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I'd like to take some time here to honor one of my favorite genres; the SHMUP (shoot'em'up).
Though the genre has existed for a quarter century, it is probably one of the purest genres in terms of its execution. The games are easily identifiable and adhere to a fairly basic formula; typically, you play a lone warrior or vessel required to lay waste to an armada of enemies that come at you in hoards. Shoot as many enemies as you can, collect power-ups, kill the bosses. Its such a simple recipe, yet it almost always tastes great. These games harkon back to the glory days of the arcade, frustrate us with thier difficulty, yet remind us just how fun it was, and still is, to be the last soldier and blast through countless waves of foes.
There are staple series of the genre, and several notable one-offs, but regardless of their pedigree, these games are most notable for the manner in which they challenge the gamer. They are hard. Your thumbs may bleed. You may even rage quit. But you'll come back. And you'll love it.
I actually had a difficult time selecting my Top10, even to the point that I had to load up a few of the games to help me decide. I will caution other fans of the genre, my Top10 is a personal favorite list, and not necessarily the consensus "best ever". I felt the need to explain, as my list actually ignores two of the staple series in the genre, being GRADIUS and RAIDEN. Both series are wonderfull, yet no one game in either series was good enough to crack my personal favorites.
So friends, without further delay, here are myTop10 Favorite SHMUPS........
#10 "ABADOX: THE DEADLY INNER WAR" (NES)
Okay, I know a few of you are like "wha?", but this was my first ever SHMUP, and it will always hold its place in my heart. It was actually one of the first NES titles I ever owned, and I used to play it for hour upon hours. The premise at play here was a giant entity that you actually had to enter, and fight your way through. The first two stages were typical 2D side scrolling, but you'd soon enter the massive being and find top-down gameplay aswell, as you fought your way through this living creature. Certainly not the flashiest or best known title on the list by an means, but it squeeks in at number 10 simply because it was the game that got me into the genre in the first place.
#9 "REZ" (PS2)
Definitely the most unusual selection for the list, this rythm based SHMUP published by SEGA is noteworthy simply because of its uniqueness. Its still got all the typical staples of the genre including power-ups and boss fights, but the game also had a unique blend of sound and rythm to its gameplay. Its different, and certainly isn't for everyone, but fans of the genre should at least check it out, if for no other reason than seing the genre stretched in such a creative way.
#8 "RAY CRISIS" (PSone)
Working Designs, known most specifically for thier fantastic work localizing and publishing many Japanese RPGs in north america also dabbled in SHMUPS from time to time. Thankfully, somewhere in between localizing such RPG notables as Lunar, Alundra, Dragon Force etc etc they were kind enough to give us this wonderfull gem on the PSone. Just looking at this screenshot makes me cry, as I've somehow lost my copy of this game, and its replacement cost on ebay is ever climbing. I need to find this game again. Anyone have a spare copy? I didn't think so.
#7 "DARIUS GAIDEN" (SEGA SATURN)
Darius Gaiden makes the list due to two distinct features; incredibly odd large bosses, and its non-linear progression. The bosses in this game are great, in that "what!?" sorta way. You're flying a heavily armed but diminutive space ship (surprise, surprise, lol) but as you proceed through space you encounter......yup, giant, mutating, mechanical fish. Well, space is an endless ocean is it not? As for the progression, you actually get to choose which path you take through the game, as opposed to always replaying the same stages. Everyone plays the same first level, but from there, you have branchingroutes to different levels, so the game has some great replay value to it.
#6 "SILPHEED: THE LOST PLANET" (PS2)
Another great SHMUP published/localized by Working Designs. Again, your typical scenario of a lone ship against an invading space armada, but this one went to more effort to portray story than most others. Its got great gameplay, some very powerfull upgrades, and an interesting combo bonus system for gamers who love thier point totals and high scores. It also had some voiced story segments and cutscenes that were very cool. It also stands out because it loves to throw bosses at you. Many stages not only have a final boss, but also several sub-bosses to boot. Maybe not the most unique or original, but overall, a very solid effort.
#5 "SOLDNER-X: Himelsturmer" (PS3 via PSN download)
The genre lives on!! This PSN download gem is a must hve for any fan of the genre. Thankfully, the developer resisted the urge to use "modern" technology to make the game 3D, and instead created a wonderfull 2D experience, granted with the very best in graphics and sound. Its essentially the best of the old, meets the best of the new. Oldschool side-scrolling progression, but tossed in are some collectable items which open up a secret level, and a wonderfull combo system in which you not only collect power-ups, but "chain" your upgrades and weapon swaps together to open up even more powerfull upgrades. Huge bosses, stunning visuals, and damn, just so much on the screen at once! Being a newer release, it also has trophies to collect, and online leaderboads for you sadists who are sick enough to play this thumb-bleeder long enough to earn a top score on the harder difficulty settings.
