Playstation Shoot' em Ups!


The Sony Playstation was the hands-down winner of the 5th generation console wars between the Sega Saturn and N64. Objectively, based on sales, there was no comparison. It wasn't my favorite console of that generation, but it had a great library nonetheless. There were several cross-platform entries, but that's OK. Several of these are Japanese exclusives, but they can be played with other means today.



Raycrisis and Raystorm

Raycrisis


Raystorm
Raycrisis and Raystorm are very similar in theme and gameplay. I think one is the sequel, or prequel to the other, its hard to tell as they are both set in the future. Everything is rendered in 3D for both games, and they haven't aged all that well. Once you accept this there is fun to be had here. The primary game mechanic here is the lock on targeting for enemies in the background plane. Your main laser is fine, but the real fun is using the targeting reticule and taking out enemies before they arrive on your plane. Of the two, I prefer Raystorm, as I feel the control is better. In both games, there is a slight return to center if you let go, giving is a slight "on-rails" character. The pull to center is a bit too strong on Raycrisis for my liking. Maybe you won't notice it, maybe its in my head. It's not a deal beaker.



G-Darius


Another Darius game in a long line of Darius games, G-Darius makes the leap into 3D (actually 2.5D as it is still side-scrolling) with mixed success. The Bosses are larger than life and look good, but almost everything else doesn't. The gameplay is traditional Darius gameplay, except for the new capture ball that you can through at enemies (usually mid-bosses), and force them to fight on your side. A novel tactic that was explored in Darius Gaiden, but put to greater use here. Overall its a fun Darius game.



R-Types


From what I can tell, this is a near arcade perfect port of R-Type. There are a couple of home ports of this game, but I think this is the best, it looks great through RGB via scart. I am terrible at this game and nothing has changed. Both R-Type and R-Type II are on this port, and some options are selectable at the onset as well. I wish I were better at this game, as I feel my enjoyment of it is limited due to its punishing difficulty. Its a great game, I just have some kind of mental block where I die at the same point over and over again. One day I'm going to practice and try to get through it. One day.


Gekioh: Shooting King


This game is a fairly straight-forward game. Known on the Sega Saturn as Shienryu, the localized name doesn't do it any favors. I can't see it flying off the shelves with a name like that.
Anyway, its a very competent 2D vertically scrolling shooter, with some very nice effects. When enemy ships are hit, they trail downward, venting smoke all the way until they impact. This is impressive for a sprite-based game. The lightning weapon is equally as impressive when powered up; it jumps from enemy to enemy as it dispatches them one by one. Also present are a typical vulcan that widens with power ups and missile salvos. The character of the bombs also change, depending on which weapon you have. Control is smooth, and speed up capsules are available. Its a fun, lesser-known title.


Raiden DX


This is a tweaked and refined version of Raiden II, with more options and more advanced scoring mechanics. Specifically, you can choose from three levels: Alpha (training), Beta (5 stages), and Charlie (8 stages). Stages are remixed in the later Charlie level from the original Raiden II. It's kinda like the special champion edition hyper fighting version of Raiden. If you liked the earlier Raiden games, you'll like this as well. 




In the Hunt


A unique game in that there are very few submarine-based shoot'em ups. Without doing too much digging I can say this is the best one. Developed by the same team members as the Metal Slug series, the detail oozes from every pore. The love that went into the character sprite design is unparalleled. For a traditionally slow moving vehicle like a submarine, you might think that the level of action would be muted, but think again. There is so much going on at one time, it can be difficult to focus. Each torpedo, depth charge, missile, and explosion is laden with follow through animations, giving the game a level of animation that is inspiring. This can lead to some slowdown, as would be expected, but its a worthy tradeoff.




Zanac Neo

The first Zanac game on the NES was a difficult game. Even for its time, it was pretty impossible without a turbo fire setting. Zanac Neo, found on the Zanac X Zanac collection, shows its heritage in that regard. The visuals are fantastic, and the music is modernized with a trance - electronica grove thing going on, its reminds me of the music in Lumines. Like the original Zanac game, power ups are numbered, and you can level each one up if you collect them consecutively. It was developed my Compile, and similarities can be gleaned here and there if you follow the genre. I had more fun after I notched the difficulty down a bit.


Parodius Series



The Parodius series originated as a spin off of Gradius. The power up system and difficulty are the obvious give aways. The stage and enemy design is laden with choices that make you wonder what the programmers were smoking. There are multiple releases for the Playstation, but they were Japanese exclusives, like many games on this list. They are worth tracking down, as they are definitely unique, and a refreshing departure from the usual grim shoot'em ups out there.



Harmful Park

Once you get used to Parodius, the next step in weird shooters is Harmful Park. This game takes place in a theme park setting and builds stages around them. Roller coasters, zoos, candy shops, haunted houses all make for colorful and active scenery. Oddly, there is a wedding chapel scene where a distraught groom's tears spray out and kill you. Makes sense. The weapons are as random as the stage design, employing pie throwing, shooting potatoes, and an sundae explosion. You can acquire a jello shield, becoming encased in a jello mold (like in The Office). If you die, you respawn automatically, which I much prefer. You'll likely die a lot as you get distracted by all of the random background happenings; its worth it as the game design is some of the most inventive ever seen in a shooter. This game is prohibitively expensive, it may be the most expensive shoot 'em up on the system, so find another way to play.




Thunder Force V: Perfect System

The Thunder Force series cut its teeth on the Genesis/Mega Drive, and the jump to 3D was inevitable for this platform. The action is still primarily side scrolling, with polygons in lieu of sprites. I find the visuals to be a step back, as the sprite work in the previous entries was so good in comparison to chunky polygonal shapes. Aside from the newer visuals, the gameplay is largely the same. Some of the typical weapons remain, but a new entry is the game-wrecking Free Range weapon. It's a little hard to use at first, but master it and you can take down bosses in no time. This was originally released for the Saturn.


Salamander 2 (Salamander Deluxe Pack) (import)

This collection features Salamander, Life Force, and Slamander 2. Life Force and Samander are essentially the same game, except that Life Force adopts the collected-power-capsule method of weapon upgrading, like Gradius. Both Salamander games were unreleased stateside. The real treat here is Salamander 2. The graphics and stage design take another step forward in the series, and it is one of the most enjoyable games to play in the Gradius-Salamander lineage.


R-Type Delta

The fourth installment in the series also takes the leap into 3D. While most early 3D visuals don't age well, I find these more palatable than those in Thunder Force V. The gameplay is definitely R-Type, with newer features like adjustable speed, and a charge up system for the force pod. It is not as punishing as the previous entries, but still its not easy. It is a nice refinement of the series.


