Sega Saturn Shoot'em Ups!


my Sega Saturn Shmups spread out on a table.


The Sega Saturn is my system for shoot 'em ups (the PC-Engine, Playstation, and Genesis, which all have very respectable libraries, are also in the discussion).  The Saturn's monster 2D architecture lends itself well to the frenetic action and pace typical of the genre.  There is a prolific amount of shooters to choose from on the system (almost all of which were Japan-only releases) and the level of quality is unmatched. At some point it was a goal of mine to collect them all, but there are some that I just haven't found, and a couple that I don't feel like paying for, so this does not include every single one. These include vertically or horizontally scrolling games, and run'n gun type games are not included: Assault Suits Leynos II, Wolf Fang, Contra, etc. Also, I have excluded on-rails type shooters like Space Harrier, After Burner II, and Panzer Dragoon, as I feel that is more of a sub-genre.  This list is loosely ordered, starting with the just ok titles, and ending with the bangers. I hope this is helpful for anyone looking to get some basic info on the Saturn's shoot' em up library.


43 - Space Invaders
Some people will get into the nostalgia, other should move on.
This is a port of the original game from the late 1970's. It's weird to have a game so old ported without any improvements, perhaps it is just a testament to the popularity of the game in its prime. Gameplay is exactly what you'd expect. There's not too much to say here.





42 - Sol Divide
This game is much maligned for its wonky character sprites, and large hitbox. Your avatar is a humanoid figure that shoots projectiles from a distance, but you also have a close range melee attack. This is hard to use as the hit detection is not great. Also, given that your character stands upright and the game is horizontally scrolling, it is very difficult to dodge bullets. I get what they were going for, but the game should have zoomed out more, or had more forgiving hit detection. I find it frustrating. Some of the visuals are nice.





41 - Skull Fang
This girl talks too much
From Data East, Skull Fang is 2D vertically scrolling game with 3D graphics polygons, which are very rudimentary. I think the game would have looked better with 2D sprites instead, but the developers were trying to keep up with changing times, as 2D games were no longer poplular with the masses. The menus and chatter are all in Japanese (there's a lot of chatter), but the gameplay doesn't rely on it, I think. Who knows, the voice could be giving me hints that I'm just missing out on. There is a visual targeting reticule that pops up on screen occasionally, that shows the boss enemy from a distance; it looks neat, but I'm not sure it serves a purpose. Your weapon load-out is basic, and you can hold the fire button for charge shot, or rapid. Unique to this game is the roll maneuver to get out of trouble, but it is not easy to use successfully.






40 - Kyokyoku Tiger II Plus
This game is a vertically scrolling shooter with an interesting zoom-in and zoom out mechanic that varies the perspective. This is done fairly well, as I have seed instances of it not work well (D-Force on SNES). The visuals are interesting, most stages have typical backgrounds, but the city stages are very bright and pastel-like. The weapons are plentiful, and control is tight. The pace is quick, maybe a bit too quick. I found myself struggling on easy to get through the first couple of stages. I like helicopter shooters, but this is just too hard.





39 - Gun Frontier
An odd game where all of the ships are gun-related. Ships resemble rifles, pistols, and other armaments. It's an older game, so there's some old school trappings going on, like stiff control, high difficulty, and a large hitbox. It is definitely unique as far as sprite design.



38 - Super Dimension Fortress Macross
Otherwise known as Robotech in the west, Macross had large presence in Asia and was very popular. There were a bevy of games made for the franchise. This game takes place alongside the events of the movie, and has loads of cut scenes between stages, hence the need for two discs. It scrolls horizontally, and you can change between the veritech's three modes: fighter plane, gerwalk (half-plane, half-robot), and battloid. The pace of scrolling is dictated by your mode, naturally. The visuals are excellent, and the hand-drawn sprites look just as good as the animation in the TV series. Weapon fire changes based on your configuration, and the classic smoke trails of missiles give the game an epic visual aesthetic. The gameplay is ok, not bad, not great. It's a treat for fans of the series, but it is middling otherwise.




