The Sega Genesis/Mega Drive is known for its for shooters. There are A LOT of shooters on the Genesis, so much so that I don't have the stamina nor inclination to write about them all. I should mention that I don't consider games like Contra Hard Corps or Gunstar Heroes as shoot'em ups, I consider those their own genre (Run'n Gun). Also, Games like Desert Strike and Herzong Zwei are more like strategy games than shoot' em ups. These are the games that I own, loosely ranked from least favorite to awesome. Here goes...
|Rescue me! but don't crash and kill us all!|
A simple vertical scroller, this game lacks most refinements that make a game interesting. The enemy design is meh, the background visuals are ok, and the gameplay is boring. The music is above average. Every enemy takes several hits to destroy, and so there is always a crowd of them on screen. The power ups are not powerful enough to make up for the deficit. The only real reason to play it is if you forgot what it was like. This game was only released in Japan.
Space Invaders '91
This is an update of the classic game that is said to be the first shoot'em up. It retains the same spirit and gameplay of the original, with faster speed and music. Instead of having fixed shields to hide behind, you now have a shield with hit points. There's not much more to say about this.
Super Thunder Blade
I loved this game in the arcade. You sat in the cockpit, and handled the yoke with fire buttons as well as a thrust shifter. The sprite scaling mechanic was brand new, and it blew everyone away. The movement of the screen and seat conveyed a somewhat realistic sense of physics. When this was ported, it quickly became apparent that what worked in the arcade did not work at home. Your helicopter moves too slow on screen, and the enemy bullets, which up scale as they head towards you, are too large, leaving you little room to survive. Add in the environmental hazards like buildings, trees, caves, etc, and you have one unnecessarily hard game. This is perhaps an instance where the game should have been rebuilt from the ground up for a home port, instead of trying to force a unique arcade experience into a cartridge. Off topic, but I'm glad Sega ended their brief use of "Super" in the titles of their early games. I bought it for nostalgia, and there it shall remain.
|What does this button do? And this one? And this one?|
|Meet Atomic Robo-kid, your favorite flying robotic garbage can.|
|Quick, grab the DNA!|
|Face the wrath of Mike & Ike candies!|
Not entirely a pure shoot'em up, this game could be seen as a run'n gun, as your mech is on the ground walking/running. The game uses an isometric viewpoint, and plays better than most games that have it. There are a predetermined number of each enemy type that you have to dispatch in each zone. Your fire is locked in the direction you are facing, until you release the fire button. You can equip different weapons on different parts of your mech, introducing some strategy in taking out different types of enemies. You have a life bar, which seems generous at first, but your mech is fairly wide, and your movements are mostly restricted to the streets in-between buildings, so it is hard to avoid bullets. The game is oddly enjoyable, if a bit rough around the edges. In what is kind of a dick move, you do not get your health bar replenished after beating a level. There seem to be unlimited continues, however.
Space Harrier 2
This is an on-rails type of shooter, with simulated 3D through sprite scaling. The original Space Harrier was a revelation. Yu Suzuki's masterpiece will go down in history as one of the most iconic Sega arcade games of all time. This follow up feels like it was made to cash in on that legacy, but it pales in comparison. While the core gameplay is identical, all of the details fall short. The visuals are OK, the music is meh, the gameplay and fun factor are all disappointing. There is nothing outright bad about the game, and It might be a cool game to someone unfamiliar with its predecessor, but to those who spent hours playing the original, it doesn't compare. It's a classic case of having too big shoes to fill.
An early Toaplan arcade conversion, Twin Hawk is a history lesson of the banality of early vertical shooters. The pace is glacial, and enemies grounded, as in, there are no flying enemies. Your weapon is a basic vulcan, and is not all that impressive. Your bomb attack is a flying squadron that takes fire for you and shoots straight ahead. This is short lived, as they are easy targets with large hit boxes. There's nothing wrong with Twin Hawk, but nothing that impresses either. It's a basic entry level shooter. It is hard, but that's to be expected from Toaplan. It was only released in Japan and Europe.