#4 "R-TYPE FINAL" (PS2)
R-TYPE has always been a staple series of the genre, but this edition, by far the best in the series, is a whole new level of awesome. 100 customizable ships. 160 weapon and power-up combinations. Still one of the most gorgeous SHMUPs in terms of visuals and color. Huge, diverse bosses. 2D gameplay, blending with 3D rotations that squeeze an added element of depth from the stages. Oh, and its got 100 different customizable ships and weapon combinations. Uses the weapon "pod" feature (you can release your weapon pod and place it to the rear of your ship, to shoot backwards) to add a layer of difficulty and depth to the action. And its got 100 different ships and weapon combinations. You can also charge your weapons for devasting attacks. I mentioned the 100 different ships and 160 different weapon combinations right? You need to play this.
#3 "PANZER DRAGOON ORTA" (XBOX)
Its both sad and unfortunate that the greatest game of one of SEGA's greatest franchises didn't get released on a SEGA console. But alas, Panzer Dragoon Orta became an Xbox game as the DreamCast was lost before its time. I simply can't say enough about the series in general, as all three Saturn releases (including the RPG version) were wonderfull, but this is definitely the highpoint of the series. Its technically a rail shooter, as you generally follow a set path, but the game has so much diversity to it that you almost forget its linear. You can shoot to your front, rear, and both sides, and you don't feel nearly as restricted as you do in most other shmups. The graphics are fantastic, the gameplay is tight, and the game just oozes beauty at every turn. And lets be honest, there's something just inherantly cool about riding a mystical dragon into action and shooting from atop its back. My only complaint is that the game wasn't ported to the GameCube and PlayStation2, where it would have garnered more attention and allowed more players to experience the pinacle of Panzer Dragoon.
#2 "RADIANT SILVERGUN" (SEGA SATURN, JP only)
Sadly, this is the one game on the list I've never actually owned a copy of. It almost pains me to have to admit that, as any fan of the genre simply needs a copy of this game. The problem? It only got a JP release on console. A few friends had modded Saturns back in the day, and the odd time I've come across it playing in local gaming shops, so I've thankfully been able to experience this title, granted never to the extent that I'd like. Still, its place is secure in the upper eschelon of SHMUPS. I don't mod my systems, but I'm considering picking up a second (modded) Saturn for this game alone.
#1 "IKARUGA" (NINTENDO GameCube)
Similar to Radiant Silvergun on the Saturn, this title originally came out in Japan on the Sega DreamCast console, though thankfully it saw more localization support. It was ported to the Nintendo GameCube for its North American release, which any North American fan of the genre should be eternally greatfull for. Its also an XBoxLive download at this point from what I understand. It throws a simple, yet wonderfull gameplay twist at the player; the gameplay relies on a balance between white and dark energy, and the ship can be flipped to suit either. While the ship is white, the white energy cannot hurt you. In fact, you actually power-up your weapons by absorbing the energy! The trick is the tactical nature in which you flip your ship from dark to light to avoid taking damage and absord more power. This relates to the other added feature of the game, being the bullet eater challenge. Thats right, its actually worth bragging rights in Ikaruga to never fire a shot! If you can carefully manage to navigate the flipping of your vessel to stay alive, and simply absorb energy without firing back, you my friend, are a bullet-eater! By the way, this is also hella-difficult, with a rediculous amount of action on the screen and some of the smallest safe spots ever seen in the genre.
Well, there it is folks, my favorite SHMUPS. Hope you enjoyed the list, and please, pass along any of your favorite SHMUP achievements, stories, and fave titles, as I'd love to hear'em.
Peace for now, Cheers.
......numbers between 1 and 10.
10. NINE -c'mon, its a pretty lame number. I mean, what is it? Essentially just an upside down and flipped six right? They couldn't think of anything else? seriously? I mean, there's only 10 numbers which are then used to make all the other numbers, so how is it they couldn't come up with something other than just inverting a number they already came up with a few minutes earlier? Lame and unimaginative.
9. SEVEN - by far the most overated number. Lucky number 7 eh? yeah, well its never done a damned thing for me, so skrew it. You'd be at the bottom of the list if it weren't for the lameness of 9. And aren't there seven deadly sins? Doesn't sound so lucky to me. Just ask Brad Pitt. One minute you're doing alright, the next minute your wife's head is in a box. Good movie though, so I'll allow a little leway with seven if you want to move it on up your own personal list.
8. FOUR - I don't really have much to say about four, its just kinda there. Fairly generic, non-descript, primarily just a placeholder between three and five really, and even then, nothing overly special about it. Maybe its because I'm Canadian. Four quarters in a football game right? Blah, we watch Hockey in periods of three thanks. The 4th of July? Just another day up here folks, sorry. Four seasons? We don't have those either, we just have Winter, and thank-god-its-not-winter.