37 - Jikkyou Osyaberi Parodius
Of course a cat would fire fish bones!
You can select from all of these characters
Parodius games are Konami's parody of its mainline shooter series, Gradius. It takes the same mechanics from gradius, specifically the unique power up system of collecting orange energy capsules and selecting which power-up based on how many you've collected. The rest of the game is outlandish, colorful, humorous, and just as difficult. There are a number of characters to choose from, each with a unique weapon selection, which adds to replay. The music selection consists of public-domain classics or elevator music rip offs of pop music, from anthems to orchestral to big band swing. All of it is very tongue-in-cheek. Character animations are clever and plentiful, and backgrounds are very busy. It's a game that might be just as fun to watch as to play. What makes this game in the Parodius lineup uniques is the announcer that rambles on and on about who knows what. He's speaking Japanese, so it becomes background noise eventually, but still, I wonder what he's saying. Is it in response to what's happening in the game, or is it a straight script?




36 - Fantasy Zone
Fantasy Zone's shop 
Sega's original cute-em up, Fantasy zone is truly that; a fantastical world in which giant flowers spit buds at you and smiling suns attack you. The protagonist, Opa-Opa, was a very short lived mascot for Sega in the early arcade days. The franchise did not take off, and was more of an endearing franchise that Sega followers paid attention to. Despite it's warm, brightly colored visuals, the game pulls no punches. Because the play field scrolls in whichever direction you are flying, left or right, the change in direction can be jarring, and momentum plays a part in your movement. So many times did I turn around just to ram into an enemy that was slightly off screen behind me. Enemies drop coins when defeated, which you can use in the shops that pop up. There are lots of fun weapons to purchase and use, but they are on a timer. If you like a specific weapon, it's hard to keep buying it over and over as the price increases each time it is purchased. I suppose it forces you to try them all, but I'm not a fan of this mechanic. Otherwise, it's a fun romp through psychedelia.




35 - Darius II
The Darius series is known for its branching paths
That's not out of context at all
Darius was known for its three-screen wide playfield in the arcade, and the sequel has the same feature. It sounds great, but when converted for home use, the extra width means the view is shorted dramatically to accommodate the width. This port has the option retain the arcade aspect ratio, or play in a zoomed-in center frame. I find that when playing in this mode, there are a few instances where the game was clearly programmed for more lead time before enemies descend upon you, and you would see them if playing in widescreen. Because you are now zoomed in, you can't see their approach until they are really close and moving fast. The control is tight, and hit detection not too forgiving. Your ship is really slow, and so evading enemies is the hardest part, as they come flying at you. It's got an old-school, quarter muncher attitude, as as such, is not beginner friendly. Better sequels are further down the road.




34 - Kingdom Grand Prix
This is one of the few offerings from developer Raizing. I know that some people really like this one, but I just can't get into it. It is a racing game and shoot'em up at the same time. It sounds awesome, and I feel that I should like it more than I do. I can't quite figure out how to play the game successfully. When you shoot, your ship slows down. But its a race, and your opponents have passed you up, and you can'r progress until you've blown up the enemies. Weird.




33 - Twin Bee Deluxe Pack
Pig nostril fire!
Your bombing the ground is just as important as firing forward
As far as I know, there was only one North American Twin Bee game released, it was titled "Stinger" for the NES. That game had potential, and was actually quite fun. This compilation includes the arcade titles Detana!! Twin Bee and Twinbee Yahoo. The gameplay consists of regular arial shooting, and tossing bombs at ground targets with your boxing gloves(?). You power up by shooting at clouds, which release bells, which change color colors when shot, and each color provides a different power up. This is a different, and annoying method of powering up as you need to shoot to destroy threats, and incidental shots will change the intended power up. This multitasking can turn some away. You can also find power ups released from destroyed ground targets. A fun game for sure.




32 - Kaitei Daisenou 
Your sub shoots torpedoes ahead, missiles above, and depth 
Otherwise known in the west as In The Hunt, this game was developed by the same team that made the Metal Slug series. You can tell this after about three seconds of gameplay. The beautifully animated hand drawn sprites, the characteristic details and background touches, this is totally Metal Slug in a submarine. The Saturn is pushed to every limit, as slowdown does become common. Despite this, the game is enjoyable and lots of fun. The visuals are just stunning, and you get distracted by the quality of the art style. You can play two player co-op, but now you're really living in slowdown land. When every projectile has streams of bubbles, the screen is processing so much at once that the slowdown is inevitable. Some don't mind. See what you think.



31 - Layer Section II
The ability to choose auto-fire for lock-on attacks is a blessing
Known as Raystorm in the west, this is the sequel to Layer Section, AKA Galactic Attack. The core elements remain from the first game, like the lock on reticule for attaching the lower plane. The main difference is that this game is now polygonal. The game still scrolls vertically in 2D. The jump to 3D polygons makes the visuals take a hit, so it is not as pretty as the first game. Other than that, if you liked Layer Section you will probably like this as well.