Gradius Gaiden (import)

By this point in time, the Gradius franchise is well established, and the gameplay is fairly predictable to those who follow the series. What makes this game stand out is the beautiful attention to detail in visuals. The stage design, enemies, and bosses all were lovingly designed, as if to make a statement with the first entry in the the 32-bit generation. Being a gradius game, it is just as difficult as you would expect it to be, but you will enjoy every death as the game is much more appealing to look at.


The Raiden Project

This is a collection of arcade versions of Raiden 1 and Raiden 2. Both ports are nearly perfect, with the addition of customizable button configurations and difficulty. This is a great choice for beginners due to that last feature. Having both games is a treat as well, since the first is a classic and the second improves upon the gameplay by adding a new weapon type, the purple toothpast laser, and a new scatter bomb. Just as you would expect, it is twice as fun with a second player. I had a hard time deciding between this and the Japan-only follow up, Daiden DX. Raiden Project just edged it out due to it having both games.



Darius Gaiden (import)

Darius games up this point were just average. The previous entries were OK, good enough for some casual play, but not really cracking anyone's lists of the best shooters. Darius Gaiden is in my opinion, the first Darius game to garner such attention. The screen bursts with color; this is the most visually appealing game in the series. The music is some really strange space opera on acid, as if alien fish teenagers were congregating at a rave near the edge of the universe, flailing glowsticks all about. The bosses are bigger than ever, and their demise is followed by a blinding screen flash. The outlandish screen sucking bomb is immensely satisfying to drop, and I regret every time I die not dropping them sooner. The difficult curve is appropriate, and you won't mind playing it over and over again as it is that funky.


Donpachi & Dodonpachi (import)

Donpachi, one of the first games produced by developer Cave, made the blueprint for how to make a bullet-hell shoot'em up. The different firing styles add a now-taken-for-granted gameplay strategy of alternating between concentrated fire and weaker, wide shots. Many people play games like these for high scores or one-credit clears (1cc), but I'm content to just play and enjoy the game as it comes. I haven't 1cc'd any shooter, and probably won't anytime soon, but I appreciate these all the same.


Soukyugurentai Obushutsugeki (import)

One of the few Playstation appearances from Raizing, the developer that produced the excellent Battle Garegga for Saturn. This game makes use of a secondary plane attack, as in, being able to target enemies in the background and fire at them with homing lasers before they come to the fore front and pose a threat. The standard weapon is fine, but the real fun is trying to string together as many targeted background enemies as possible.



Strikers 1945 I & II (import)

I champion this series at every opportunity. To me, it is a near perfect shooter for all levels. The adjustable difficulty allows players to learn at their own pace. The variety of planes, each with their own attack patterns, charge shots, and bomb attacks adds a lot to replay value. The control is tight with the perfect amount of speed and maneuverability. Lots of color, realistic sprite design, imaginative bosses, and fine tuned amount of chaos make for one of my favorites. The two-player co-op adds tremendously to the fun factor. Parts 1 and 2 were released in Japan, whereas only part 2 was released in North America, but it was titled as "Strikers 1945" despite being the sequel.


Einhander

The most intriguing entry on this list is also Squaresoft's only foray into shoot 'em ups. The developer that is renowned for RPGs tried its hand in the genre, and hit it out of the park. Clearly inspired by Blade Runner, the dark visuals, futuristic vibe, and rock'n techno music all contribute to a moody, serious, and challenging game. Its visuals are are 2.5D, with polygons instead of sprites, but 2D side-scrolling. This can be good or bad, and I think this is best case scenario for early polygons.
Bosses are all oversized technical monstrosities, many of which transform and are dismantled piece by piece, making for satisfying battles. The primary mechanic in the game is controlling the weapon arm. Certain enemies carry weapons that can be captured after their demise. These weapons act as a secondary weapon, but in most cases are more powerful/useful than your main weapon, this is probably intended. Why Squaresoft did not follow it up is a mystery to me, perhaps they wanted to have a perfect track record for the genre, maybe the team that made the game got fired, who knows? I I think its one of the best in the genre, and even one of the best games on the console.

I do have issues with Sony's attempt at a d-pad, and find it sub-par. When I play any kind of 2-D game on PS1 I use the Sega Logistical Services Saturn pad, made for PS1. I also pull out the arcade stick here and there, but the Saturn pad is my controller of choice.


The best Playstation controller for shmups is originally a Saturn controller.










PC Engine Shoot'em Ups!


My PC Engine shmups laid out on a table.


The Turbo Grafx-16 aka PC Engine definitely has the largest library of shoot 'em ups. I wanted to give my ranking of them, along with a brief synopsis. This list is limited to games that I actually own, so there may be a few games left off the list (does anyone actually own all of them anyway?).  Also,  I have a tendency to refer to the system as the PC Engine since do not own a Turbo Grafx-16. This listing is loosely ordered from not great to great, assigning a score out of 5, and saving the best for last. Could the order change a month from now? Sure. These lists are fluid and of course influenced by new appreciations.
Enjoy!

Note: I purposefully excluded caravan shooters from this list, as I feel they have a very different purpose/direction than the typical shoot 'em up game.


Avenger
Vertical / CD

So the game opens with the utter destruction of mankind, so that's where the title comes in. This game looks and plays like an NES game. The fact that it was released on CD is mind boggling, the only reason that I can think why is maybe it was cheaper to press CDs than to make Hucards. The visuals are plain, the music is there, but what kills this game is the weird movement and shot lag. When your helicopter moves from side to side, it rotates the direction of its shot a few degrees, but the time it takes to do so inhibits any sort of accurate firing during that time. And as with most shoot 'em ups, you are constantly moving, which means you are constantly shooting poorly. On another note, anyone want to buy a copy of Avenger?
Rating: 1.25 / 5


Legion
Horizontal / CD

There are a few peculiarities about this game that are worth mentioning. First, each stage is narrated in English, with the unformed candor of a high school junior speaking to his rhetoric class. It's so bad that it's good? Second, your ship looks like one of those Super-Soaker water guns from the '90s, and shoots like one too. The enemies come in way too fast, and you are just so underpowered that the game doesn't last long.  When I made it to the first stage boss, nothing happened. I mean, I think the game is broken, because I sat there and shot it for five minutes straight, and nothing changed at all. There was no flashing doe to damage, there was no obvious weak spot. I just turned it off. Oh, and the music sounds like it was recorded from a Casio keyboard pre-programmed play along track. It's just sad.
Rating: 1.5 / 5


