The Best SHMUPs of 2021 (so far)
The classic side-scrolling shoot ’em up (or SHMUP, for short) has been around for as long as video gaming. While these games aren’t quite as ubiquitous as they were during the height of 8 and 16-bit gaming, the past year has seen an incredible renaissance for SHMUPs, with terrific returns of classics and some impressive modern takes on the genre. Here’s our list for 2021’s best classically-styled shooters.
DariusBurst: Another Chronicle EX+
Taito’s Darius is an institution in the land of arcade shooters, though it never got quite as much attention as Konami and Capcom’s coin-op offerings. Long known for its gorgeous sea-themed enemies, intense variety of branching levels, precision controls, and ethereal techno scores, the series certainly hasn’t slowed with brilliant compilation collections, the recent-released G-Darius HD reboot, and, best of all, DariusBurst: Another Chronicle EX+. This is a sequel to the original DariusBurst released several years ago on PS4 and Vita, and it’s simply one of the best new examples of the genre since. The widescreen presentation is stunning, the soundtrack superb, there’s a ton of different ships to choose from, and plenty of levels and paths to take. Burst also adds a wonderfully eccentric and asynchronous online component where new score goals can be completed and the leaderboard is always tracking willing players to let them know where they stand against the rest of the world. If you want the true arcade multiplayer experience, up to four players can team up for local coop as well.
R-Type Final 2
R-Type is another brilliant side-scroller that’s been around since the golden age of the arcade. It’s maintained a regular presence in homes though, with ports to nearly every platform but hasn’t seen an actual new game in quite some time. R-Type Final 2 is, strictly speaking, a revamp of the PS2 original, but it shows off perfectly why this series has managed to stick around. Final 2 shows off the series’ brilliant power-up mechanic, wide array of diverse weapons, terrific boss fights, bizarre enemy types, and wicked level design. The 2D gameplay and 3D visuals are fantastic and it’s simply a great piece of work.
There were a lot of strange, humorous, and just bizarre takes on SHMUPs back in the day, especially from Japan. Cotton wasn’t, by any stretch the weirdest, but this colorful and creative side-scrolling shooter was different and memorable enough to have earned a nostalgic following. The Cotton Reboot updates the graphics, of course, but also shows off the lighter side of the genre with a game that’s a little more forgiving and a whole lot cuter than most of its contemporaries. Players take the role of a broom-riding, candy-obsessed witch who must shoot down an array of magical bad things across a bright and humorous series of landscapes. While the tiny bikini-clad fairy companion feels more than slightly out of date, the game as a whole is a delightful old-school romp.
It’s a SHMUP, but in VR. If that sounds like fun, Yuki is definitely worth playing. Twisting classic 2D gameplay into an immersive VR environment requires finesse, but Yuki pulls it off extremely well. The game mixes in rogue-lite elements to add a Hades-like gimmick where you have just one life per run, but each failure offers the possibility of more power and upgrades. Yuki will have you ducking, weaving, and shooting while moving its flying ‘battle-angel’ protagonist around as if you were excitedly playing with an action figure. It’s clear the developers approached the design with a palpable love for the genre, making Yuki feel like an exceptional VR homage to the classics.
An new game with a metric ton of classically themed elements, Natsuki Chronicles is heavily inspired by both classic SHMUPs (like R-Type and Square Enix’s amazing PS1 shooter Einhander) and sci-fi anime. Chronicles is surprisingly heavy on storytelling, which admittedly takes up a lot of the game time with dialogue that you might be too busy shooting things to pay attention to. It’s not a bad story either, but the game wisely also offers a straight-up arcade mode that shucks the story in favor of just doing level-by-level blasting with traditional power-ups, instead of plot progression. Either way, this is a sharp, exciting shooter that feels like a lot of the games it’s clearly inspired by, while still having its own personality. Natsuki Chronicles almost certainly got instantly buried in the console app stores and Steam when it launched earlier this year, but is definitely worth a look.