30 - Capcom Generation 1 (194X series)
Why bother with such a pixellated poster?
It has been said many times, but I reiterate here what an awkward position Capcom has taken with the 194X series. I am referring to the fact that the protagonist is fighting the Japanese empire during WWII. Imagine if you were a programmer here, and you were creating a game where you are invading the U.S. Apparently they weren't too bothered, as there were a bunch of sequels. This collection offers arcade-perfect ports of 1942, 1943, and 1943 Kai. Whichever version is your favorite of the series, each one offers solid gameplay and control, if a bit vanilla. They are arcade -perfect ports, and as such, there is little in the way of customization. These were early entries, so the lack of many now-standard shooter conventions may be forgiven. Rapid fire is a welcome addition on the Saturn controller. My only complaint is that 1941 should have been included.





29 - Steam Hearts'
Umm, what's happening here?
Originally a PC-Engine Super CD game, the Saturn port is a bit watered down and censored from its more overtly hentai . Despite its randy cut scenes, the shooting action is fast and frenetic, and controls well. Air and ground attacks are featured here, yet the emphasis on ground attack is not as pronounced as with Layer Section or Twin Bee.  A Health meter is a welcome addition that helps one make it to the boss battle. The sprite design is colorful and pops off the screen. It does make one feel a bit like a creep, when after each boss battle you bear witness to "interactions" between yourself and the boss character. This would never be released these days. Even still, its a good shooter that is marred by questionable extras and story.




28 - Gekirinden
The ships and backgrounds all evoke a different era in time.
Time travel is a backdrop to this unique shooter, as each stage has you warping to different eras and settings. This is the most unique aspect of this game, as all of the enemies on each stage are era-specific, and thus not repeated. The gameplay is average, if solid. There is some choppy background scaling, but the visuals improve as you progress. The three selectable characters all have different firing patterns, as expected. The music is surprisingly good; very reminiscent of Soukyugurentai. An interesting game in theme, but not much more. Worth playing for sure, just a notch above the average.


27 - Gradius Deluxe Pack
Gradius games sure do love fire 
There are several nods to the Alien movie franchise in some Konami games.
Arcade perfect ports of the two Gradius entries are what you get here. Contrary to American beliefs, Life Force was not the sequel to Gradius. The actual sequel was not released in here in the states. Its a shame, because Gradius II improves upon the first in style and substance. There is now a selectable weapon loadout, for variety. The graphics have improved and some even take on H.R. Giger-inspired designs (a little blatantly, like in stage 3). The game is just as hard, but what was to be expected. Gradius suffers from power-up let down in a big way; that if you die after being fully powered up, it is nearly impossible to advance. Most players have no choice to accept this, and just power off the game at that point. It may be a brief showing for gamers, but it is sweet while it lasts.




26 - Gunbird
Psikyo's bosses are alwasy larger than life
I'm sure there is some kind of story being conveyed here, but as it is all in Japanese I have no clue what is happening. The odd assemblage of characters, the happenings in the background, all point to some majestic plot. Since this is a shooter, none of that really matters. This is a solid, straight-forward entry from Psikyo, the makers of the excellent Strikers 1945 series, Sengoku Blade, Zero Gunner 2, and others. This one falls short of its higher profile siblings, but not much. All Psikyo games have the same tight gameplay, charging mechanics, special attacks, etc. The charge attack in this game is a less than useful melee attack that while strong, is limited in range and risky to use as you are defenseless during charging. It's not the first game I'd get, but I would definitely pick it up if I saw it.



25 - Parodius Deluxe Pack
This is a rather tame boss for the franchise.
Gotta love a game with a flying pirate cat ship
Perhaps one of the original "cute'em ups", parodius is Konami's parody of its own seminal series Gradius. It plays a lot like its forbearer, except that it is wacky and twisted. There's some pretty off-beat design here, from sprites to bosses to weaponry, everything is fair game for parody. There are eight selectable characters (Vic Viper among them, of course) with unique power ups and animations. Don't let the cuteness fool you, this is a Gradius game with Gradius difficulty. If you want a shooter that doesn't take itself seriously at all, try this.