Paranoia
Horizontal / Hucard

Weird. This game has some weirdness in the enemy design and music. There's some severe underpowered disadvantage here, only when you grab a few power ups do you feel useful. The options are interesting, as the I button rearranges them to face different directions. The shot of the options changes, and not all are useful. Some enemies are pointless, and some are harder than they should be. Meh.
Rating: 1.75 / 5


Barunba
Horizontal / Hucard

Barunba is an odd game, where you fly a ball-ship that has rotatable guns that allow for 360˚ fire. Pressing I rotates them in one direction, while the run button rotates them in the other direction. Pressing select changes the equipped weapon, and II fires. It's an interesting idea, but the control is a little wonky, decreasing the enjoyment.
Rating: 2 / 5


Armed Formation F
Vertical / Hucard

The game has some really odd enemy designs. Some enemies look like eyeball handmirors, others look like alien burritos. It's gameplay is a little rough around the edges. You ship starts way too slow, and deaths abound until you catch a speed up. The core element is your ability to change the position of your options, by placing them in front or behind. The problem is, you need a special icon in order to do this, and it is a one time use, and is temporary. What a weird design choice. The music is a bit grating. This one is not a winner.
Rating: 2 / 5


Rabio Lepus Special
Horizontal / Hucard

In this trippy horizontal shooter you pilot robotic rabbit-ship of some kind. You have standard pea shooter, some limited-use homing missiles, and a melee punch for close quarters. So, it's unique in those ways. You have a three-hit shield, but your bunny ship keeps taking damage from environmental collisions, which seem unavoidable. This game is entirely skippable.
Rating: 2.25 / 5


Hawk F-123
Horizontal / CD

This is pretty basic, like 8 bit basic. It starts very slow, and a couple of speed ups are needed to make it playable. Your weapons power up very slowly. You can pick up options, but they fire so infrequently that they are barely helpful. The only reason this is a CD game is because of the CD audio, there's not much here.
Rating 2.5 / 5


P-47
Horizontal / Hucard

P-47 is a simplistic, WWI themed horizontal shooter. Your plane, the P-47 I assume, fires straight ahead, and can drop bombs at ground targets. Various weapon pickups stick to the realistic type of weaponry from the era. Nothing about the game jumps out, and it's fairly competent, although the style is reminiscent of the excellent UN Squadron. The music is pretty bad, it sounds like a six year old is learning how to play the church organ. Other than that, in a sea of vertical space shooters, it's a nice way to change things up a bit.
Rating: 2.5 / 5


Ordyne
Horizontal / Hucard

In Ordyne you are a kid flying an open air ship or hovercraft in a fantasy world of weird creatures and environments. Taking out strings of enemies produce crystals, which can be used to buy upgrades at the shop. Your craft is way too slow by default, and so you should buy the speed up power up. You can buy a vulcan shot, three way shot, etc. You also throw bombs at the ground, and those can be powered up as well. The gameplay is pretty easy going, there's not too much challenge here. There is is some funky music, which fits the style of game.
Rating: 2.5 / 5


Steam Heart's
Vertical / CD

This is a game known more for its mature cut scenes than its gameplay. The story, from what I hear, is batshit crazy, and your job is to lay all of the female bosses. This takes place via several cut scenes after defeating the stage boss. As far as the game, it's fairly standard, nothing to write home about. Enemies and patterns are uninspired, and weapon power ups are typical. You do have a dash mechanic, which when timed properly, can whisk you out of trouble. There's a lot of spoken Japanese dialogue, which is not helpful. It's worth trying out once to see what all the fuss is about, just don't play it around kids.
Rating: 2.75 / 5


L-Dis
Horizontal / CD

In this cute 'em up you are a character not unlike Konami's TwinBee. Immediately you notice that your speed is very slow, and your enemies are much faster. Despite the slow speed, the game isn't too hard. Power ups can be had, but they appear in Japanese text, and you just don't know what is what. Grabbing anything will help, but each time it's a guessing game. I don't think the I button does anything, so it's got some simple gameplay. You character is not animated at all, save for the jet flame behind you, however the boss battles are entertaining, and humorously animated. I find the backgrounds oddly plain, like basic cityscapes, where as the characters are all cartoonish and cute, it's almost if two different people made these graphics, and did not have a shared understanding of what the game was about. This was a CD release, but besides the recorded audio, there's nothing on this game that couldn't have been put on a Hucard. Regardless, it's a nice game for beginners to ease into.
Rating: 2.75 / 5


Chou Jikuu Yousai Macross 2036
Horizontal / CD

This horizontal scroller is set sometime after the Macross movie (Robotech Macross Saga). You pilot a veritech that changes configuration from stage to stage. Your default weapon is the straight forward vulcan, and air to ground bombs. When the stage calls for battloid mode, you fire constantly, rotating clockwise with the I button and counter clockwise with the II button. Gameplay is not terribly innovative, but the variety is appreciated. The visuals are fair, all of the character and ship sprites are recognizable. The music takes bits from the movie, and is fine. While playing this game, I can't help but feel like I'd rather be playing the excellent Scrambled Valkyrie on the SNES. It's a decent game.
Rating : 2.75 / 5


Side Arms Special
Horizontal / CD

Side Arms is a spiritual successor to Section-Z, released in the arcade and on the NES. The gameplay is of the flying humanoid variety. The II button fires to the left, and I fires to the right. This is in line with the previous games, but rarely do you need to fire to the left. Weapons can be picked up, and selected with the run button, and select pauses the game. The graphics are fine, if not slightly above an 8-bit machine. The music is the typical late '80's cheeseball synth with saxophone emulating instrumentation. It plays fine, it's an OK game. It was also released on Hucard, I assume without the "awesome" music.
Rating: 2.75 / 5


Dai Senpu (and Daisenpu Custom)
Vertical / Hucard / CD

Known as Twin Hawk, Daisenpu is a basic WWII shooter by Toaplan. The enemies are all ground based, so the pace is slower than other airplane shooters. Your standard shot can be powered up, but there is no other weapon to be picked up. Instead of a super bomb, you call in a squadron to fly with you, and fire straight ahead in formation. They mirror you movements to a degree, but ultimately they get shot down. The game has no frills, and what you see is what you get, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's a solid early title.
Rating : 3 / 5


Space Harrier
3D / Hucard

Sega had supported the PC Engine with several of its popular arcade ports, and this is an example. The conversion is decent, better than those on the NES and Master System in terms of performance and faithfulness to the arcade original. One difference, which shouldn't be a big deal but it perplexing, is that the normally tiled floor is now just straight horizontal lines. I don't know if this was a trade off for performance, but it's just odd.
Rating : 3 / 5


