Top 10 Super Nintendo Shoot 'em Ups

Top 10 Super Nintendo Shoot 'em Ups

A look back at 16-bit scrolling shooters

A.J. Maciejewski

Written by for Super Nintendo on

Of all the classic game genres, very few remain as cutting-edge as the automatically scrolling shoot 'em up. In this list, I explore ten of the best shooters to be released in North America for the Super NES. Get ready to relive the days when shooting down enemy forces and dodging oncoming fire while sipping a can of Surge was all we needed for a quick adrenaline rush.

10 Firepower 2000 (AKA Super SWIV)

In this military-themed shmup, you can control either a helicopter or jeep to work through the challenging vertically scrolling stages. But, why just choose one? Invite a buddy over and have him control the other vehicle. Don't forget to call dibs on the helicopter first!

9 Imperium

Shooters with RPG elements were few and far between back in the day, but in this vertical mech-piloting game you can actually level up. Being rewarded experience points for successfully taking out enemies works as a fantastic incentive to not let a single one escape.

Imperium screenshot
I wonder if the people in that city underneath are wondering what the heck is going on

8 Thunder Spirits

SNES owners were jealous when they saw their Genesis-loving friends playing the impressive horizontal shoot 'em up Thunder Force III. Little did they know that only one year later, they'd get a port in the form of Thunder Spirits. Finally, those awesome tunes, massive bosses, and visually stunning alien worlds would be playable on their system of choice... but with no level select screen.

7 BioMetal

Y'all ready for this? Probably not, since BioMetal is one relentlessly fast-paced shmup. To take some of the edge off, dance-pop group 2 Unlimited provided 16-bit versions of their hits for the "Super Techno Soundtrack". You couldn't get more '90s if you tried.

BioMetal screenshot
Wait, this is only the second level? This is going to be tough!

6 Gradius III

As the Super Nintendo's first shooter (since it was one of the five launch titles), Gradius III set expectations high for what's to come in the following years. If you can't get your hands on this cartridge then don't fret since you can download it on Virtual Console for Wii.

5 Darius Twin / Darius Force

These two shoot 'em ups filled with enemies inspired by sea creatures are very different but they're both worth tracking down. Darius Twin is suitable for beginners since it features predictable enemy patterns, but you'll have to be a master if you want to get the best ending. Meanwhile, Darius Force (renamed Super Nova in North America) is a lot more difficult as it makes you restart stages upon getting hit. However, having the ability to choose from three distinct ships may be enough to give you an edge on the battlefield.

Darius Twin screenshot
This mechanical squid has no idea what's about to go down

4 Axelay

Konami proved that they weren't confined to the world of Gradius when they created the instant classic that is Axelay. With perfect controls, alternating perspectives, unique boss fights, memorable music, and intricate level design, this shmup constantly keeps you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. For more on this epic SNES experience, read my full review here.

3 R-Type III: The Third Lightning

Since other shooters started offering choices before heading out to battle, Irem created a couple more selectable Forces to help with taking on the Bydo Empire. Trust me; you'll need all the help you can get if you ever want to beat this incredibly challenging game.

R-Type III: The Third Lightning screenshot
R-Type's organic environments are back and squishier than ever

2 Space Megaforce (AKA Super Aleste)

Some games are unfortunately hard to come by. Unless you have money to spare, trying to acquire this rare shoot 'em up will be quite difficult. If you manage to ever play it then your thumbs will thank you since they'll get quite the workout due to the intense twitch-inducing vertical shooting action. Your ears will be satisfied, too, as they'll dig the great music and synthetic voice-overs. That being said, your wallet will probably suffer from severe depression after you trade all of its insides for one Super NES game.

1 U.N. Squadron

It's always impressive when a game defies expectations and delivers an experience beyond what their competitors are capable of. U.N. Squadron accomplished this by allowing players to purchase new aircrafts and power-ups between missions and providing a non-linear map system where enemy forces would migrate over time. The result is one deeply immersive shooting adventure. Selecting and setting up the perfect plane for each mission is extremely satisfying especially considering the high degree of challenge involved. Overall, these unique and involving mechanics are what make U.N. Squadron top this list of the best SNES shoot 'em ups ever created.

U.N. Squadron screenshot
Who said being a pilot doesn't pay? I'm rich!
Gameplay video playlist for Axelay and R-Type III 7:56

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