24 - Sonic Wings Special
Ummm, what does that billboard say?
Sonic Wings first appeared on the Neo Geo, and was a fantastic outing on that machine. It was a series that saw three entries, with minor variation between them. Sonic Wings Special on the Saturn combines characters and stages from the three games, making it...special? A no frills, vertical shooter that does only the basics but does them well. There is variety in the characters and their planes, each with unique fire and bomb attacks. Between-stage messages are corny and subject to heavy Engrish, but that's part of the charm. Oh, there's some semi-randy pictures in between stages if you're into that.



23 - Metal Black
You collect the little molecules so that you can fire the hyper beam
It's frog season!
A seemingly innocuous horizontally scrolling shooter from the start, Metal Black employs a unique beam power up system. You collect floating molecules that when accumulated power up your main shot as well as give you a powerful screen-wide beam shot. In a clever twist, the bosses you face are also vying for the same molecules for the same reason! Each boss scrambles to suck up as many as possible as its a virtual game of Hungry Hippos until one of you collects enough to discharge a menacing beam shot. There's some hilariously fast scrolling text at the start up, which is in English, its just way too fast to catch. The backstory in a shooter doesn't matter much, but it was something I thought was funny. I will say that other than the beam power up mechanics, it does play like a 16-bit shooter. It's a good game, if a bit dated.



22 - Guardian Force
This game is a bit off the beaten path for vertical shooters. You are a tank, and your turret can rotate 360˚. Your main gun always fires forward, but your turret can be rotated with whichever button you assign as rotate. For a while you forget that you are a tank, as your speed and freedom of movement is pretty generous. This game is a lot of fun and the fresh controls make it stand out.





21 -  Layer Section
The backgrounds can get trippy
The lock-on reticule highlights enemies for the homing laser
Also known as Galactic Attack in the west, Layer Section is one of the few notable shooters that was released in the U.S., along with Darius Gaiden. It is also the cheapest option on this list, and perhaps out of all of these lists. Don't be fooled by its budget-friendly price tag, this game stands toe to toe with many of its higher priced brethren. The gameplay divides your attention between two planes. Your regular laser shoots forwards, while your lock-on laser homes in on targets on the lower plane. The longer you hold on the lock-on button, the more enemies you target, and more points are scored. This is not the first game to employ this mechanic, but may be one of the best to utilize it. This lock on aspect is so well done, it is very adictive. You may focus so much on this method of attack that you may forget to pay attention whats in front of you. The graphic design and music are top notch, and you'll lose hours before you know it.




20 - Thunder Force Gold Packs 1 and 2
The stage select screen is pretty cool, I wish more games had this
Obtaining the "craw" (options) triples your firepower
Love Tecnosoft bosses
This may be cheating a bit to include two titles in this spot, but hey, they have the same name (mostly). Pack 1 includes Thunder Force 2 and 3, and are perfect ports of the Genesis versions. Pack 2 offers Thunder Force 4 (Lightening Force here in the U.S.) and Thunder Force A.C., which was an arcade release. Thunder Force A.C. was primarily TF3, with some stages swapped out for entirely different stages. Since three of the four of these titles were 16-bit Genesis titles, I kinda felt as if Tecnosoft should have made this one collection, instead of selling it over two discs. If you already have the Genesis carts, there no reason to get pack 1, but as far as I know this is the only way to play Thunder Force A.C. at home.



19 - The Game Paradise
The setting is a possessed arcade
In the Game Paradise, you fly through the environs of an arcade. You are flying over arcade cabinets, through claw machines, and the like. It is quite the sight, and a very unique twist on the genre. There is some dialogue and menu options that are not in English, but I just go with the first option on each screen and that gets me to the main game. At the start you can choose your character, from a roster of a robot, a girl, a pig and a dude. I choose the robot as he sports a lock-on laser that is helpful when things get chaotic. You also can pick options, which happen to be little versions of the characters available to play as. The gameplay is wacky, a cute-em-up of sorts, and there's some bizarre happenings in this game's story. I can't read the dialoge, but I think even if I could it wouldn't make sense. A fun game though, with some creative stage design.




