Can we talk about shmups? What are your top 5 of all time and why?

In order of greatness:

Tyrian 2000 (MS-DOS)
Ikaruga (Gamecube)
R-Type (SMS)
Fantasy Zone I & II (SMS, Cheating, I know, but I can’t separate the two)
Stargunner (MS-DOS)

As you can see, I’m quite partial to the SMS and MS-DOS, because that’s what I grew up with. This ultimately means I was quite sheltered from the rest of the shmup world, even though I love the genre.

I put Tyrian 2000 on top because it’s such a large and varied game. There are 6 difficulty levels, dozens of ships to get, upgrades for them, and probably well over a hundred levels. It’s also open source and you can get it for free (open Tyrian).

Next is Ikaruga. What can I say about this that hasn’t been said before? It was my first foray into the bullet hell variant, and I feel in love immediately. It still stands as my favorite GC game to date.


R-Type on the SMS certainly isn’t the best version of the game, but I still have my original SMS and cart from when I was a kid. I love this game, and the first time I saw the 3rd boss (Big Green Ship) I was blown away. I still haven’t completed it to this day, despite trying. I’ve also put considerable time into the Amiga version, and in my opinion the Amiga is the best port there is of this game.


Fantasy Zone I & II are a pair that I also still have from childhood. They are very similar, yet play quite differently. Unlike R-Type, I feel like the SMS versions are the best ones to play. They are beautifully crafted, with some if the best graphics on the system, and among the best music to boot. It was likely my first exposure to the super cute graphics that a lot of shmups are now known for (cute-em-ups).


Stargunner was an MS-DOS game that I was exposed to after playing Terminal Velocity, Duke3d, and Death Really. Fast becoming a huge fan of Apogee/3D Realms, I was searching for another game made by them. I played through the demo for Stargunner countless times, but never got the full game until fairly recently. Really great game!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on your top 5!

Tyrian was the first game I ever played multiplayer on a PC. I had almost forgotten it but I will have to check out Open Tyrian for sure! Ikaruga is a game I respect immensely, but I have never been able to get far in. I think it was just that I wasn’t in the right state of mind. I had never heard of Stargunner but will check it out ASAP!

I’m a relative noob when it comes to shmups, but I discovered the PC-Engine lately and the console is changing my perspective on the genre. The PCE/TG-16 may have my favorite graphics of all time, with its ‘super-8-bit’ look, and it seems like the place to go for great shmups. These probably aren’t my all-time favorites, but here are a few that I really got into on the PCE.

(Not my pics)

Star Soldier games. I have only played Soldier Blade and Final Soldier so far, but in both the difficulty ramps up perfectly in my opinion and the levels and weapons are very varied. I love the way the weapons form a sort of health system.


Blazing Lazers/Gunhed is another gem on the PCE/TG-16. Pretty much all I said about the Star Soldier games fits here too. The difficulty is very forgiving at first, ramping up gradually without any wild spikes. It feels very organic that way. Love the weapons system again where you have so many options. The graphics are lavish and if this game had been on the Genesis or SNES I don’t think they would look out of place.

I also dig Galaga '90 on the PCE. I don’t know why really, but it’s very simple and the graphics just have a great quality to them.

Air Zonk. I don’t usually like side-scrolling shmups, but when you have the pseudo cute-em-up combined with the signature graphics of the Bonk series (just amped up in the color department), it’s hard to say no. I’ve not played this one as much as the other games, but it is a very solid game with a lot of charm. I can’t wait to get into some more cute-em-up style games now.

I also love 1943 Kai. I have never played a 19XX shmup other than this one, but this one is really great. Once I play it more it may knock Galaga '90 out of the top 5 up there.

I love shmups but feel like I haven’t played a lot of the all-time greats nor put in anywhere as much time as committed fans of the genre. That being said, my favorites:

I had this as one of my honorable mentions in 10 Games that defined YOUR childhood. I could play this for days and no playthrough was completely the same as the one before.

The game is known for its intense and fast-paced gameplay, level of difficulty, and music which seems to match the pace of the game. It has been praised for its unique adaptive artificial intelligence, in which the game automatically adjusts the difficulty level according to the player’s skill level, rate of fire and the ship’s current defensive status/capability.

Final Soldier and Super Star Soldier
Same as Bozo, also gotta include these. I have Soldier Blade on the Wii VC but haven’t really spent much time with it to appreciate it. These are fun, look great and really do have the right amount of difficulty.

Blazing Lazers
Belongs right at home with the above. Fun, challenging… actually haven’t beaten yet as I always get wiped out somewhere in the boss gauntlet of the last stage. Maybe I’ll try again for the Fall Completion challenge!

Star Parodier
This has really nice graphics and cute visual humor… and pretty low difficulty for when you just want a stress-free shmup gameplay session on a lazy afternoon.

19XX: The War Against Destiny
I think this is one of the first games I fired up on discovering MAME. I got a kick out of the antagonizing nemesis that appears throughout the game, right from the start with the attack on your flying carrier (nice 1943 throwback and the attack on your naval carrier kicking off the game). Honorable mentions to 1943 and 1944: The Loop Master.

Losing my PC Engine has taken its tole. I seriously love the super 8 bit look and I completely agree on how awesome the games look. As someone who has never been in love with Shmups, I can say between Star Parodia, The Star Solider games and a Thunder games I am really surprised how much I like the genre before it became all bullet hell shmups.

Side note, I really like Einhander and R Type Delta on PS1.

Also PC Engine the thread.