Psychic Storm
Vertical / CD

I don't know what the storyline is here, but Psychic Storm has some creative enemy and stage designs. You can select one of four different pilots/ships at the start of each stage, each has their own weapon fire characteristics, ranging concentration lasers to wide spread shots. You have a charge meter that when full, allows you to transform into a giant creature with serious firepower. This is timed, but you can extend the time by picking up little pods that enemies drop. The visual style relly comes out with these transformations, and you'll have to select each to seem them all. The game relatively easy, good for beginners. The music is varied, which fits the theme of different characters and creatures. Check out the xylophone track on stage 2!
Rating: 3 / 5


Final Blaster
Vertical / Hucard

Final Blaster is a vertical scroller, which is fairly generic. Your ship has adjustable speed on the select button, which visible changes your ship's wingspan, so that is a nice touch. Holding the shot button releases a phoenix attack, which is useful against certain enemies. The downside to charge shots of PC Engine games is having to turn off the turbo switch to use it, which is nuisance. The game can get difficult, with certain enemies dashing onto the screen quickly and unexpectedly, or the homing missiles that never stop chasing you. The graphics are average, as well as the music. There are some simple cut scenes at the start of the game, which is nice for a Hucard.
Rating: 3 / 5


Violent Soldier aka Sinistron
Horizontal / Hucard

To the uninitiated, any PC Engine game with the word "Solier" in the title might be assumed to be part of the flagship Star Soldier series. This game is completely unrelated and different altogether. Your ship has a mouth that can be opened when you cquire power ups. It can open wide, half-open, or closed. When open, your shot is spread wider, but your cockpit (?) in the mouth is vulnerable. When closed, your shot is a narrow stream, but the tip of your ship is invulnerable. When half open, your shot provides intermediate coverage, with some frontal vulnerability. It requires different strategies depending on the stage and enemies, and will definitely take time to learn them. It makes an impression.
Rating: 3.25 /5


Aero Blaster
Horizontal / Hucard

This arcade conversion (known as Air Buster in the west) is a rather vanilla shooter overall. Seven different power ups are available, but non seem to be great, as they are secondary to your main shot. It's a decent shooter, but it's not without its flaws. I don't like the chance element when catching power ups. The manner in which you pick up the power ups is haphazard; a carrier explodes when shot, tossing several various icons up in the air. Whichever one you grab is what you get. The gameplay is fast, and this is mode apparent in the stupid, stupid, speed tunnel stages. You'll die from crashing into walls just as much as you would from enemy fire.
Rating: 3.25 / 5


Dragon Spirit
Vertical / Hucard

A fantasy shooter where you fly a dragon, spout fireballs and dropping bombs. The sprites are well drawn, and backgrounds are fitting. The gameplay is fairly standard, and you will need to heed ground enemies as well as those that are flying at you. Power ups enable you to grow a second or third head, increasing your firepower. This is a neat idea, easing the difficulty that arises from your hit box being your entire sprite. There is some decent chiptune music here. It's a basic, solid shooter.
Rating: 3.25 / 5


Dragon Saber
Vertical / Hucard

The sequel to Dragon Spirit, Dragon Saber is more of the same, with some graphical upgrades. The gameplay is essentially the same, although there is now a charge shot when you are not firing. The power ups seem to be mostly the same, and your dragon has just as large of a hit box as before.
Rating: 3.25 / 5


Super Darius (and Darius Plus)
Horizontal / CD / Hucard

Japan did not shy away from rereleasing the same game with minor improvements. There are actually three variations of the first Darius game for the PC Engine: Super Darius, Darius Plus, and super rare Darius Alpha. Darius Plus was compatible with both the PC Engine and il-fated Super Grafx. The original arcade game was three screens wide, so any home conversion is going to be adjusted to work on consumer televisions. This game is hard, and it's not for the right reasons. The enemies are really fast, and take too many hits before they go down.  Even the usual popcorn enemies aren't really popcorn enemies if each one takes 3-4 shots. You can power up your shot eventually, but if you die you will restart woefully underpowered for the stage that you're in. The stage selection option in between stages was novel at the time, and has become a trademark for the series. The other notable feature of the game is the emphasis on aquatic enemies, which would persist indefinitely. The game is not great, so it's surprising that the series continued.
Rating: 3.25


Super Darius II
Horizontal / CD

The second game in the Darius series was also released as a three-screen arcade game, only this time, the home port seems to be less well adjusted for home console. It looks as if just the center screen was used, allowing for a more zoomed in aspect ratio,  making your ship being too large for the screen. I guess Taito did not want to spend too much time rescaling the play field to a standard 4:3 screen ratio. W
hat's odd is that this game was ported to the Genesis, and that version does have a rescaled playfield. The game feels cramped, and is frankly less enjoyable as a result.
Rating: 3.25 / 5


Metal Stoker
Vertical / Hucard

Different from the usual shooter, Metal Stoker is a tank shooter. Your ground based movement is subject to the physical walls and land barriers, the pace is self guided. Your shot direction is variable, and locked in one direction with the I button. It takes some getting used to, but it is absolutely necessary to master if you want to progress. Each stage is multi-layered, and you need to progress to the elevator of each section, and take it up to a new section. It's a novel approach to making stages larger. The visuals are generic futuristic fare, and the music is serviceable. The difficulty is fair, but how far you go will depend on how well you grasp the direction shot locking.
Rating: 3.5 / 5


CD Denjin (Super Air Zonk Rockabilly Paradise)
Horizontal / CD

This is the sequel to Air Zonk, and it's not really an improvement. Sure the music is CD quality audio, but the gameplay took a step back. There's not as much happening on screen due to fewer enemies, and fewer graphical effects (no parallax scrolling). Power ups are less novel. Boss battles seem uninspired. In isolation, it would be fair game, but it just can't escape the greatness of its predecessor.
Rating: 3.5 / 5


Mr. Heli
Horizontal / Hucard

Mr. Heli is a refreshingly original game for the genre. It's Part shooter, part platformer, part cute 'em up. You are a helicopter that shoots straight, above, and bombs below. Rocks can be shot to reveal crystals, which are used as currency. Power up items are exposed when you shoot rocks, and if you choose to purchase that power up, you can grab it and spend the money. Your character can walk, and this is important as it is the only time you can drop bombs. Otherwise, the bomb button shoots upwards when you are in flight. This dual mechanic of firing is put to  use through out the level design and boss battles, making you think a bit about how to tackle each enemy.
Rating: 3.5 / 5


Dead Moon
Horizontal / Hucard

Dead Moon is a basic horizontal shooter. The weapons are basic, the control is basic, the graphics are basic, the music is basic. However, the result is greater than the sum of its parts. The game is fun to play. The boss battles keep you on your toes as they swoop on over to the other side, and your ships flips direction. There's plenty of parallax scrollling, and enemy design is very rudimentary. Sometimes you just want to play a simple, fun game.
Rating: 3.5 / 5


