Elemental Challenge Day Five: Shoot ’em ups



Hi, NPCs, and welcome back for Day Five of our ongoing Elemental Challenge!

Today we’re trading out fists for big honkin’ guns. Shoot ’em ups, sometimes endearingly referred to as shmups, are somewhat difficult to pin down, though. Some similarities this sub-genre of shooters shares are lone ships fighting against tons of enemies. “Bullet hell” is a sub-sub-genre that fills the screen with all sorts of projectiles to outmaneuver. There’s also some over lap with other kinds of shooters like run n’ guns and rail shooters, though we’re not being sticklers with these lists. Debuting in space, shmups have since graduated to other settings, as some of the games below illustrate, but they’re generally always as engaging as any arcade style game.

This way to the gun show…


FF3-NES-Summoner2.png The Green Screen Mage

Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus. Okay, so this is arguably not the best game, but I love it. Maybe it’s Vincent’s whole vampire aesthetic, maybe it’s the backstory added to Final Fantasy VII, maybe it was the gameplay. No, it definitely wasn’t the gameplay. I remember enjoying it immensely, but I honestly don’t remember how great the gameplay was. I was good at it, so it was probably easy.



blackmage The Black Humor Mage

The classic Galaga is a proto shoot ‘em up, but I still love it. It’s not as intense as some of these shoot ‘em ups that have lasers and bullets covering every inch of the screen, but Galaga still takes some skill. Like I mentioned in the arcade category, I’ve always loved arcade games and I’ve basically trained with Galaga to try and beat my high scores. I hold the high score in a few arcade cabinets around town.



mystic_knight1 The Midnight Mystic Mage (Sublime Reviews)

Metal Slug. I’ll admit I was a little hazy on what the true definition of a Shmup was, but after a bit of cursory research when I saw that games like Metal Slug were also classified in this category I had to go with it. This is another roller rink arcade classic for me that had me spending endless nights and quarters on the game. (Honorable Mentions – Raiden, Space Invaders, Galaga)



spoonybardmageright.jpg The Spoony Bard Mage (Nerd Speaker)

SHMUP is not my genre of choice, but I have fond memories of Fantasy Zone for SEGA Master System. So cute, so colourful, so much fun. I haven’t played it since I was 5 or so, so I may not be remembering it right.



finalfourteenthmage.png The Final Fourteenth Mage (Cilla vs. Games)

Invasion of the Mutant Space Bats of Doom – This DOS game sure holds a place in my heart as not only my favourite shoot ‘em up genre but also one of my favourite video game titles. As a child I spent many hours at the PC weaving my way in and out of the onslaught of mutant space bats that hurtled towards my space ship using whatever power ups I had available to survive



HandheldMage1 The Hopeful Handheld Mage (Retro Redress)

I’m awful at shoot ’em ups, but I’ve been obsessed with R-Type ever since I saw it’s (3 minutes long) loading screen on my Atari ST. I love the charge mechanic for shooting and the game design is fabulous.



 The Rage Mage

Phalanx. Not the game. The NA cover art. They didn’t capture Sir Ian Mckellen’s good side. Nothing says shmup like “Dueling Banjos” from Deliverance.



rmage2.jpg The Well-Red Mage

So clearly Galaga has had a huge impact on a lot of us in this genre but I can’t believe nobody named any entry in the Raiden series as their favorite choice. Well, I’m not going to either, much as I love some Raiden II. I’d rather talk about one of my favorite recent personal discoveries which illuminates why I think delving backward into gaming history is so valuable. I’m talking about Black Widow. This dual stick arcade shooter puts you into the exoskeleton of a black widow defending her web against hordes of insects. There’s nothing quite like vector graphics anymore. If you haven’t heard of it, you need to check out the review to learn how you can get a hold of it for yourself. It’s addictive and enchanting. Other favorites of mine include the R-Type, Metal Slug, and Raiden series, of course Galaga, Space Invaders, Asteroids, and the first Star Fox, as well as some more runney and gunney type games like Sunset Riders or Zombies Ate My Neighbors (which I’m saving for another day’s challenge).



Think of this closing paragraph as the textual equivalent of me blowing a whiff of smoke from the barrel of a gun. We’ve done beat ’em ups and shoot ’em ups, come back again tomorrow for our write ’em up. Who knows what the next genre may be. Not you, dear reader, but you can let the world know what your favorite shmup is in the comments below! Thanks for reading!