17 - Shienryu
Defeated enemies leave behind a plume of smoke as they fall from the sky 
One of the first things you notice about this game is the awesome background depth and detail. Gunned down enemies will either explode, or careen down to the surface below leaving a smoke trail. The game has very well designed sprites. The weapons power ups consist of a spread-like vulcan, missile salvos, and an electricty wave that tracks down enemies and clings to them until they are destroyed, somewhat reminiscent to the purple toothpaste laser of the later Raiden series. This is lots of fun to use, but you have to be mindful that if your laser is caught up on a large enemy, it will take some time before you can fire again, so strategy must be employed. The music is meh, and the boss battles are hit or miss. This game was released domestically on the Playstation as Gekioh Shooting King, and largely went unnoticed. 2-D shooters did not fare so well during the 5th generation stateside, for they were deemed archaic, and reminiscent of old tech. In Japan, there was no such stigma, and this the abundance of 2-D shooters. Overall, it is a relaxing shooter in that you don't really feel stressed out while playing it, even though its not that easy in later stages. Its pretty good.




16 - Blast Wind
That's a lot of space used up on the side borders for score.
Branching paths are available at the push of a button
I reviewed this entry in a previous post, under the context of its market value. This is one of the more expensive games, but not worth the several hundred dollar asking price. It is a Tecnosoft title, so it has tones of Thunder Force here and there, but not enough to make it as good as them. The action is smooth, visuals are above average, but the sound mixing is off. What music is present is drowned out by too-loud sound effects. Switches throughout levels allow you to change your course occasionally, but not enough to change the scenery all that much; I think you end up at the same bosses regardless. A good game, just not worth the asking price.




15 - Hyper Duel
The robot mode fires a short and wide spread of bullets
Little helper drones can be ships or mechs 
Another rare Tecnosoft entry, this game is highly coveted and it makes sense. The action is fast, yet forgiving. The game offers variety in your ship configuration, which alters your fire pattern. In the standard ship mode, you fire straight ahead, as expected. In mech mode, you can fire in different directions, and your fire is a wider shot; you can focus on offense more, but you are a bigger target. You pick up helper drones that come in either ship or mech mode, and they fly alongside you, seemingly firing at will. The gameplay reminds me of Gate of Thunder, and that's a good thing. The music is nothing short of awesome, to be expected from this pedigree. Fans of the Thunder Force series will feel right at home here. Unfortunately, this is a pretty rare titles, and commands top dollar. Whether it is worth it depends on how much you like these types of shooters. This may be the most expensive Saturn shooter as far as I know. Put it this way: it is worth Radiant Silvergun money but I wouldn't pay more. In retrospect, I should have included this in my top ten Saturn Shoot'em Ups list.


14 - Donpachi
Mastering the laser bomb is key for boss battles
The precursor to Dodonpachi and its progeny, Donpachi shows the early earmarks of today's bullet hell shooters. While not the first, it solidified much of the formula seen today: hit counts, trade offs in ship firing and maneuverability, spread bombs or laser bombs, and so on. This Saturn version is somewhat maligned for its poor sound mixing (the vocal audio samples are clipped) and its interlacing on screen gets shifty when in certain viewing modes. Purportedly, the Playstation port is better in these regards. Aside from those issues, this is still a very solid and enjoyable game. The challenge seems to escalate at an appropriate rate, getting difficult at about the right time.




13 - Strikers 1945
Transforming bosses have several forms
Drone attack formations vary from plane to plane
I reviewed this game a few years ago, and I still stand by it as an excellent under-the-radar selection. It is set in some alternate post WW2 inspired setting, with aliens attacking under the guise of conventional weaponry. During boss battles, the bosses change from the usual suspects to their true mecha selves, and of course have several forms each. I love the ship variety and special attacks; there's lots or replay value here to see how each of the ships play. From charge attacks, to bomb attacks, each ship is unique.







12 - Cotton 2
The Cotton series was very popular in Japan, but was nonexistent in America. The cutest of "cute'em ups", Cotton is a which that flies on a broom and shoots. The environments and graphical design are excellent and stylish, and the overall vibe is light hearted. Everything is highly animated, and the drawn sprites are just gorgeous. The gameplay is fine tuned and very accessible, and would be a recommended entry point for beginners, if it weren't for the price. If you have sought any of these out, you already know this.



11- Sexy Parodius
Don't do drugs kids
The Parodius series is Konami's tounge-in-cheek parody of one of its founding series, Gradius. This is actually the third or fourth entry in this series, I'm not sure which. It is just as zany as the rest, and it takes its name from the cheekiness that abounds throughout. Semi-naked girls litter the backgrounds and some are even bosses! While the title "Sexy Parodius" may insinuate many things, it just refers to the visual aesthetics of the game, and some more suggestive than other games have shown up to this point. Still, there are sixteen (!!) characters to choose from, each with their own blend of power ups and animations. This game is truly a Saturn game; the earlier entries were passable on the 16-bit snes, but the on screen action reaches new heights, and to port it down would be an utter disservice.