TwinBee
Vertical / Hucard

TwinBee is a cute' em up offers some new shooter mechanics. You have the vertical shot as well as a ground bomb attack. You have two boxing glove arms dropping the bombs, each of which acts as a hit point and gets shot off, diminishing your ground attack. To acquire power ups, bells can be shot out of clouds, and change colors depending on how many times they are shot. Blue bells are speed increase, green bells give you ghosts that behave like options, white bells increase shot power, and so on. You will find your attention divided between the enemies and bullets on screen, as well as trying to cultivate a bell for a specific power up, which usually results in no power up or death. It's tricky to navigate, and decide on the spot what is the priority, and this gives the game a sneaky amount of depth.
Rating: 3.5 / 5


Rayxanber II
Horizontal / CD

When starting this game you are instantly shown lots of parallax scrolling and background scaling.  Next you will die because you didn't see that one bullet behind the scrolling scaffolding in the background. Still, the detail in the graphics is excellent. The fast moving enemies provide a stiff challenge, and the busy scenery adds to that. Your ship has a dash maneuver, which can quickly whisk you away from a collision. Use this sparingly, as I find myself evading one collision just to dash into something else. So, it's only sort of helpful. Power ups come in the form of unique "clocks" that show with their hand the direction of fire, and the color indicates the type of weapon. Enemies come from all over, so changing up the direction of fire is mandatory. Of course, to know which direction to focus your firepower requires memorization. The game has very nice visuals, and would be fun to watch as a spectator, if you were watching someone play who was good at the game. I say that because this would be no fun to watch someone play poorly. You would be watching the same stage over and over again, but there are easy stages as well. Let's just say that it's not balanced.
Rating: 3.5 / 5


Rayxanbar III
Horizontal / CD

Rayxanber III still retains the excellent graphics and presentation found in its predecessor. It's difficulty is more balanced as well, making for a less stressful game. The bosses are huge and there is some trial and error in learning how to attack them. The weapons are mostly the same, Utilizing color coding and hands on the clock as directional indicators for firing. Oh, and there's the new blaring sound effects for the laser that will make your ears bleed. The dash mechanic is back as well. I like the feel and control of this one better, but I have to play with the volume way down.
Rating: 3.5 / 5


Spriggan Mark 2
Horizontal / CD

First of all, I don't see how this game is connected to Serei Senshi Spriggan. I didn't really know the story of the first game, and I don't know the story of this game either, but contextually, they don't seem to connect. I guess that doesn't matter, this happens in other franchises like Phantasy Star on the Genesis. Beyond that, the gameplay is very different. We now have a horizontally scrolling shooter, with lots of action-interfering conversation. I mean, lots of it. From their facial expressions its all very intense, and if would be great to have a translation. You still pilot a mech suit, and you still have adjustable speed, which is always a good thing. You can cycle through different weapons with the select button, and you have a shield which can regenerate. This is a good idea, since your sprite is larger than a space craft would be, easing the difficulty a bit. The action is fast, enemies take several hits to take down. The visuals are great. Sprites are very detailed and animated, many are segmented and visually fall to pieces when destroyed. If you like mech shooters, check this one out.
Rating: 3.5 / 5


Kyukyoku Tiger
Vertical / Hucard

Kyukyoku Tiger is known as Twin Cobra in the west. The game is fairly basic, with three different weapons and super bomb. The default weapon does not have rapid fire, so this is definitely a candidate for turbo switches. The early stages are easy enough, but it gets tough quickly. The visuals decent for an early game, definitely better than the other ports on the NES and Genesis. What cracks me up is the neon yellow paint job on the enemy tanks. Though it's a vertical scroller, the game does scroll somewhat side to side as well, increasing the play field. It's a solid, though not flashy game.
Rating: 3.5 / 5


Image Fight II
Vertical / CD

Picking up where the first left off, Image Fight now boasts CD audio, as well as graphical improvements. the core gameplay is mostly the same. You can still upgrade your default weapon, pick up fixed or mobile options, and adjust your speed. A new mechanic is the ability to launch you options at enemies with the select button, adding a new layer of strategy. It's also still hard. If you like games that are hard, this is for you.
Rating: 3.5 / 5


Fantasy Zone
Horizontal / Hucard

A Sega arcade icon, Fantasy Zone is one of the earliest cute 'em ups that I can remember. It's bright and vibrant color palate stands out, and the enemy designs are cute and unique. The gameplay is a throwback to the old Atari games like Defender and Chopper Command, where you can change direction on a dime, and you control the rate of horizontal scrolling. The premise is simple: destroy the enemy bases (which look like casserole dishes) on the stage, then fight the boss. Downed enemies drop money, which can be used to purchase weapon upgrades at the shop that appears. The weapons are great, but they escalate in price each time purchased and they have a time limit. I find that the default weapon with the turbo switches turned up works for me.
Rating: 3.5 / 5


Kiaiden 00
Horizontal / CD

Kiaiden is a flying mech shooter, where you robot is equipped from the onset with five different weapons. Initially, the weapons don't all seem to be useful, but they charge when not fired, and this charged form can be fairly destructive. You gave a life bar in the form a shield power, making the game more forgiving. There is a lot of dialogue that takes place in cut scenes, as well as during the action, but its all in Japanese. This is a lesser known title that would have been a great candidate for translation.
Rating: 3.5 / 5


Override
Horizontal / Hucard

Override is a simple, fun shooter. The gameplay is fast! You can control your speed, and even the slowest speed is almost too fast. Power ups seem to be raining from the sky, there are constantly appearing on the screen. The options have different types and directional patterns of fire; you get two right away instead of one. Your ship has a three hit points, making this a forgiving game. The music is upbeat, with that bouncy chip tune sound. The visuals are fairly basic, there's nothing that really jumps out of the screen.  This game is just a lot of fun to play.
Rating 3.75 / 5


Galaga '88
Vertical / Hucard

The original Galaga was one of my favorite arcade games when I was a kid. To this day, I still stop and play it whenever I see it. It is such a classic, it still holds up to this day. Galaga '88 evolves the classic gameplay, with increased enemy variety, movement, and tactics. The backgrounds are more varied, there are actually scrolling stages occasionally, and even some boss battles to mix things up. A cool new feature is the ability to start with a dual ship, which carries a risk/reward element. You can even form a triple ship! The game becomes pretty addictive. This is a must have for fans of the series.
Rating: 3.75 / 5


