that never made it outside of Asia, but those in other parts of the world certainly aren’t missing out. Divine Sealing is a vertical, top-down shooter where you are trying to rescue a princess through five levels of standard enemies and bosses. What’s your reward for passing each level? A striptease, of course! Suffice it to say, if you do try and play this game, it’s probably best to do it with only age-appropriate people in the room. It’s best to play this game with the sound off, but unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to stop the visuals from destroying your eyes. There’s legitimate seizure potential when sitting in front of the screen with these levels, and at the very best, you’ll be so sick of what you see, that you’ll need to turn it off. The gameplay is the best thing about Divine Sealing, but it’s still not good, as your ship is far too jumpy, and as evidenced by a YouTube video, you can actually sit in one spot, hold the shoot button and never get touched. Believe me, you’re not missing anything if you never play Divine Sealing.
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When I first got my Sega Genesis, I was addicted to Space Harrier, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of it when I first booted up Burning Force. The first thing that you notice when you start up the game is the vibrant color being used, and it really is quite striking, but being an early Genesis title, don’t expect anything of note in the graphics department. If you’re an audiophile, there are two distinct parts to the discussion here. The first being that the music is solid, and you can sound test all of the tracks from inside the options menu, which is a nice touch. Unfortunately, the rest of the audio is rather uninspired, which is kind of understandable considering that the game was released in 1990. I mentioned Space Harrier off the top, and while Burning Force borrows from the series, it is a little different. First, you control Hiromi Tengenji, as she takes on her enemies while riding a scooter. Unlike Space Harrier, you can really only move side-to-side and not vertically, but you do have your standard missiles and guns available at your disposal. The game runs at a pretty solid framerate, and when it dips, it really isn’t noticeable, but the sense of speed isn’t good. Where Space Harrier nailed the speed aspect, Burning Force seems incredibly slow by comparison, and the game isn’t really difficult, even with the adjustable settings. It’s one of those games that falls right in the middle of the quality Genesis shmups.
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Super Smash TV
Super Smash TV has attained a cult-like following in the years since its release in 1992, and surely the recently released 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 is still worth a look on the Genesis.
Contra? Leynos? Alien Soldier?
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Additional Unlicensed Titles
- Action 52
- The Earth Defend