Indie Shoot 'em Ups thumbnail

Indie Shoot 'em Ups

8 games to scratch itchy trigger fingers

A.J. Maciejewski

Written by for Rapid Fire Reviews on

There's nothing quite like a good old shmup so here are 8 recent indies that put their own unique spin on the classic arcade formula.

A.J. has been obsessively gaming since the late '80s and is just as passionate about video games in 2023. 🐻

Sky Racket Review Switch ★★★★☆

Here's an interesting concoction; a brick breaker game that plays like a shoot 'em up. Perhaps it's the world's first whack 'em up! v1d30chumz 3-235-186-94

Sky Racket screenshot
We're about to make a banana split out of you!

Sky Racket has you control either RacketBoy (not to be confused with the retro gaming blog) or RacketGirl as you dodge projectiles while swinging a tennis racket at certain ones to fire them back at enemies. I've never played anything quite like it and that's surprising considering how well the gameplay works. To add some complexity, you can also roll to dodge foes and hazards as well as have a buddy temporarily follow you around that can unleash a special move which requires time to charge. Throughout the campaign, you'll fight plenty of quirky bosses and encounter unique situations which makes for one varied and fun-filled adventure. Plus, the fantastic retro-style visuals and music add a layer of charm to the package and playing cooperatively with a friend makes the action even more enjoyable.

With a lovely presentation and unique gameplay that you can enjoy with a friend, Sky Racket is a must-have indie for any retro lover.

Sky Racket gameplay video →

Cat Girl Without Salad: Amuse-Bouche Review Switch ★★★☆☆

What the heck is Cat Girl Without Salad: Amuse-Bouche? Well, it's a cool shoot 'em up from our good friends at WayForward.

Cat Girl Without Salad: Amuse-Bouche screenshot
If you love retro gaming references, here's a game for you

Cat Girl Without Salad: Amuse-Bouche has you play as a goofy cat girl as you soar through a few lengthy stages while encountering all sorts of silly enemies and bosses. The core gameplay is incredibly simple as all you do is shoot but the primary gimmick is when you collect game cartridges which changes your shot to emulate a retro game. For example, you can shoot out little guys who look like Mega Man as well as puzzle orbs that are ripped straight from Puzzle Bobble. As you play, there's a ton of spoken dialogue and it's genuinely funny and even had me laugh out loud at times. With all of that being said, the gameplay is still very basic and the levels are rather uninteresting as they merely consist of miscellaneous enemies coming at you with no stand-out scenarios presented aside from the bosses.

If you have a silly sense of humour then you'll love Cat Girl Without Salad: Amuse-Bouche but don't expect it to be a top-notch shmup.

Cat Girl Without Salad: Amuse-Bouche gameplay video →

Freedom Finger Review Xbox One ★★★★☆

Once in a while, an indie releases that wears its irreverence on its sleeve so get ready to play the offensive but fun Freedom Finger.

Freedom Finger screenshot
It may look crude but Freedom Finger is a blast

Freedom Finger definitely looks like a weird game but trust me; it's great. Before getting to the gameplay, allow me to say that it can be quite an offensive game with plenty of swearing and you even control a ship that resembles a hand with an extended middle finger. The humour reminds me of Team America: World Police so if you're not one for raunchy comedy then you probably won't like Freedom Finger. Anyway, you play by dodging projectiles and shooting as expected but where things become interesting is in its use of grabbing and punching. The coolest implementation is that you can grab certain enemies which allows you to control them. Also, whenever you see a button, you can punch it to alter the stage in various ways. Overall, it's one of the best indie shmups that I've ever played.

Taking its off-the-wall sense of humour into account or not, there's no denying that Freedom Finger is a great shmup in every sense.

Freedom Finger gameplay video →

Rainbows, Toilets & Unicorns Review PlayStation 4 ★★★☆☆

Speaking of irreverent shmups, Rainbows, Toilets & Unicorns offers even more offensive humour that's sure to keep you laughing.

Rainbows, Toilets & Unicorns screenshot
This Spoiled Child boss looks a lot like Tom Cruise...

What's with indie shoot 'em ups being so over-the-top with their sense of humour? Well, Rainbows, Toilets & Unicorns has you control a dude who's sitting on a toilet and he's presumably propelled forward by the force of his rainbow-coloured diarrhea. The core gameplay is solid but just like Cat Girl Without Salad, the stages are merely hordes of enemies coming at you with no stand-out scenarios besides the bosses. Each level has a theme such as religion, social media, politics, and entertainment. So, make sure you're okay shooting priests, rabbis, and monks before playing this. As you take enemies down, you'll collect gems and stuff that fuels your sparklebarf meter which powers up your main shot when filled and you also have a special attack that charges over time.