A vertical scroller, this game looks good, with lots of parallax scrolling. The sprite design is fine, if a little generic. The music is good, probably its best feature, and the developers knew it; the music plays while the game is paused. The gameplay is reminiscent of Toaplan, in that large sprite/hitbox way. Overall, the game is fine. Except maybe starting the stage over when you die, that sucks.
The Cotton Series started out as a horizonally scrolling cute'em up, and has versions on the PC-Engine CD and Super Famicom. This Mega Drive outing is a sprite scaling rail shooter. I understand the appeal of these games, but I don't enjoy them that much. Maybe its because the frame rate doesn't seem high enough for a convincing sense of 3D movement, or the stuttering progress of the screen is unpleasant. I understand the limitations of hardware at the time, but I don't feel that these games hold up today. As for this game in partucular, it has the cotton tropes of collecting crystals for power ups, cute voice samples, and uber-bright visuals. If you like games where you fly into the screen, check it out.
Galaxy Force II
This is a highly amibitious port of the arcade hit, and the it't pretty well done. The control is what you expect from a Sega sprite scaler from the early '90s. I've never really been a fan of the energy count down mechanic, so it set it easy and its less stressful. The game looks great, and its one of the better almost-3D games on the system.
After Burner II
Another sprite scaler, After Burner was a monster hit in the arcade. It was known for its cockpit seat, which rotated and turned with your movement on the stick. There was stereo surround sound, and the music was hard rock, not unlike Kenny Loggins' Top Gun song. The action was fast and furious, and enemy counts are sky high. The Genesis port is an admirable take on the source material, keeping in mind the hardware limitations. Sure, there are less detailed backgrounds, and fewer animations, but the essence of the game is still here. It gets hard, as the sprite scaling can play tricks on your sense of depth, especial when it comes to enemy missiles that are partially obscured by the view of your ship. Again, these are issues with this type of game, but AB2 has some strong nostalgia for me as it was one of the first Genesis games that i owned.
When G-Loc was released, it was puzzling that Sega would put out a game so similar to After Burner II. This game takes notes from AB2, but does so at a less hectic pace. The gameplay is similar and intuitive, so anyone can pick up and play. It's perhaps more playable as the pace is slower, and you can be more methodical in how you pilot your plane and fire on targets, whereas in AB2 you often resort to spastically flailing around from corner to corner to avoid droves of enemy fire. The different pace is welcome, resulting in an underrated game.
Burning Force is a vehicular pseudo 3D shooter with vivid colors. It is clearly inspired by Space Harrier, but has its own ideas, like upgrading you vehicle as you progress in the game. There are a couple of different weapons to pick up. It tends to be a bit on the easy side, as enemy shots make a particular sound, tipping you off when to look for them. The wide shot takes care of a large portion of the screen, really reducing the challenge. Still, its a fun game, with slightly different gameplay.
Early horizontal shooter, where your ship can transform into a mech at any time. The mech looks like a cute robo-teddy bear with a big blue belly. The ship is more nimble, and a smaller target, and the mech is larger and slower. If you have picked up an option, it trails your ship's movements, but in mech mode it aligns to a set position relative to the mech. Other than that, I'm not sure what other difference there is between modes. You have a super attack called the "arrow flash", in which you turn into an invincible energy ball until the attack timer runs out (extra bars of time can be picked up). It's pretty useful for boss battles. The visuals are about average, and the music is unremarkable. It is an easier game on the system, due to the enemy bullets being huge and flashing. The controls are tight, and overall its an enjoyable game.
|That's one tricked-out hornet|
|I hate these tunnel stages|
Your shot is single shot or rapid. If you hold the single shot you can charge up a flash attack, which damages all enemies on screen. It has potential, but it didn't seem worth the diversion as you are defenseless while charging. The game has this gimmick where the scrolling speeds up, and the passage narrows. Obviously you have to maneuver through it without crashing. While it adds to the variety, it gets hold quick. Your death animation is a cool smoke-trailing descent. Overall, its not bad but its not great.
