I played some Ikaruga and it's fun but so hard for me. I'm not big on shmups but that one is crazy with a capital K! :P
I'd like to take some time here to honor one of my favorite genres; the SHMUP (shoot'em'up).
Though the genre has existed for a quarter century, it is probably one of the purest genres in terms of its execution. The games are easily identifiable and adhere to a fairly basic formula; typically, you play a lone warrior or vessel required to lay waste to an armada of enemies that come at you in hoards. Shoot as many enemies as you can, collect power-ups, kill the bosses. Its such a simple recipe, yet it almost always tastes great. These games harkon back to the glory days of the arcade, frustrate us with thier difficulty, yet remind us just how fun it was, and still is, to be the last soldier and blast through countless waves of foes.
There are staple series of the genre, and several notable one-offs, but regardless of their pedigree, these games are most notable for the manner in which they challenge the gamer. They are hard. Your thumbs may bleed. You may even rage quit. But you'll come back. And you'll love it.
I actually had a difficult time selecting my Top10, even to the point that I had to load up a few of the games to help me decide. I will caution other fans of the genre, my Top10 is a personal favorite list, and not necessarily the consensus "best ever". I felt the need to explain, as my list actually ignores two of the staple series in the genre, being GRADIUS and RAIDEN. Both series are wonderfull, yet no one game in either series was good enough to crack my personal favorites.
So friends, without further delay, here are myTop10 Favorite SHMUPS........
#10 "ABADOX: THE DEADLY INNER WAR" (NES)
Okay, I know a few of you are like "wha?", but this was my first ever SHMUP, and it will always hold its place in my heart. It was actually one of the first NES titles I ever owned, and I used to play it for hour upon hours. The premise at play here was a giant entity that you actually had to enter, and fight your way through. The first two stages were typical 2D side scrolling, but you'd soon enter the massive being and find top-down gameplay aswell, as you fought your way through this living creature. Certainly not the flashiest or best known title on the list by an means, but it squeeks in at number 10 simply because it was the game that got me into the genre in the first place.
#9 "REZ" (PS2)
Definitely the most unusual selection for the list, this rythm based SHMUP published by SEGA is noteworthy simply because of its uniqueness. Its still got all the typical staples of the genre including power-ups and boss fights, but the game also had a unique blend of sound and rythm to its gameplay. Its different, and certainly isn't for everyone, but fans of the genre should at least check it out, if for no other reason than seing the genre stretched in such a creative way.
#8 "RAY CRISIS" (PSone)
Working Designs, known most specifically for thier fantastic work localizing and publishing many Japanese RPGs in north america also dabbled in SHMUPS from time to time. Thankfully, somewhere in between localizing such RPG notables as Lunar, Alundra, Dragon Force etc etc they were kind enough to give us this wonderfull gem on the PSone. Just looking at this screenshot makes me cry, as I've somehow lost my copy of this game, and its replacement cost on ebay is ever climbing. I need to find this game again. Anyone have a spare copy? I didn't think so.
#7 "DARIUS GAIDEN" (SEGA SATURN)
Darius Gaiden makes the list due to two distinct features; incredibly odd large bosses, and its non-linear progression. The bosses in this game are great, in that "what!?" sorta way. You're flying a heavily armed but diminutive space ship (surprise, surprise, lol) but as you proceed through space you encounter......yup, giant, mutating, mechanical fish. Well, space is an endless ocean is it not? As for the progression, you actually get to choose which path you take through the game, as opposed to always replaying the same stages. Everyone plays the same first level, but from there, you have branchingroutes to different levels, so the game has some great replay value to it.
#6 "SILPHEED: THE LOST PLANET" (PS2)
Another great SHMUP published/localized by Working Designs. Again, your typical scenario of a lone ship against an invading space armada, but this one went to more effort to portray story than most others. Its got great gameplay, some very powerfull upgrades, and an interesting combo bonus system for gamers who love thier point totals and high scores. It also had some voiced story segments and cutscenes that were very cool. It also stands out because it loves to throw bosses at you. Many stages not only have a final boss, but also several sub-bosses to boot. Maybe not the most unique or original, but overall, a very solid effort.