Rainbows, Toilets & Unicorns is a ridiculous game but once you put the spectacle aside, you're left with a mostly standard shmup.

Rainbows, Toilets & Unicorns gameplay video →

Red Death Review Xbox One ★★★☆☆

Vertical shoot 'em ups don't get much more old-school than Red Death so get ready for some challenging retro-inspired shooting.

Red Death screenshot
Red Death is definitely stylish, that's for sure

Believe it or not, Red Death plays a lot like Rainbows, Toilets & Unicorns. The 2 main differences when it comes to gameplay are that Red Death includes much more interesting stages with loads of challenging scenarios throughout and it features a less rewarding power-up system as it's only done through item pick-ups. Both games feature a cool special attack that charges over time, though. Anyway, Red Death looks fantastic with its minimal colour palettes and it's a very challenging game but there's very little replay value aside from getting a high score because all you do is play from the beginning of the campaign whenever you perish. It could definitely use more modes.

Red Death is a solid pick-up-and-play arcade shooter but one that you likely won't go back to after giving it a handful of attempts.

Red Death gameplay video → More Pick-Up-And-Play Indie Games

Syder Reloaded Review Switch ★★★★☆

If you enjoy Defender-style shoot 'em ups then Syder Reloaded is here to offer challenging and nostalgia-fueled shmup action.

Syder Reloaded screenshot
Syder Reloaded is not only a lot of fun, its visuals are top-notch!

I originally played Syder Arcade on Ouya a few years back so I was delighted to see that it was remade for Switch. After choosing your desired ship from a selection of 8, you play by holding a button to shoot, tapping another to turn around, and deploying a special attack whenever it's charged. This may sound simple but the gameplay is nothing short of exhilarating with tons of different kinds of enemies rushing towards you as well as giant ships that are tricky to take down piece by piece as they fire clouds of projectiles at you. Meanwhile, the graphics are absolutely fantastic with gorgeously detailed environments and ships. On top of all this, there's a ton of variety throughout the campaign such as escort missions as well as various modes and additional challenges to master.

Syder Reloaded is the complete package when it comes to modern arcade shooting action and it's one tough game to put down.

Syder Reloaded gameplay video →

Diadra Empty Review PlayStation 4 ★★★★☆

If you want to play a shoot 'em up that'll leave bullet patterns burned into your retinas then here's the high-octane Diadra Empty.

Diadra Empty screenshot
Diadra Empty will certainly make your palms sweat

Yes, Diadra Empty is another Defender-style game but it's definitely on the abstract side of the equation with its psychedelic visuals and trippy campaign. To play, you hold a button to shoot and whenever you let go, you can collect coins easier. There's also a wing button which acts like a charged melee weapon and you can deploy a super-powerful attack with stocked S.S. power-ups. You also have a barrier and if you get attacked when it's depleted, you lose a life. As you play, you'll collect experience that you can use to level up and enhance your base stats between stages which adds a rewarding RPG element to the otherwise action-intense formula. There's a decent amount of unlockables as well so you can spend a good chunk of time trying to master everything that Diadra Empty has to offer.

Diadra Empty is a fast-paced, super-fun, and challenging shooter that'll make you see projectile patterns for long after you turn it off.

Diadra Empty gameplay video →

Battle Rockets Review PlayStation Vita ★★☆☆☆

Sure, PlayStation Vita hasn't had many exclusives as of late but that doesn't mean it doesn't deserve a nifty new multiplayer shmup.

Battle Rockets screenshot
Get shot in face, lose hard-earned coins

Playing Battle Rockets is strange at first as you control it using only one side of the Vita. Specifically, you control your character with the stick and use either the face buttons or D-pad for various attack patterns. It's set up like this because the main appeal is to play it while sitting next to a friend so they can battle you. While playing solo, there are 8 challenges to master but they're not nearly as enjoyable as the multiplayer component which consists of 3 distinct modes; one of which involves collecting coins that spill out whenever you get shot. Although I appreciate the stylish artwork, Battle Rockets simply isn't that much fun. Moving your character around the empty rectangular playfield while your pal does the same as you try and deplete each other's health merely feels overly simplistic and it becomes tedious after only a few minutes. I do like the premise so I hope to see a more fleshed out iteration down the road.

Simply put, Battle Rockets is a basic multiplayer shmup battle game that lacks some necessary interesting gameplay wrinkles.

Battle Rockets gameplay video →
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