Fantastic Night Dreams Cotton
Horizontal / CD
Truly a "cute" 'em up, Cotton is the epitome of the genre. Fantastical setting and characters, vibrant colors, upbeat music, Cotton would is a game you could let little kids play, except that it's more challenging than it appears. Your witch fires with the II button, and drops bombs towards the ground with the I button. Shooting crystals will change their color, and indicate what kind of shot you will be powering up. Holding the shot button releases a magic attack, best saved for boss battles. While i like the variety of attacks, I would have preferred a rapid fire shot with the bomb assigned to a different button altogether, so I don't have to toggle the turbo switches on and off in the heat of battle. You can acquire options in the form of fairies, and how they behave depends on the color of shot you have at the moment. There are nice graphical effects, like the ground shaking when a boss slams into it, and multi-plane scrolling. The music is nice, if a but too soft. It's a refreshing break from the norm of spaceships and air planes.
Rating: 3.75 / 5


Tatsujin
Vertical / Hucard

I find games made by developer Toaplan pretty hard. There's something about them, the large hit boxes, the fast and jiggy enemy movements, and slow power up progressions are all trademarks for the company. Tatsujin is no exception. Memorization will only get you so far, there is a point where you need to navigate the tightest gaps with your huge hit box in a fraction of a second. The music is pretty good, but the sound of your weapon firing drowns it out. The bomb sprite is perhaps the most memorable image from the game; its not every game where your bomb channels a giant skull. People love the hell out of this game, and I want to like it, but it doesn't like me. Good luck.
Rating: 3.75 / 5


Image Fight
Vertical / Hucard

Image fight is a tough game. Your hit box size seems at times larger than your sprite. Despite that, it is an enjoyable game with interesting mechanics. Your ship speed is adjustable with the 1 button. Power ups can upgrade your primary weapon, and you can also pick up option gun turrets. There are two types: one that shoots in a fixed position, and another that fires in the opposite direction of your movements. This is where the fun comes in, as being able to fire at opponents that are chasing your while you retreat is somehow very fulfilling. The game design takes this into account, like in stage 2, where you need to direct your fire towards the ship that takes up the right side of the screen. You need the moveable turret to survive this, and if you don't have it you learn a lesson. Interestingly, the pods that carry the power ups take several shots to take down, which I've never seen before. The music is odd, and somewhat memorable in a weird way. It will take a lot of playtime to get used to the game and progress, but it doesn't feel cheap.
Rating: 3.75 / 5


Hellfire-S
Horizontal / CD

The first of Toaplan's horizontal scrollers for the PC Engine Super CD Rom, Hellfire plays with deliberate pace. You have four different weapons that have situational use, and therein lies the challenge. Being able to switch to the appropriate weapon is the key to surviving. What is nice is that when you get a power up, all weapons power up. The graphics tend to look a little chunky, but it's all fine. The music is serviceable, it does the job. The game does offer up a challenge, but you learn pretty quickly why you died. There's some cut scenes to tell some story in Japanese, but it doesn't matter, the game is a unique offering and definitely worth a try.
Rating: 3.75 / 5


Zero Wing
Horizontal / CD

The second of Toaplan's horizontal shooters for the system, Zero Wing offers a unique capture mechanic, where you send out a short tractor beam, capture a small enemy, and use that enemy as a shield, or fling it at another. During this time your ship's sense of inertia changes when you are carrying an enemy, and you are weighed down, which is a nice touch. Your first power up brings about two options (called natals) that immediately enhance your firepower and can block enemy bullets. The graphics are nice looking, with lots of technical machinery and glowing bits in the background. The music is what you would expect for an early-90's CD shooter, it's fine.
Rating: 3.75 / 5


Nexzr (and Summer Carnival '93)
Vertical / CD

Nexzr is a visual tour de force for the PC Engine. Right out of the gate, the background visuals stand out, featuring a giant fleet in the midst of battle, explosions left and right, laser blasts from all directions and enemy battle ships materialize from out of nowhere. Keeping your eyes on your ship takes effort as there is so much to look at. The gameplay is relatively stripped down as far as controls; you fire with one button, and there's no bombs to bail you out. Despite the pared down controls, this doesn't detract from the gameplay at all. The game is hard, however, so repetition is a must if you want to get anywhere.
Rating: 3.75 / 5


Parodius Da!
Horizontal / Hucard

Parodius is Konami's parody of their seminal franchise, Gradius. It takes the same gameplay mechanics, power up system, and enemy patterns, but replaces all the characters, enemies and stages with spoofs. Despite being bright and cute, it's just as hard as it's predecessor. The game was so popular in Japan, that it was ported to nearly every system over there. Still, Konami decided not to bring it to North America. It's a shame, because it would have been an asset to the Turbo Grafx's fledgling North American library.
Rating: 3.75 / 5


Forgotten Worlds
Horizontal / CD

A Capcom arcade game, and part of the jetpack series that includes Side Arms and Section-Z, Forgotten Worlds is the best of the three. Your human protagonist rotates 360˚ either clockwise or counter-clockwise, and your satellite shoots in the same direction, with a 30˚ tanget. The Avenue-3 controller pad was designed for this game, and has three action buttons: rotate left, shoot, rotate right. Downed foes drop money for use in the shops (I find it hilarious how the shop just erupts from out of the ground) to purchase weapons, armor, health, etc. The art direction for this game is fantastic, with some inspired boss battles, and atmospheric stages.
Rating: 4 / 5


Star Parodier
Vertical / CD

A spoof of their own Star Soldier series, much like Konami did with Parodius and Gradius, Star Parodier is a light hearted shooter.  You can choose to pilot a PC Engine, Paro Caesar (ship from Star Soldier games), or Bomberman.  Your shots are tailored to the ship you choose, for example the PC Engine ship shoots Hu-cards and CDs.  The graphics are bright and colorful, perhaps the most use of color out of any PC Engine game.  It has a pretty mellow difficulty, making a nice entry level game to the genre.  The soundtrack is pretty great too.
Rating: 4 / 5


Download 2
Horizontal / CD

The sequel to Download was released on a CD instead of Hucard. The story is now in Japanese, but from the context it seems just as crazy as the first, involving the brain of Hiter, from what I gather. Download 2 changes some gameplay mechanics, such as no longer having adjustable speed, instead relying on speed power ups. You no longer pilot a hover bike, instead flying a fairly generic flying craft. You now start off with four different weapons, that are selectable at any time. Power ups can be picked up, as well as a shield and options. It is just as challenging as the first game, and even if a bit less visually striking, it is still one of the better shooters available.
Rating: 4 / 5