Also released for the Sega CD as Sol Feace, Sol Deace is a horizontally scrolling shooter. The visuals are nice, and the screen can scroll up and down about 10%, which doesn't do that much, but it gives the game a greater sense of space. Your first power up is a set of gattling guns that affix to the top and bottom of your ship. They animate with a recoil when shots are fired, and they can be locked in at different firing angles, which is a nice touch. The music is an upbeat jazz, like you'r find in a tropical island resort in the 90's. It's a decent game. The Sega CD version is nearly identical, except for the CD streaming music.
Bio Hazard Battle
This is a biologically-themed horizontal scroller, where you pilot a creature of some sort, maybe skates or rays? The enemy designs are cool representations of realistic and fictitious creatures, and they are well drawn. Your primary shot varies, depending on which creature you select. Holding down the single fire button releases a charge shot, which is helpful during boss battles. You are equipped with an option, and its direction of fire is reverse from which direction you are facing. This adds a small amount of interest in how you position yourself to fire at enemies. Also, the weapon pick ups vary from lasers, spread shots, rings, etc. The graphical design is different and interesting. The music is odd, but matches the theme of the game.
|Your tank is oddly nimble in tight spaces|
|Hey guys, thanks for painting the tanks neon orange!|
|I don't know why Medusa likes to throw bacon around|
You charge your sword shot by holding the fire button, this is fairly effective against enemies directly in front of you. Options and other power ups can be picked up. You can withstand up to four shots before your life is lost, which feels like the right amount. It's a fun game with interesting enemies.
|There's some great depth in the backgrounds|
Super Fantasy Zone
|Is there some kind of message in the background?|
Sagaia (Darius II)
This is the first Darius game released on a Sega console as far as I know. This first entry was oddly named differently than the series. On other consoles, it was named as Darius II. Sega couldn't help but mess up in the 90's on the simplest decisions. Anyway, this is a solid rendition of the arcade game. The game has been zoomed in from its original 3-screen-wide format, and its plays fine. The graphics perhaps take a hit as the sprite designs seem as if they were designed to be viewed when zoomed out; I'm not sure about that, it's just my impression. As with all darius games, branching paths are available after each stage, adding to replay value. Uniques to this version is the ability to play with the Red or Blue ship. It's a challenging, yet worthwhile game overall.
|Can't. Slow. Down.|
|Translation winner is you!|
"All You're Base Are Belong To Us!!" Now that we got that out of the way, Zero Wing is a horizontal scroller from Toaplan. It is highly stylized, and has some rockin music. Your ship does move pretty slow, and your starting weapon is fairly weak. Speed ups are common, so that's not an issue. The first power up you encounter will provide you with two ship-side options that will triple your firepower, and these come right away after your die, so that's helpful. Your ship also has the ability to capture small enemies and shoot them across the screen, which is pretty fun. I haven't encountered a time where it was necessary, so I wonder if it was an add-on late in development. This is a fun game, with wildly rampant Engrish. It's a must play for die hards.
Task Force Harrier
|Too much gray|
|Do a barrel roll!|
Battle Mania Daiginjou (reproduction)
|Bosses are huge, requiring lots of direction changes|
Thunder Force II
|Always aim for the center|
A rare horizontal scroller from Toaplan, this game carries with it the traditional Toa-pain. Difficulty aside, the unique weapons make for stimulating gameplay. You can change the direction of your shot by pressing B, and this is necessary to take out the various enemies that placed in various nooks and crannies in the stages. Bosses will have weak spots all over, and so depending on your position you might have to switch to a vertical shot, reverse shot, angel shot, etc. It's inventive enough to keep you coming back.
Developed by Tecnosoft (of Thunder Force fame) and published by Rennovation, Elemental Master is of the running humanoid variety. Similar to Thunderforce, you can select between acquired power ups. A different mechanic is the ability to shoot forwards and backwards with different buttons. Fans of Thunderforce will pickup on clues here and there that reveal its heritage, like similarities to TF power ups, initial stage select, music style, and certain sound effects. It's a fun game, and a nice hybrid of genres.