10 - Thunder Force V
Who doesn't love the hunter weapon?
The free range weapon is absolutely devastating once you figure out how to use it
Tecnosoft's earlier entries in the series had set the bar high as the premier shooters on the Genesis/Mega Drive.  TF 3 and TF4 (known in North America as Lightening Force) pushed the limits of the system graphically, aurally, and kinetically.  TF V uses 3D polygons, and is one of the few shooters on the system to do so.  Honestly, I would have preferred the game without them, but the action more than makes up for it.  The claws, or craws, or whatever they're called are the key to surviving as usual for the boost in firepower they provide.  They can also fuel the overweapon, which is your currently selected weapon on steroids!  After being discharged, the craw needs some time to regenerate before the overweapon can be used again.  The "free range" weapon makes it debut here, and is remarkably more powerful than any other weapon in the series.  It acts as a radar field that is controllable (albeit a bit wonky at first) and can be focused on a certain area of the screen, and when discharged, unleashes a brutal beat down on whatever is in its path.  I don't mean to give the impression that this game is easy, because it is far from it.  Maybe its me, but I get slapped around by this game repeatedly, but I keep coming back because its fun.





9 - Dodonpachi
The bomb-laser is...da bomb
The sequel to Donpachi is one of the finest examples of bullet-hell shooters on a 32-bit system.  Did I mention that these shooters are frantic?  There is so much going on at one time, you start to develop a Zen-like mindfulness while playing (after several hours of playtime).  The emphasis on scoring is definitely prominent here, with the hit counters and score multipliers.  There is lots of strategy for a seemingly straight forward concept of shooting everything and not getting hit.  From the choice between three very different ships, to selecting strength of bombs or lasers, to when to bomb and how to bomb, there are layers that take time to appreciate, and skill to realize.



8 - Sengoku Blade
The main character's option is cat, naturally.
One of the most notable characteristics of this game is... its soundtrack (what did you think I was going to say?).  With an ancient-Japan theme, the aesthetics of this game are unique and interesting. The background scenery lush with parallax scrolling, the sprite design, the bosses and music are all stylistically dialed in to deliver a refreshing and enjoyable horizontal shooter.  Instead of piloting a ship, you control a human player that flies, somehow.  Since your character is upright, and the game scrolls horizontally, you become a larger target compared to most shooters.  Being a Psiyko game, there are lots of difficulty settings and options to toggle.  The choice of playable characters, all with their own attack style, options, and bombs give this game a boost in replay value.



7 - Salamander 2 (Salamander Deluxe Pack)
Some options can be sent out to attack on command
The first boss is eaten by the... second boss
Americans who play this will immediate sense something familiar about the Salamander games as the first game was retitled as Life Force.  A spin off from the Gradius series, Salamander forgoes the red capsule power up system in favor of direct power up drops.  The weapon array is similar to the Gradius series, however.  This game is a horizontal scroller, and the environments you pilot through are organic in nature, a departure from the space or technical themes that pervade the genre. The graphics are gorgeous, as this is from what I understand a nearly perfect arcade port.  Being able to respawn instantaneously instead of a checkpoint lowers the relative difficulty, as well as power up pick ups, making for a more tolerable experience after death.  Hands down the best of the Konami Deluxe packs on the Saturn.


6 - Darius Gaiden
I never get sick of the black hole bomb
Taking control of mini-bosses is very satisfying
This is one of the few shooters that was released in the west, perhaps because the series already had some releases on the Genesis and and SNES.  The first word I think of when I think of this game is funky.  The space-rock operatic singing throughout the game is oddly intriguing and most definitely unique.  It is catchy and bizarre at the same time.  The graphics are detailed and the boss sprites are the highlight.  From the first (and best looking) boss, Golden Ogre, you can tell this is not just another Darius game.  The typical power ups are present: shot, bombs, and shield.  A cool addition is the black-hole bomb, which sucks all bullets and weak enemies into oblivion, and heavily damages bosses.  Another tactic is to shoot the orbs on the heads of mini-bosses.  The orbs will be released and if you capture them, the mini-bosses align with you and can output some serious firepower.  The branching stage selection is still present, of course, and I have a terrible memory and forget which path I took perviously.  This adds replay value, and if you can finish the game I salute you.