Raiden (and Super Raiden)
Vertical / Hucard / CD
Raiden was an instant classic when it hit the arcades, and so every console wanted a piece of it. The PC Engine port is pretty faithful, although the aspect ratio is a bit squat, but that was the case on almost all home ports. The gameplay is largely unchanged from the arcade, except that two-player has been removed. Still, overall it is a solid shooter with all of the little details done well. The CD version has orchestrated music, and sounds a little weird after being used to the classic chip tunes. Other than that, there's not much else added that improves the experience.
Rating: 4 / 5


Coryoon (repro)
Horizontal / Hucard

One of the cutest cute 'em ups out there, you are a little dragon on a quest to save your princess. This is one of the most colorful games that you will ever see. Character sprites are animated and wonderful. The gameplay is forgiving, despite the hectic pace. There can be a lot going on at once, sometimes too much, as there is fruit to collect from downed enemies, which can fill the screen, and obscures enemy bullets. If the game feels like Air Zonk, it's because members of that team also developed this game. I would say it's a must own, but it's rarity and cost make that nearly impossible. Find a way to play it.
Rating: 4.25 / 5


Magical Chase (repro)
Horizontal / Hucard

Magical Chase is an energetic, colorful romp through a fantastical world of Jack-o-lantern people, naked surfing kids, and other oddities. Your well animated witch is accompanied by two stars that fire and protect you, and the direction of their fired can be adjusted and locked in a direction. You can spend your collected gems at the shop, and purchase fire power upgrades, health points, spells, and more. There's a fair amount to try, adding to replay value. The music, presentation, playability, and visual panache all help explain why this game is so sought after. This game has a reputation as being one of, if not the most expensive game for the console. I wouldn't know it's current asking price as my copy is a reproduction from http://www.tg16pcemods.com/.
Rating: 4.25 / 5


Download
Horizontal / Hucard

Download has a pretty strong Blade Runner influence, along with some Matrix-like story elements. The text is in English, so you can actually appreciate the intricate cut scenes and animations that they managed to cram into this Hucard. I haven't seen a Hucard with this much content before. Rather than a ship, you pilot a hover bike with adjustable speed, which is a sometimes underrated feature. Weapon load outs are selected at the start of the game; you choose your main shot and secondary weapon, which is limited.  You have a life bar, so there are no one-hit deaths, which is good because there's a lot going on at once. Download is highly entertaining and inventive, and a shining example of a game that developers really poured their passion into.
Rating: 4.25 / 5


Sylphia (repro)
Vertical / CD


A vertical scroller similar to Spriggan, you control a flying human (angel?) through a mythological/fantastical world. Power ups are centered around the earth/wind/water/fire theme, and are upgradeable via little green orb drops, not unlike MUSHA. You have a life bar, which is a welcome addition in my book. The enemy designs are well drawn and varied, particularly the bosses. The gameplay is smooth, and speed is adjustable. This game is a great game that happens to be rare, and so that drives the asking price into the stratosphere. Try to play if if you are a fan of Compile shooters, you will feel right at home.
Rating: 4.25 / 5


Gradius
Horizontal / Hucard

What else can be said about Gradius at this point? It's a seminal title that really made the horizontally scrolling style of shoot 'em up stick. While this has been ported to nearly every console, I think that the PC Engine version is the closest to arcade for a non-cd format. This is a game that makes you thankful for turbo switches. The rub on the Gradius series has always been the letdown after dying, when all of your power ups are gone, known as "Gradius syndrome". Any Gradius veteran knows full well that when you start at a checkpoint you will nary have enough power ups to survive the later stages, and so often people just quit the game after dying. While this detracts from the game a bit, it doesn't tarnish the legacy too much, its still considered a must play.
Rating: 4.25 / 5


Gradius II
Horizontal / CD

The sequel was not released to the west until the Playstation Portable collection. I didn't evern know it existed until then. This is a fantastic follow up to the original. The stage and enemy designs are bigger and badder. Flaming pheonix birds and alien enemies jumping out of pods are just some examples of the eye candy that this game offers up. The gameplay mechanics are largely unaltered, still using the collection of power orbs to move the meter for weapon power up choice. What is new is the choice of weapon load out when starting the game. The lasers, missiles, options, etc., have different tweaks made to them, and you can experiment with the new offerings, adding to the replayability. The difficulty is still here, and so again, I resort to a one and done session when playing this as starting halfway through the level with no power after dying is not for me.
Rating: 4.25 / 5


Super Star Soldier
Vertical / Hucard

The Star Soldier series has some expected tropes to it, such as varied weapons, each can be progressively powered up by collecting similar icons. It's a simple mechanic that just works. Homing missiles and shields can also be picked up. The pace, control, and overall playability is the gold standard for vertical shooters on the system. The graphics and sprites are well designed, but the backgrounds can be a bit monotonous. The game can get difficult, and the worst part is starting the stage over when you die. It was Hudon's first entry in the series, and things improve later on. Not a bad start, though.
Rating: 4.5 / 5


Final Soldier
Vertical / Hucard

Erroneously titled, Final Soldier was the second entry in the Soldier series on the PC Engine. Many of the gameplay elements remain intact, such as the weapon variety, power up mechanic, and secondary weapons. A new feature is the ability to drop your option off like a bomb, which clears the screen. This strategy is very useful, especially when you already have two and see a third one coming; you can fire a bomb knowing that your option will be replaced. The difficulty curve is eased back, allowing for respawning on the spot. The game is sometimes criticized for being too easy, but I'm fine with that because my skill level does not often allow me to finish games without unlimited continues.
Rating: 4.5 / 5


Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire (repro)
Vertical / arcade CD

Sapphire is to the PC Engine what "Little Samson" is to the NES; an infamous example of an extraordinarily priced retro game. This game came out very late in the Super CD System's life, and is one of the few games that requires the Arcade card in order to play. The RAM provided by the arcade card allows Sapphire to produce some truly amazing graphical feats for the aging system. Examples include graphic morphing, 3D images, rotation, scaling, and more. The game does have two player co-operative play, assuming you have a multi tap. The game play is smooth and enjoyable, provided you select a ship with sufficient speed. This is the pinnacle of achievement for NEC's little white wonder, and what a way to go out.
Rating: 4.5 / 5


1943 Kai
Vertical / Hucard

The venerable classic, 1943 Kai is the a fantastic port of the arcade game, boasting more weapons, a more robust soundtrack, and more on-screen action than the NES version.  Your plane has a life bar; no more one-hit deaths.  The roll maneuver is still present, but I find it to be an afterthought, as it doesn't damage your enemies.  The enemy sprites are more varied than you would think for a 1943 game, and their some of their attack patterns adapt to your position and follow you around!  There are multiple power ups to acquire after taking out a string of red planes, and they are on a timer.  The power up method adds a layer of strategy as you try to avoid enemy bullets, while shooting the power up icons to change it to a weapon that you like before grabbing it. The gameplay rachets up a notch after stage 7, when your plane is outfitted with a rocket pack and powered up shot. This adds a whole new dynamic for the remainder of the game, and almost makes it feel like two games in one.
Rating: 4.5 / 5