Did you enjoy this post? Consider becoming a Warrior of Light and join us in restoring integrity and quality to entertainment journalism. We specialize in long-form, analytical reviews and we aim to expand into a podcast and webzine with paid contributors! See our Patreon page for more info!



36 replies »

  1. Yayyyyyy!!! Mad love for Calvin & Hobbes over here yo!!!!! Woohoo!!!
    But also gotta correct an issue:
    Lord C cannot complain that Vincent is ‘Vampire-esque’ but, really, he’s a chimera, as he turns into a lot of different stuff!
    Jus Sayin! ;P
    Lord C’s Shmup o choice is: R-Types Final!
    As mentioned previously, I went through it repeatedly with Mum (all 101 ships, pre-dementia! *Sighs* Memories!!!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes! Someone else who agrees with the Vincent vampire aesthetic! I picked that up in the original game, but I couldn’t tell you exactly why. FFVII has a weird thing with universal head canons. I can think of three major ones off the top of my head: Aeris is a “virginal” sacrifice (probably because that’s a common fairy tale/fantasy thing), Sephiroth is a general (seriously, I first noticed that on the internet, but at no point in any of the games is he EVER called that. He’s SOLDIER 1st Class, but somehow the internet decided he was a general and it’s part of the VII zeitgeist now), and Vincent is a vampire…of sorts. I guess it’s because you find him in a coffin, he’s pale and brooding with glowing red eyes, black hair, and riddled with guilt. It’s one of the many things I love about FFVII, the fact that it generates its own lore ♥♥♥

    I’m not really a shoot em up fan, and I don’t think Duck Hunt counts. Wait, there was this awesome game for the NES Super Scope. Just googled it. Battle Clash. So much freaking fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I nominate Smash TV on the Mega Drive. I was told that this game was based on the action film The Running Man, but there seems to be very little similarities between the two, other than being set in a violent game show. The game can be 2 player and consists of fighting hordes of enemies in a series of rooms. I liked the range of weapons used, including force fields, machine guns, grenade launchers, rocket launchers, huge orbiting blades, etc, which are used in different ways. The game also used a wide range of enemies (which needed different tactics to defeat) and a bird’s eye perspective. There were also a number of strange features of the game. Spread through each level are prizes (such as luggage, VCRs and lawn mowers) and money. Following the defeat of each boss, there is a short animated sequence where the number of prizes collected by each player was compared and the winner briefly celebrates. Sometimes, a TV screen will appear with the game show host, who will make a strange comment like “Big money. Big prizes. I love it.” It also had the weirdest 2 player mode I have seen, 1 player controls the contestant’s movements, while another controls when to fire their weapon.
    What is the actual definition of a shoot-em up? What is Raiden? Why is it so highly regarded?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s been a long time since I tried Smash TV. Thanks for the memories! Definitions for genres are very loose, especially for video games. There aren’t many definitions so much as there are characteristics which shoot ’em ups share. Another problem arises when games combine genres, sometimes creating new ones. Generally, shoot ’em ups are characterized by shooting over melee, fighting tons of enemies, and dodging bullets. Usually it’s in a top-down or side-scrolling style as opposed to 3D. Raiden is a good example of these characteristics and it’s a solid shmup in that it’s fun to play and easy to learn.


  4. So many shmups, so little time. There are the golden age games like Space Invaders, Galaxian, and Centipede. There are the staple series’ like R-Type, Aleste, Gradius. and Truxton. There are the bullet hells like Giga Wing, Ikaruga, or Deathsmiles. All great contenders for a favorite of genre.

    But of all of the shmups I’ve played over my life, the one I’ve probably gone back to the most is a little gem on the NES by Natsume called Abadox. It has a lot of really fun, and unique things about it. But most notably the setting. In this one you play one of the few survivors of a planet devoured by a space parasite. You have to fly deep into the bowels of the creature to save your civilization’s lone surviving monarch. So you fly alone, in a space suit, blowing away hordes of creatures, bacteria, antibodies, and monsters to get to her. Bosses all roll with this grotesque theme as well. It has some of the most unsettling visuals of any NES game, and is quite a challenge. But it’s a very compelling game.