5 - Batsugun
Your ship gains experience points and levels up the more enemies you dispatch
What is considered Toaplan's swan song, before they went under, Batsugun is credited with bridging the gap between old-school shooters and modern, bullet-hell shooters.  Prior to this game, most shooters involved string patterns of popcorn enemies, set-back respawns, and environmental hazards that needed to be memorized.  This game started the trend of spamming the entire screen with hundreds of bullets, leaving you a few pixels of room to navigate the flood of enemy shots with micro movements.  The hitbox was reduced to a few pixels in the center of your ship, giving you some leeway.  This is very hard to get used to at first, for your mind takes a while to grasp that shots can graze through more than half of your ship without destroying you.  The amount of firepower on screen when fully powered up is insane.  Again, that doesn't mean the game is easy.  There is a level up mechanic, which scales up your firepower as you gain experience points.  The music just rocks, and is best hooked up through a stereo when you play this game.  It lives up to the hype.



4- Radiant Silvergun
The radiant sword is powerful, and provides a moment of invulnerability
What can be said about this game that hasn't already been said?  Six different weapons to start, each with its own purpose (seven if you count the giant sword) make for a variety of gameplay strategies.  Color coded enemies allow for chaining and score multipliers, if you're able.  I personally focus on surviving, rather than racking up a high score.  The soundtrack imbues a sense of adventure, and that's what this game feels like, and epic, evolving adventure where each play through can be a new experience.  This is a polygon-based game, yet it is an example of expert programming on the Saturn.




3 - Soukyugurentai
The background lighting effects are impressive
Even if you can't pronounce the name of this game, you'll never forget playing it.  It's main mechanic of locking onto enemies with a radar net, only then to unleash a salvo of lasers is addicting and effective.  This idea was observed first in Layer Section (Galactic Attack in North America), but it was improved greatly here. You can choose different configurations of the radar field, focusing on one area quickly, or casting a wider but slower net.  Your main shot can be powered up, but pales in comparison to the effectiveness of the lock on lasers.  There are some seriously gorgeous backgrounds to distract you from piloting; you sometimes want to pause just to take it in.  The original release of this game was a bit glitchy when played with an Action Replay cart on western systems.  There was a re-release, Soukygurentai-Otokuyo, which cleaned up some of those bugs.  The options menu is in Japanese, so look online for a FAQ that will walk you through how to tweak the game settings.  A pure beauty of a game, with challenge to match.





2 - Battle Garegga
The visuals and depth are awesome in this game
A shining example of the 2D sprite work that the Saturn was meant to produce, this game is as gorgeous as it is challenging.  There is so much detail, so much action on-screen that learning what is a threat and what isn't is the first skill you'll want to develop.  This game has so much challenge, it will take more than the average amount of play throughs to wrap your head around it.  The game adjusts the difficulty based on how powered up you are.  So it may seen counter-intuitive, but you have a better chance of making it through if you avoid power ups (not that I ever made it through).  There are four initial ships to choose from, with an additional four more if you select the right setting in the options.  As with many of the shooters on list, personal preference plays into which ship fits your style of play.  I can't say if the anyone of them makes the game any easier.  Maybe I'll know in a few more years.  Either way, it's a blast to try again and again.



1 - Strikers 1945 II
Some bomber attacks are more defensive than offensive, like this giant plane shielding you
Using option drone effectively are key to surviving
Bosses all transform throughout a battle
The beauty of this game is that it is easy to learn, but difficult to master.  It may be misconstrued as a another descendant of Capcom's 194X series, but while this game may have some cosmetic similarities, the action and playability put it way past that series.  I'm not sure what the story is (does it ever matter in shoot 'em ups?), but each boss starts out as a typical 1945-era military machine, that after a few hits, morphs into a gigantic alien robot monstrosity.  The imaginative boss design is enjoyable to behold, as are the bomb and option effects.  There are several different planes to choose from, each with a specific type of bomb action.  Some are defensive, like a giant bomber craft that swoops between you and the enemies, absorbing hits for you.  Some are offensive, such as calling in an air strike, and some are in-between.  Every power icon you pick up grants you another option which will attack in varying patterns.  Hold down the shot button to align the options, and watch them take on a specific attack formation of their own.  Again, the ability to choose difficulty levels is a nice way to ease into the game while your skills develop.  My personal favorite, even if it does get overshadowed by the big names.

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