Although it doesn't feature an extensive library of shmups, the PlayStation 2 still has a handful of fantastic titles. Here, I'll take a look at five that were released in North America so put your seatbelt on and get ready for some awesome shooting action!
Even though the R-Type series would go on to provide fans with two turn-based strategy game spin-offs, R-Type Final is the last shoot 'em up in the franchise. The first two games are absolute classics while The Third Lightning delighted fans with its over-the-top scenarios and Delta brought the series into the 3D realm. However, Final is a very different experience. First of all, the atmosphere is similar to a Metroid game as it makes you feel alone with the alien forces right off the bat. The slowly-scrolling stages, sinister enemies, and awesome background animations all come together to form one eerie world. Of course, the gameplay is spot-on complete with plenty of power-ups and shot types. Probably the coolest part of the package is that you can pilot from a selection of 101 ships. Unlocking every single one will take hours even for the most dedicated shmup veteran. Overall, this is one of the best shoot 'em ups ever made.
Over a decade after the previous entry in the series, Raiden III was the first 3D iteration of the classic vertical shoot 'em up. After Seibu Kaihatsu went bankrupt, the team later formed MOSS and continued their passion to develop fantastic shmups such as this, Caladrius Blaze, and Raiden V. Anyway, back to Raiden III. As fans have come to expect, there are three weapons to obtain and upgrade: vulcan shot, laser, and proton laser. The latter unleashes a green stream that sweeps the screen as you move left and right. As a result, it's a lot trickier to use than the already established lock-on plasma laser. If that's not enough, you can play cooperatively with a friend. Doing so allows you to fire a powerful beam whenever you line your ships up. How cool is that?
Just like Gunbird before it, Castle Shikigami suffered from horrible localisation as it was renamed Mobile Light Force 2. Thankfully, the sequel was just named Castle Shikigami 2 and featured appropriate cover art. I guess XS Games learned their lesson. Then again, why is the third game for Wii called Castle of Shikigami III? Talk about inconsistent naming conventions...
Back to the game at hand, developers Alfa System (known for their fantastic light gun game Elemental Gearbolt and Tales spin-off series Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology) made a rather capable shmup with Castle Shikigami. Just like Gunbird, it features a crazy cast of characters although the plot is far more sinister. The gameplay is mostly basic as all you do is alternate between a rapid shot and a "Shiki" attack. Considering there is a selection of characters to master, playing around with each one to discover what they're capable of is quite fun. Thankfully, both Castle Shikigami (AKA Mobile Light Force 2) and its sequel are available for PS2 in North America.
Recently, Degica Games announced on Twitter that they're working on bringing back Castle Shikigami so look forward to that!
Silpheed: The Lost Planet
Silpheed: The Lost Planet is a long-awaited sequel to Game Arts' classic shooter Silpheed. Treasure (of Gunstar Heroes and Ikaruga fame) co-developed this masterpiece of a shmup. Just like R-Type Final, there's an impressive cinematic aspect as the camera moves around to showcase the action while you listen to teammates struggle with their own fights. The scoring system is awesome as it grants you bonuses according to how close you are to enemies when they perish. However, the coolest aspect of gameplay is the fact that you equip two weapons simultaneously. As you progress through the campaign, you'll unlock additional weapons so subsequent playthroughs will be much more customizable. If you're a fan of this phenomenal shmup then be sure to check out the spiritual successor Project Sylpheed for Xbox 360. Keep in mind, it's not a shoot 'em up but it's still a great game.
Speaking of Treasure, they also co-developed this final entry in the Gradius series. The visuals and music are superb and there are many unforgettable moments throughout the campaign. That being said, some portions will drive you insane such as when doors close in front of you and force you to sacrifice a life or when you have to carefully navigate through maze-like sections. Gradius V sure doesn't mess around! Even genre veterans will find beating the campaign to be a huge challenge. Anyway, be sure to read my complete Gradius V review for more and also check out the Gradius III and IV compilation as it features both arcade experiences on one disc.