Best shmups of the 16 bit era?

Original Poster
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The SNES, the Genesis, and the Turbografx-16 had a ton of shmups. I don't know where to start. Which ones are essential?
Jan 30, 2014 2:09 PM
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If you're talking essential as in "worth serious play today" I'd probably argue none of them. Semi-true story: shoot-em-ups were kind of lousy before 1993. I'm a big fan of the genre, but aside from historical curiosity (Image Fight is Tomonobu Itagaki's favorite game!) and occasional nostalgia I don't find them very fun to play today. They tend to be so slow and memorization heavy, they can feel more like a test or exercise than a fun action game. And simple scoring systems also lead to far less depth, making them shallow too.

But you can still have some fun with the 16-bit consoles. SNES has the worst reputation of the big three when it comes to shmups (deservedly, the hardware wasn't good at them), but I'd easily recommend UN Squadron and especially Axelay. The latter in particular is really stylish, I love it. It's just cool, as silly as that sounds. Some of its staff later founded Treasure.

I have less experience with the other systems, though they do have a better reputation for shmups. TG16 has the reasonably famous Gate of Thunder and Lords of Thunder, both of which are fun. The most essential STGs on the Genesis might be the Thunder Force series, though frankly I could never get into the 16-bit versions. I'm sure somebody else can help you more with these consoles.

The Gradius and R-Type series have a great historical reputation, but I don't feel they are particularly fun to play. Not sure if the home ports are especially good either. If you're going for essential history then give them a spin, I suppose.

If we're including the 16-bit Neo Geo then I will throw in Pulstar and its sequel Blazing Star. I also love Twinkle Star Sprites, though that's really more of a competitive fighting game. The Aero Fighters games are fun too.

Arcades of that era faired slightly better, but you seem focused on consoles. Unfortunately arcade ports in general were fairly bad at that point, if they could even handle the games at all. (For example I love In the Hunt, but it wasn't until the 32-bit gen when consoles could even remotely approximate it.)

To summarize a bit, my general advice is to go into that era of shoot-em-ups with low expectations of gameplay. Instead go for style or themes that appeal to you, because that holds up a lot better than their rudimentary gameplay will.
Jan 30, 2014 4:11 PM
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I can't get into bullet hell shooters. Like I'm bad at old school shmups as well, but I actively don't understand how a human being can dodge some of the stuff they throw at you.

Edit: Actually, I did love Progear from Cave. That's one.
Jan 30, 2014 9:57 PM
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I love UN Squadron. So much fun experimenting with the different planes and weapons. I still play that one from time to time.

I also remember having a lot of fun with a SNES game called Space Megaforce. Don't know if it holds up or not, as I haven't played it since the early 90s.
Jan 31, 2014 8:28 AM
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Stu
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Gunstar Heroes!
Jan 31, 2014 4:56 PM
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For me, 16bit was all about the platformers and RPGs but there were some shumps I was pretty fond of. Not sure if we count Star Fox or not, but i liked that one too.

R-Type III (SNES)
Axelay (SNES)
Super fantasy Zone (Gen)
Gley Lancer (Gen)
Thunder Force II/IV
Super Megaforce (SNES)
Feb 1, 2014 6:22 AM
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Not entirely convinced by Axelay - I've always thought the vertical stages with the Mode-7 effects were kind of nasty and they're half the game. The horizontal stages are pretty good though.
Feb 1, 2014 9:57 AM
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star fox
Feb 1, 2014 10:08 AM
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Perfect Stranger;20781212I can't get into bullet hell shooters. Like I'm bad at old school shmups as well, but I actively don't understand how a human being can dodge some of the stuff they throw at you.

Edit: Actually, I did love Progear from Cave. That's one.


People dodge them the same way they dodge all the fast aimed bullets in Gradius, R-Type, etc. -- memorization and practice!

But bullet curtain games like DoDonPachi were created specifically because the creators felt they were bad at dodging too. So you tend to get numerous slower bullets with big obvious patterns (it might be counterintuitive, but the larger number is actually helpful -- it makes visibility and player prediction easier when you're looking at a pattern of dozens of bullets as opposed to a few stray bullets that are aimed directly at you), you get a tiny hitbox (huge hitboxes are easily the most frustrating part of pre-Batsugun SV shooters), you get a reasonable default movement speed and usually an easy way to slow down for precision (like holding the fire button down), and you get a design that is less punishing when you do fail a dodge. For example the once standard checkpoints are almost unseen, you rarely lose all of your attack power when hit, bombs to save your skin tend to be numerous, many danmaku have mechanics to absorb or reflect bullets, and so on.

Beating a bullet hell game like ESP Ra.De. (highly recommended) is far easier than beating UN Squadron or Gradius 3 or whatever. And newer shmups like Mushihimesama Futari and Deathsmiles tend to be even easier.

This is all gross generalization, of course. Exceptions exist everywhere. But when it comes to frustration levels I'd take nearly any bullet curtain game over 16-bit shmups like Gradius 3. There might be more action going on, but it's going to be easier on the player. Old shmups were designed to punish, slapping the player's hand whenever they made a mistake. Newer genre examples seem to be aimed more at making the player feel like a god who can shrug off even fatal blows.

Progear is great.
VoivodNot entirely convinced by Axelay - I've always thought the vertical stages with the Mode-7 effects were kind of nasty and they're half the game. The horizontal stages are pretty good though.

The vertical stages in Axelay tend to be common complaints, but I'm not really sure why. There's some minor accuracy issues near the curved top of the screen, but that's about it. And in exchange you get beautiful, creative stage designs filled with unique threats. Stage 3 is one of my favorites and a good example, freely switching between blasted wasteland and futuristic city, with destructible floating mazes, anti-aircraft emplacements you can only dodge, and for my money possibly the best looking boss in that era of shmups.

The horizontal stages are longer anyway. I'd wager that the final horizontal stage is roughly as long as all of the vertical stages put together.
Feb 1, 2014 12:04 PM
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DeadScreenSky;20782677
The vertical stages in Axelay tend to be common complaints, but I'm not really sure why. There's some minor accuracy issues near the curved top of the screen, but that's about it. And in exchange you get beautiful, creative stage designs filled with unique threats. Stage 3 is one of my favorites and a good example, freely switching between blasted wasteland and futuristic city, with destructible floating mazes, anti-aircraft emplacements you can only dodge, and for my money possibly the best looking boss in that era of shmups.

The horizontal stages are longer anyway. I'd wager that the final horizontal stage is roughly as long as all of the vertical stages put together.


Agreed. I've heard similar complaints about Life Force which IMO is one of the greatest shumps of all time. Again, the verts are shorter and still amazing. Admittedly, I wouldn't stand a chance without "the code."
Feb 2, 2014 8:09 PM
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SheDezy;20784541Agreed. I've heard similar complaints about Life Force which IMO is one of the greatest shumps of all time. Again, the verts are shorter and still amazing. Admittedly, I wouldn't stand a chance without "the code."


At one time I could beat Life Force without the code.

But yeah, I really loved that game back in the day. Probably my favorite NES shmup, and I was only able to beat it without the code because I played it so damn much.

I suspect if I went back to it I'd kind of hate it. It was pretty slow, if I remember correctly. But fun back in the 80s!

(Salamander 2 is sort of a sequel and is awesome, if you've never tried it give it a chance.)
Feb 2, 2014 8:34 PM
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