After getting our fill of recent Xbox Marketplace title, Omega Five, we at Tech-Gaming have been
mourning the loss of a nearly forgotten genre- the shoot ‘em up. Affectionately
called the ‘shmup’, by fans, the only other recent title that has scratched our
blasting itch was last year’s PS2 title,
Raiden III. As we explore some of our
favorite shmups, we follow the ebb and flow of the genre’s colorful history.
River Raid (Atari
2600), 1982 – Designed by Carol Shaw, the first female video game designer,
River Raid was an amazing title. Most
modern shmups fall into one of two camps- 1) memorization- where player success
is determined by how well a player can recall the levels and 2) skill based- randomized
shooters that depend on quick reflexes instead of just level recollection.
Working with just 4k of ROM, Shaw generated the game’s ‘river’ using a pseudo-random
number generator. With this, the river would always be consistent from game to
game, but random enough so that as players worked their way through the game,
the land and water formations would not repeat. Enemy movement, however, was
randomized, ensuring long-lasting appeal. While few 2600 titles are still
captivating in today’s modern age, River
Raid loses almost none of its appeal.
Germany listed the game as “harmful to
minors” until 2002.
Tiger Shark (Sega
Genesis), 1990 – While other
shmups may showcase flower-ettes of enemy bullets, bursting with skyrocket-like
beauty, or offer deeper challenges, Tiger Shark gets the balance right.
Toaplan, a Japanese developer known for shooters like Sky Shark and Twin Cobra,
found perfection with this title. Released during Operation Desert Storm, Tiger Shark struck the perfect balance
between playability, difficulty, and addictiveness. The game features a single
biplane pitted against waves of tanks, boats, jeeps, and aircraft. Over a
multitude of landscape, players can power-up one of three different weapons- a
spread shot, a powerful narrow shot, and the flamethrower. Many an hour was
spent imagining the destruction of Hussein’s bunker with this title.
Factoid: Once beaten, you can play Fire Shark on a much harder difficulty level.
Dreamcast) , 2001 – While most praise Ikaruga’s minimalistic gameplay,
developer Treasure’s real shining moment was Bangai-O. Veering from true shmup dynamics, in this game, players
have complete horizontal and vertical control over their ship. Battling
gravity, players use one of two weapons, a geometric laser and homing missiles
to blast everything in sight. Play is further enhanced by smart bombs which
power is exponentially increased by the number of enemy bullets nearby. Gamers
must wait until the annihilation is imminent to release their fury- a mechanic
seen in recent Xbox Marketplace title Every
Extra Extend Extreme.
Factoid: Bangai-O was originally released for the
Nintendo 64 under the name Bakuretsu
Genetos (PC), 2007 – No
discussion of shmups would be complete without a mention of this title. Genetos
is an extremely creative shooter than evolves- you start out playing a Space Invader clone, where dispatched
enemies drop green pellets. Collect enough of these pellets, and both your ship
and the gameplay evolves. Soon you’ll be playing a variation on Galaga, then a vertical scroller, and
finally, a danmaku, (Japanese for ‘bullet
curtain’), the name given to a game where the entire screen in filled with enemy fire.
Factoid: The demo can be played through in six minutes.
Still got the itch? Here’s a list of resources where games
can be downloaded, studied, and mastered.
Shoot The Core – The Site for PC Shmups; nearly a hundred
demos and a few full games are available here.
Japon: Histoire du Shotting Game – A French documentary of the shmup, with subtitles.
Shmups – One of the most exhaustive shooter sites on the ‘net.