Bringing 3D polygons to the Genesis, Sylpheed was an impressive feat for its time. Simple as they may be, the polygons provided enough depth for a convincing 3D environment. The gameplay is fluid, and the music is pretty good. It takes a while to get used to the hitbox of your ship, having that extra dimension, but eventually you'll get the hang of it. This deserves more recognition than it gets, and perhaps might have were it not tied to the Genesis add-on craziness of the mid nineties.
This is an interesting shooter that has horizontal and vertical levels, and two player co-op. Enemies drop "zenny" (money) when destroyed, that you can use to purchase power ups in the shop that pops up here and there. The control scheme takes some time to get used to, as A rotates your player in one direction, and C rotates the opposite direction. The stages are typical but the boss designs are inspired. The music is good, and the sound effects are a little rumbly here and there, but not to a fault. A lot of fun to be had here, especially if you play with a friend.
You play a little girl with magic projectiles, and you walk the terrain instead of flying. It's a borderline cute'm up, and gameplay is reminiscent of Pocky and Rocky on the SNES. You can pick up 3 different magic attacks, which can be selected on the fly with the C button. There's a concentrated forward firing magic, a homing magic, and a spread magic. Each increases in power when picked up. You also have a screen clearing magic, and there different varieties of that as well. It's a fast moving game, and despite its cutesy appearance can offer a nice challenge. Character sprites lean towards the mythological, with impressive visual style. It was only released in Japan, but there are translated hacks out there, not that you really need them to play the game. It's just a great game that makes you want to keep playing.
A solid port of the arcade, Raiden Trad is important as an early vertically scrolling shooter. It is the epitome of easy to learn, hard to master. There's no gimmicks here, everything is straightforward, and done well. The gameplay is exactly as you'd expect. Two kinds of power ups: the vulcan that spreads when powered up, and the straight-ahead laser that becomes more intense with power ups. The bomb is iconic, its the first of its kind that I remember. Unfortunately, there's no two-player co-op play and the color palate of this port is a bit pale compared to its competitors, but that's reaching for something to complain about.
Trouble Shooter (Battle Mania)
In this horizontally scrolling shooter, you control Madison, a teenage "Trouble Shooter", and her partner, Crystal, in tandem. Flying humanoid shooters have come before, but this one is unique in that you control two characters simultaneously. Madison always fires forward, and you can change the direction that Crystal fires by tapping the C button. Even though you are controlling two figures on screen, the only hit box that you need to worry about is Madison. This takes some getting used to, and eventually you realize that you can use Crystal as a shield. The direction switching mechanic works fairly well, and the gameplay makes good use of it. There is a special weapon that you get outfitted with at the onset of each stage, it acts as your super bomb. There are a few types, and they are reusable after you let it recharge. The music is great, and visuals are about what you'd expect for a mid-life Genesis title.
This is an early release for the Genesis, and that is reflected in its merciless difficulty. Your ship's hitbox is HUGE. Sometimes it feels like it is larger than your actual sprite. Power ups can be had, but they come after picking up 4 "P" icons. This helps level the play field a little, as they significantly increase your offensive power. Three different weapons can be had, but I prefer the standard vulcan as it has a bit of a spread, covering a little more of the screen. Speed ups are necessary, but don't get too many as your giant hitbox will scrap against the hair of an enemy and BAM! The visuals are bright and colorful, and the music is organ-grindey, like a progressive rock band took over a church on a Friday night. It's a fun game, but it takes a lot of pain to get any good at this one.
In this steam punk inspired horizontal shooter, you can choose between a blimp and a biplane. The blimp is larger and slower, and can take more damage. The biplane is nimble, but less sturdy. Given that this is the only time I've ever seen a blimp as a selectable character, picking it is a no-brainer. The visuals are very distinctive and stylish. Right from the start you are presented with the clicking sound of a 1940's video projector, as it lays out the backstory. The color scheme recalls sepia tones of vintage photography. The music is excellent, and a great example of Genesis sound programming. Your ship can fire to the left or right with different buttons, and this is incorporated into the gameplay design fairly well. The steam punk aesthetic is in high gear, and many of the enemies are inventive almost to a fault (flying windmills and bathtubs?). Your ship does toss bombs, but does so with a bit of an upward arc, which makes aiming at ground targets difficult. Your primary weapon is a basic pea shooter, which can get powered up but is mostly underwhelming. The lighting attack is limited but fierce, so save these for the boss battles. Overall, this is a fantastic game with great design.