    Curiously, shmups as a rule always seem to command higher prices in the land of retro with games like Truxton fetching as high as $100 with a box, and manual. But Abadox can be had for $5-$10 making it a great budget priced addition to any shmup fan’s collection. So yeah, Abadox gets the brass ring of being my favorite shmup.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Played it as a kid and now I have night terrors. Heck, that game could give John Carpenter nightmares… or maybe it’s a wet dream for him. If it’s not too traumatic, there’s yet another game I’ll have to revisit. I wonder why that is the way it is with shmup pricing in the retro game market?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Star Wars Rogue Squadron on the N64 gets my vote! I’m not an obsessive Star Wars fan, but I found the game very entertaining. I’ll never forget how hard it was to trip up an AT-AT.

    Honorable mentions to: Star Fox 64, and Asteroids on the Atari 2600.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on Sublime Reviews and commented:

    Day 5 of the Elemental Mage challenge has us throwing around our favorite Shmups A.K.A. Soot em’ Ups, my favorite has got to be Metal Slug with Raiden in a close second. Let us know what yours is and see what the rest of the team chose!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Loved R-Type (probably the first shoot’em up I played at home) which just turned 30th, by the way and on Amiga I really enjoyed SWIV and Battle Squadron. In recent years, I’ve been really addicted to Resogun, playing short burst weekly for years and also Super Stardust HD, both from Housemarque. Probably buying Darius Burst this week… and still have to properly play Gradius V.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I -was- going to mention having a deep fondness for the ‘Darius’ series of shoot-em-ups (SNES’s Darius Twin in particular), but then I saw this included Run n’ Guns. So the no-death-run obsession of my youth will take a backseat to the no-death-run obsession of my college years: Hard Corps: Uprising!

    HC:U was a game I found through PSN’s plus feature back on the PS3- I had a little bit of experience with Contra before, so it sounded like a gimme at that point. What I didn’t know was that Konami had handed off the reins to Arc System Works to develop this title- the lovely people from Guilty Gear and BlazBlue. It has gorgeous 2D sprites set against a 3D environment and a soundtrack composed by Daisuke Ishiwatari (also of Guilty Gear fame), plus character and enemy designs I just adore. I must have put at -least- a couple of hundred playthroughs into it, and I’m pretty sure I still remember the exact placement of everything even though I haven’t touched it in about a year.

    Seriously, go listen to the stage themes on youtube. They’re nuts and I love it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This one would be Star Fox 64 for me. Fun gameplay, great quotes, and tons of fond memories of playing this one with my mother. I love that Dirge of Cerberus was mentioned – as the Green Screen Mage said, the gameplay wasn’t anything to write home about but the story was really engaging and Vincent is a compelling character.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I don’t know why but I couldn’t get into Star Fox 64. The original is the only one I’ve liked. We’ll see about Star Fox 2, if I can get an SNES mini, but I remember getting SF2 on the Wii Virtual Console and really regretting it. Maybe at that point I couldn’t connect with it since it was so much later after its original release, and I’ve got a personal thing against early 3D. I mean, I don’t recall it being BAD but just not that engaging for me?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I actually have never played the original Star Fox, something I’ll have to fix at some point. Early 3D definitely did not age gracefully compared to say, 16-bit games, but I grew up on the N64 so the nostalgia factor is there for me when it comes to those titles.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I’m consistently fighting with myself over whether pure nostalgia makes something a favorite of mine or not. I try to balance it out with objectivity and how much a game holds up or not, but some times you’ve just got to give it to the nostalgia factor. 🙂 Plus, it looks like I’ve got another game to look for for my 2600!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I actually played both Galaxian and another game called Phoenix on the 2600 recently. Both are shooters, and both hold up surprisingly well for the era. Galaxian is accuracy quite difficult I found.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Like Beat ’em Ups, I’m not a big Shoot ‘Em Up fan either but I do enjoy Galaga and had a ton of fun with Galaga Legions DX, when it came out.

    Liked by 2 people

    • So far I’ve struggled with picking a shmup the most. It’s not the most memorable category for me, but Galaga is clearly a wonderful choice. It’s one of those games you instantly think of when you think of shmups.

      Liked by 2 people

Kindly leave a civil and decent comment like a good human being

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s