7. SIX - Six might rank higher if not for that bastard nine having stolen some of its wind. I feel kinda bad for six in that regard. I mean, nobody though it a good idea to make an upside 4 another number. Did they just flip over a 5 to make another number? nope, left five well enough alone. What about 8 eh? why not just turn 8 upside down? wait, thats still an 8. Well, you get the idea, why pick on six? and then you go and make 666 the sign of the devil? man, quit dumpin' on six.
6. TWO - it takes two to make a thing go right, it takes two to make it outta sight. And who the hell am I to disagree with Rob Base? It also takes two to tango right? well, I don't even like dancing, but I sure as hell can't tango by myself, at least not without crying afterwards. Two heads are better than one, thats what they say isn't it? sure, there's two sides to every coin, but I dunno, two seems pretty important sometimes.
5. FIVE - yup, lets just keep five right where it is eh? Sometimes a high five is just the right reaction. And 5/5 stars ain't bad right? you need five more reasons for five being here at number five? I'll give them to you! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Okay, that seemed much more intimidating if you could see me making a fist with my fingers, so lets just leave five where it is simply to mark the midway point between one and ten. Hell, I bet you're glad you're halfway done reading this blog! High Five! *slap*
4. EIGHT - its just a really fun number to draw isn't it? I think so, plus, if you turn it sideways you've got the symbol for eternity. Pretty cool eh? Eight is 4-ever. Get it? eternity, FOUR-ever, and its at #4 on the list? Yes, I've had a few drinks, eight in fact, maybe I should have 4-warned you? bwahahaha *cough* I'm sorry.
3. ONE - some would argue that one is the loneliest number, but I disagree. Zero is the loneliest number. Heck, its not even on this list, thats how lonely zero can get. But one on the other hand, well, one can be utter bliss. Numero Uno, number one champ, number one contender, number one in your heart. Its nice to be number one sometimes isn't it folks? Plus, one is the only number that appears on this list twice (as its a requirement of ten), well, unless you count that 9/6 debacle we discussed earlier.....
2. TEN - how can you not like Ten? Its perfect isn't it? ten out of ten, thats the standard is it not? You know when you do something that totally kicks ass, what do you do? Thats right, a high Five. But what about those momentus occasions when you do something that kicks even more ass than what would be the normal standard for such? Thats right, you double that up and give it a high Ten. Plus, its the very first number thats actually made up of two other numbers, so its like the best of two things. You follow?
1. THREE - its easy to like three, you just have to tri. See what I did there? Try-Tri? As in Trifecta! Or how about Triforce! Thats right, what good is a decent grasp of numbers without courage, wisdom and power? Aren't Triangles considered the strongest shape in engineering? Maybe I made that up, but it sounds familiar and reasonable. Or what about Trilogies!? Lord of the Rings? Star Wars? Alien(s)? Indiana Jones? And look what happens when you go past three, what do you get? The Phantom Menace and Crystal Skull folks, thats what you get, and then you'll wish they'd have just stuck with good'ol number three.
To anyone who's played "God of War", the title may sound familiar, as it directly references a "challenge" mode found in the games "extra features" menu. Well, simply put, its one of the absolute worst "extra features" modes I've ever come across. Its just horrid. The prize you seek is the unlockable costumes and skillsets for Kratos, the game's protagonist(?) which is something fairly standard for games, though it requires you to plow through 10 really boring and generic "challenges". The problem is, those challenges aren't really challenges at all, as there are 8 extremely easy ones, set amongst two that will have you pulling your hair out in clumps. The game in general, while good overall, is marred by one of the worst game camera's, which often make depth perception a chore, and since you don't have control over the camera (which randomly pans around at times) it means you can be bne killed by an offscreen enemy you can't see, and platform jumping is at times, trecherous, especially with moving platforms that don't behave properly with the camera.
Long story short, the "Challenge of the Gods" is one of the worst "extra" modes I've ever encountered in gaming. It strips the game of its puzzle elements and throws generic tasks at you, such as "kill 4 of these enemies without killing the others" (frustrating as hell since the "other" enemies constantly walk in front of your attacks, and often times the bad camera makes vision the biggest challenge), and the mundane "make your way across the moving platforms" type drivel. No thought or work put in here, just some extremely boring and lame mini-game type crap, a few of which are rediculously difficult to boot.
Anyhow, it got me to thinking about what the best "extras" have been in games.
There have been many different attempts at interesting "extra mode" scenarios, but personally, my favorite has always been the "Boss Rush", which allows you to replay just the epic boss fights of the game, whichcan apply itself to pretty much every genre from RPG, Shmups,Action or Platforming etc. Andcoincidentally enough, the "boss rush" would have been the best choice for a game like "god of war" which has so many great boss encounters. Others that I've seen are the "side missions" variety,in which you can go back and play a portion of the game from another vantage point, action based missions such as the "mercenary missions" found in Resident Evil games,and some allow access to replay key mini-games that were encountered in the game.
So, I'm just wondering, do you guys care about a games "extra features" and "bonuses"? Do you think they are relevant, or do you just skip them? What are the ones you either enjoyed or felt were lame?
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