There's something about being a game on the CD format that invites guitar wailing butt rock. Android assault is a very good game that is reminiscent of Thunder Force 3 or Gate of Thunder. It's very playable, has great graphics, has adjustable speed elements, and a variety of power ups. It also has a rock'n soundtrack. Your ship transforms into a robot with the third power up, and that makes it all the more awesome. Oddly, Even though the Game is titled Android Assault, the title screen shows The Revenge of Bari-Arm as the title. Oops.
It is a lot of fun to play, but it's a hard game to find. I recommend seeking it out.
Wings of Wor
This is a fresh entry in the shooter genre for the Genesis, as it has a mythological theme. You play as a flying centurion, or something like that, and fly from left to right on the screen. The graphics of the protagonist and common enemies are nothing special, but there are some pretty awesome and grotesque bosses in this game! There are some neat visual effects, like the screen tilting, and lots of prallax scrolling. The music is serviceable. Power ups are fairly plentiful, and you can use various forms of offensive magic that you pick up. This game is a breath of fresh air, and is highly recommended.
Keio Flying Squadron (reproduction)
Keio Flying Squadron is the premier cute-em up on the Sega CD/Genesis. It has great hand-drawn sprites, bright colors, and fluid gameplay. The music is good too. Fans of Parodius will definitely be on board with this, except I feel this is the better game. The difficulty is balanced, and you don't really get frustrated. The enemies are so cute I feel bad blowing them to bits, but that's just the way it is I guess. This game goes for ridiculous asking prices on Ebay, I went the repro route. Find a way to play it, you won't be disappointed.
|These graphics still hold up today|
Eliminate Down (reproduction)
|Get used to dodging|
A simple, world-war 1 bi-plane shooter with three available: the spread shot (think Raiden), an figure-8 bullet pattern shot, and the awesome fire stream weapon that when fully powered up lashes fire all over the screen. This game in not too difficult when maxed out, but dying in the later stages is rough as it is hard to get powered up when it takes all you have just to survive. Perhaps this is another entry that I am placing higher on my list than the consensus but its just so much fun.
Advanced Busterhawk Gley Lancer (reproduction)
|Best use of options in any 16-bit game, in my opinion|
Lords of Thunder
This is definitely an interesting game. It is a mythological flying humanoid horizontal scroller, with blaring, guitar driven butt-rock. Despite the heavy use of adjectives, it is a stellar game for the Sega CD. Your character can fly or run, when on the ground. If enemies get too close your melee attack is a fierce sword strike. You can choose different types of armor before each stage, each of which has different magic capabilities offensively and defensively. Downed enemies will drop gems, which are used as currency in the shop between stages. This allows for trying a variety of magic and weapons, adding to replay value. One of the best games on the system.
Lightening Force (Thunder Force IV)
|The stage colors change as the sun sets|
|Position your drones behind you when the walls close in|
Thunder Force III
|The fire stage is perhaps the most recognizable scene from all of Genesis games|
The weapons give the player immense satisfaction, as you dole out over the top punishment to the enemies throughout the game. Couple them with the "claw" (options) and you got some screen-filling mayhem spewing from your ship.
The stage design incorporates the typical tropes of '90's video game design: snow stage, water stage, fire stage, land stage, space stage, etc. One of the things that sets this game apart is how well each stage is executed. The wavy fire background was mind-blowing for the time, and still holds up today. The currents pushing your ship around underwater make you respect the environment. Hidden power ups can be discovered by taking chances and piloting through dicey terrain and narrow crevices.
I can't think of many other games that pair the music so well with the stage, in fact, I can't think of many other games where I would want to listen to the sound test. It may be a bit on the easy side, but being a shooter wimp that's fine with me.