#5 "SOLDNER-X: Himelsturmer" (PS3 via PSN download)
The genre lives on!! This PSN download gem is a must hve for any fan of the genre. Thankfully, the developer resisted the urge to use "modern" technology to make the game 3D, and instead created a wonderfull 2D experience, granted with the very best in graphics and sound. Its essentially the best of the old, meets the best of the new. Oldschool side-scrolling progression, but tossed in are some collectable items which open up a secret level, and a wonderfull combo system in which you not only collect power-ups, but "chain" your upgrades and weapon swaps together to open up even more powerfull upgrades. Huge bosses, stunning visuals, and damn, just so much on the screen at once! Being a newer release, it also has trophies to collect, and online leaderboads for you sadists who are sick enough to play this thumb-bleeder long enough to earn a top score on the harder difficulty settings.
#4 "R-TYPE FINAL" (PS2)
R-TYPE has always been a staple series of the genre, but this edition, by far the best in the series, is a whole new level of awesome. 100 customizable ships. 160 weapon and power-up combinations. Still one of the most gorgeous SHMUPs in terms of visuals and color. Huge, diverse bosses. 2D gameplay, blending with 3D rotations that squeeze an added element of depth from the stages. Oh, and its got 100 different customizable ships and weapon combinations. Uses the weapon "pod" feature (you can release your weapon pod and place it to the rear of your ship, to shoot backwards) to add a layer of difficulty and depth to the action. And its got 100 different ships and weapon combinations. You can also charge your weapons for devasting attacks. I mentioned the 100 different ships and 160 different weapon combinations right? You need to play this.
#3 "PANZER DRAGOON ORTA" (XBOX)
Its both sad and unfortunate that the greatest game of one of SEGA's greatest franchises didn't get released on a SEGA console. But alas, Panzer Dragoon Orta became an Xbox game as the DreamCast was lost before its time. I simply can't say enough about the series in general, as all three Saturn releases (including the RPG version) were wonderfull, but this is definitely the highpoint of the series. Its technically a rail shooter, as you generally follow a set path, but the game has so much diversity to it that you almost forget its linear. You can shoot to your front, rear, and both sides, and you don't feel nearly as restricted as you do in most other shmups. The graphics are fantastic, the gameplay is tight, and the game just oozes beauty at every turn. And lets be honest, there's something just inherantly cool about riding a mystical dragon into action and shooting from atop its back. My only complaint is that the game wasn't ported to the GameCube and PlayStation2, where it would have garnered more attention and allowed more players to experience the pinacle of Panzer Dragoon.
#2 "RADIANT SILVERGUN" (SEGA SATURN, JP only)
Sadly, this is the one game on the list I've never actually owned a copy of. It almost pains me to have to admit that, as any fan of the genre simply needs a copy of this game. The problem? It only got a JP release on console. A few friends had modded Saturns back in the day, and the odd time I've come across it playing in local gaming shops, so I've thankfully been able to experience this title, granted never to the extent that I'd like. Still, its place is secure in the upper eschelon of SHMUPS. I don't mod my systems, but I'm considering picking up a second (modded) Saturn for this game alone.
#1 "IKARUGA" (NINTENDO GameCube)
Similar to Radiant Silvergun on the Saturn, this title originally came out in Japan on the Sega DreamCast console, though thankfully it saw more localization support. It was ported to the Nintendo GameCube for its North American release, which any North American fan of the genre should be eternally greatfull for. Its also an XBoxLive download at this point from what I understand. It throws a simple, yet wonderfull gameplay twist at the player; the gameplay relies on a balance between white and dark energy, and the ship can be flipped to suit either. While the ship is white, the white energy cannot hurt you. In fact, you actually power-up your weapons by absorbing the energy! The trick is the tactical nature in which you flip your ship from dark to light to avoid taking damage and absord more power. This relates to the other added feature of the game, being the bullet eater challenge. Thats right, its actually worth bragging rights in Ikaruga to never fire a shot! If you can carefully manage to navigate the flipping of your vessel to stay alive, and simply absorb energy without firing back, you my friend, are a bullet-eater! By the way, this is also hella-difficult, with a rediculous amount of action on the screen and some of the smallest safe spots ever seen in the genre.
Well, there it is folks, my favorite SHMUPS. Hope you enjoyed the list, and please, pass along any of your favorite SHMUP achievements, stories, and fave titles, as I'd love to hear'em.
Peace for now, Cheers.