Salamander
Horizontal / Hucard

An iconic title that has been ported many times, the PC-Engine version is one of the best versions. The graphical integrity of the arcade has been fairly well maintained, and the music is just as good.  Since this is a spinoff from the Gradius series, the protagonist is still the Vic Viper, but added here is two player co-op, with the second ship named the Lord British.  Gone is the power meter for upgrades; instead you pick up what is dropped by red enemies.  The picked up weapons can be leveled up if you grab another icon for that same weapon.  Bosses are large and imaginative. Unfortunately, being related to Gradius, the problem of the game being ridiculously hard if you die persists, as the process of powering up is a long and arduous one.  Still, a classic and must have for the system.
Rating: 4.5 / 5


R-Type (I and II and R-Type Complete)
Horizontal/Hucard/CD

A seminal entry here, R-Type is to many the standard for paced, horizontal shooters.  The force ball mechanic is one that has been emulated many times, and is really what makes the game so enjoyable. The strategy and execution of placing the force ball on screen can make the difference between annihilating  a stage and being annihilated.  Add to that the ability to charge shots for a stronger burst, secondary weapon pick ups, and you have a nicely balanced array of offense at your disposal.  Sprite design is top notch, perhaps some of the best of all time, and the music is serviceable.  The stage and background design in top notch, you can tell the developers were set out to make a memorable game, and they succeeded. It is a hard game, you will have to earn your way through the game via repetition, but doing so is enjoyable and rewarding. This game inspired many others to follow. One annoying aspect of this game is that it was originally split between two Hucards, due to memory limitations. Later on, the North American release was combined into one Hucard; I guess they figured out how to make larger chips. The CD version includes CD audio and new music, nut I much prefer the chip tunes of the original.
Rating: 4.5 / 5


Gunhed (Blazing Lazers)
Vertical/Hucard

An early release for the system, this game has outperformed expectations to ridiculous proportions. The action is constant, yet not overwhelming.  The sound is futuristic and upbeat.  The weapons are basic yet perfectly suited to the gameplay.  You can alter your ship speed at any time, and bosses are not too hard, and not too easy.  There is a variety of weapons to be picked up, and powered up.  the most impressive of which is the field thunder, which is an electric-plasma like wave that snakes its way across the screen.  As it becomes more powerful, the number of strands increases and can nearly fill the entire screen!  When powered up, the game may seem a tad on the easy side, but that is fine by me.  This game is the granddaddy of PC-Engine vertical shooters, since it did everything first and in excellent fashion. If there's a complaint, it's that maybe the stages are a little long, and malaise can set in.
Rating 4.5 / 5


Soldier Blade
Vertical / Hucard

The third game in NES's renowned franchise, Soldier blade takes what worked in the series so far and refines it.  Like the other games in the family, you can increase the power of your current weapon, and you loose weapon power as you get hit.  There are three weapon types to choose from, none of which are very unique.  Not the most difficult of shooters, Soldier Blade is a great introduction to newcomers.  The stages are pretty long with varied scenery, but are in some cases, monotonous (what is up with all of these space structures?).  The action is ever-present, and the sprite designs are fantastic, the bosses are huge, and the music rocks.
Rating: 4.75 / 5


Air Zonk
Horizontal / Hucard

Bonk never had the same appeal to me as the mainstream platformers of the time, so I dismissed the franchise entirely.  When it came to shooters, Air Zonk is something altogether different from its related brethren.  This game is refreshing, as its wackiness is way up there, and that give the game its charm.  The weapons are bizarre, but fit the game. The music is peppy, and also matches up well to the action.  The bosses at the end of the stages are hilarious, and you wonder if the game designers were just really creative or under the influence when making this game. There is a lot on screen at once, and things move pretty fast (including lots of background depth with parallax scrolling), so you have to be on your toes.  It eases you in for the first few stages, and the difficulty progression is smooth.  By the end, its not so easy, but that's to be expected.
Rating: 4.75 / 5


Seirei Senshi Spriggan
Vertical / CD

With a pedigree like this game has, it makes sense why this game is on this list.  The Aleste series has several, if not most of its titles on top-ten lists across the web.  Let's start with the weapon system.  As you pick up different colored orbs, your firepower hybridizes the colors you picked up.  You can hold three orbs, so whatever combination of colors you have dictates the characteristics of your firepower.  This allows for more weapon configurations that I can describe.  At anytime you can purge one of the orbs, which goes off like a bomb, to get you out of a trouble spot.  The sprite design is varied and vibrant, as is the music.  Bosses are huge, a trademark of the PC-Engine.  Gameplay is somewhere in between M.U.S.H.A. for the Genesis and Space Megaforce for the SNES; it's silky smooth and there seems to be no slowdown anywhere.
Rating: 5 / 5


Winds (Lords) of Thunder
Horizontal / CD

In what is a hybrid of mythological and medieval themes, Winds of Thunder is a roller coaster of a game.  The on-screen action is dense yet crisp.  The stage ambiance is maxed out at 11, and the music is rip-roaring, cheesy, heavy metal, that while you would roll your eyes upon listening to on the radio, is almost essential to the experience of this game as it is a perfect match for the gameplay.  Power ups are purchased inbetween stages using jewels dropped by defeated enemies.  There is a lot to choose from, as each selection offers a different experience and increases replayability.  The bosses are large and entertaining, and the game's difficulty is not over the top.  An excellent demonstration of what the CD unit can do for the PC-Engine.
Rating: 5 / 5


Gate of Thunder
Horizontal / CD

This game was originally packed in with the Super CD Rom unit, along with 3 other games.  What an introduction to the new medium for the PC-Engine.  It became the standard for all others to follow.  One the first things you'll notice about this game is the ear-splitting, wailing guitar rock that starts up as the game boots; its truly awesome.  The game is is very colorful, and sprites pop off the screen.  the weapon system is innovative and a lot of fun.  With three different selectable weapon power ups, you will have to learn which weapon is appropriate for the given situation. Each weapon can be powered up a couple levels, and getting hit penalizes you by downgrading a weapon level. This makes the game more approachable. The on-screen action is constant, and piloting through changing environmental hazards is reminiscent of Thunder Force 3 on the Genesis (good thing).  I believe some members of the development team were former employees of Tecnosoft, and so that could explain the similar feel of this game to TF3. Overall, this is not only the best shooter on the PC-Engine, but possibly the best of its generation.
Rating: 5 / 5