I’m rubbish at shmups and can’t cope with bullet hell style, so my list is based on games I have owned & enjoyed at one time or another, in no particular order

R Type (SMS) As mentioned by the OP, there’s “better” versions available but there’s something about the SMS version of R Type that feels nice/right, I want to say it’s the color pallete (like double dragon on the SMS is just right, but is poo on the NES) but it’s more than that, it just plays nice and I prefer it even over the arcade version.

Scramble Spirits (SMS) A nice, reasonably easy shmup with a decent co-op mode, my nostalgia goggles might be blurring this but I enjoyed this game and played it a lot.

Parodius Da! (Saturn) I love all the parodius games, it’s one of my favourite series, the SNES version is very good but the Saturn version is my favourite, interesting backgrounds and enemies make a change from the usual “spaceship” based shmups.

Sexy Parodius (Saturn) similar to parodius da, but with even more weirdness, what’s not to like!

Transbot (SMS) Not exactly a classic or highly rated but I loved this game, it was one of the first carts I got for my SMS, very simplistic side scrolling repetitive levels but being able to transform with power ups made it fun, I haven’t played it since & I don’t suppose it’s aged particularly well but I still rate it based on childhood memories.

Honourable mentions: Salmander, Pop n Twinbee, Cotton 100%, Apidya - an often overlooked Amiga game.

Hmm, off the top of my head:

DoDonPachi - the best manic shooter ever

DoDonPachi DaiOuJou - into insane territory but still #2 ever

Battle Garegga - superb balance and engaging all the way

After that I’m not sure, some others:

Sexy Parodius - hilarious and quality classic horiz

Sengoku Blade - great balanced horiz with great graphics and music.

Gradius V - basically a Treasure manic horiz

Zero Wing - tough as nails classic, killer music on both MD and PCE

Spriggan - best on the PCE? Maybe…

Gradius II - the best traditional Gradius by far

It hasn’t aged particularly well, indeed… But this is also a childhood favorite. It’s a fun little game, and I dun play it occasionally to this day.

I will come up with a complete list but I think Thunder Force III will always be my number one favorite shooter. It’s got this perfect balance of alien places, excellent music, perfect power ups, and snappy but winnable gameplay that not even the highly regarded sequel Lightening Force can top.

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Regarding R-type, the best port is the PS1 version on R-types, followed by the PC Engine. Amiga isn’t as good as either, kinda janked music and it runs choppier.

SMS version is a typical flickery 8-bit shooter, but does have FM music on the Mark III which sounds great for the era, I enjoy it for what it is. It’s kind of like the Famicom Gradius II - amazing for the machine, and a fun new thing in and of itself, but not really the same thing as the arcade or more direct ports of it.

I’m a novice when it comes to the genre, but the few that I’ve put the most time into are overwhelmingly the following:

DoDonPachi - Saturn

Giga Wing - CPS2/Dreamcast

Borderdown - Dreamcast/Naomi

Under Defeat - Dreamcast/Naomi

Battle Garegga - Saturn

DoDonPachi is by far my favourite though. It’s a blast to play, and the music is so good!

I don’t have a huge amount of exposure to the genre, but some carts that get heavy rotation at my house are:
Fantasy Zone 2 SMS
UN Squadron SNES
Gun.Nac NES
Blazing Lazers TG16

Okay, changing my list a bit. Galaga '90 and 1943 Kai are knocked down a peg, finally played:


I don’t think it’s as good as the Star Soldier games or Blazing Lazers, but it’s in the same vein as those and so I am all for it (is there a name for these types of shmups?). It’s a little harder but after getting halfway through the third level I felt I was getting the hang of it. The power-up system is good, but I think the collecting of multiple bits from each power-up ship is an unnecessary complication.

Also, how do you guys feel about overhead run-n’-gun games (jackal, Pocky and Rocky, etc.)? Do they belong on a shmups list or no?

All in all this thread has made me take a closer look at shmups, it’s mostly what I’ve been playing lately. We should do these type of “Top-5” threads with other genres!

I know I’m probably not with popular opinion here, but Jackal is probably my all-time favorite NES game. I’m not sure I would call it a shmup though.

Another similar one that’s widely considered a shmup is Gun Smoke.

I think the difference is that in a shmup the screen often scrolls in one direction, and you only shoot in one direction.

In Jackal, you move the screen on your own, and you can fire your missles I all directions.

I would count Jackal as a (run n’ gun) shmup. Traditionally the overall genre never had that requirement, and I’m almost certain that player-controlled scrolling preceded the ones with auto-scrolling in a fixed direction.

And I forgot all about Jackal in the first place when making my list! That belongs on my honorary mentions!

Overhead run and guns are pretty much shoot em ups IMO. They’re more like a sub genre.

The primary difference is no auto scrolling and in some cases control of the aim (aka shoot where you point), but some still have auto scrolling, and some have single direction aim. And some shooters have multi directional aim and even scrolling, like Fantasy Zone.

Look at say Knightmare

I mean, that’s a vertical shoot em up.

Rambo III on SMS is hard as balls, but pretty fun… Could be nostalgia goggles though.

I tried Pocky and Rocky for the first time this weekend and loved it, definitely used the exact same skills/strategies for it as I do shmups, as inadequate as they may be. Going to try Elemental Master tonight if I get the chance.

Played some Gradius tonight. What an impressive game for 1986!

I think you will really enjoy Twinkle Tale and Mamorukun Curse! if you are looking for more games of that type.

Arcade I assume?