Shooting hordes of enemy forces while weaving through clouds of projectiles is as fun as it's always been. Very few consoles have a library of shmups as impressive as Xbox 360's so let's take a look at the 10 best shooters for Microsoft's sophomore console.
Note: in order for a game to qualify for this list, it must have an official North American release and not be exclusive to the Indie Games series or part of a hub collection such as Game Room. Also, run 'n' gun and twin-stick shooters will not be included.
Zeit² certainly isn't the best-looking shoot 'em up ever created but its ingenious use of time mechanics make it a constantly engaging and intense shooter that'll cause your eyes to go bloodshot. Being able to manipulate time in order to clone yourself and combine shots while trying to survive as long as possible and maximize your score is super-addictive. The only question is; where's Zeit³?
Here we go; the first of a few Cave shooters on this list. Guwange released in Japanese arcades back in 1999 and it took over a decade to make its North American debut. It's unique in that you control a character who runs through automatically scrolling stages. The added challenge of having to navigate through these stages provides a layer of strategy that you don't often see in the genre.
8 Sine Mora
Very few shmups manage to provide a cinematic experience and the first one that usually comes to mind is Sine Mora. Simply watching the camera pan around its gorgeous environments as it showcases epic sequences will make any genre fan's jaw drop. When you factor in the tight gameplay and impressive boss fights, how could anyone pass up on this modern classic?
Be sure to check out my Sine Mora EX review to learn all about the remake of this fantastic shoot 'em up.
7 R-Type Dimensions
There have been a few compilations that consist of R-Type & R-Type II. The PlayStation R-Types brought the original arcade versions to fans' living rooms while R-Type DX for Game Boy Color allowed you to play them on the go in all their portable glory. However, R-Type Dimensions took these two classics to a whole new level as it lets you switch between the old-school 2D visuals and all-new 3D renderings that look absolutely gorgeous. I'm still impressed that the games play the same yet they look so different.
Caladrius was made by shoot 'em up veterans Moss (of Raiden fame) so you can trust that it's vertical arcade shooting done right. Blasting away super-tough bosses only to watch their clothes slowly dissipate is oddly satisfying and when you consider the wide variety of characters and clever score and weapon systems, it's clear that Caladrius is a must-have for any genre fan.
Caladrius has a modern remake, too, so head over to my Caladrius Blaze review to read up on it.
5 Akai Katana
Here is another Cave shmup. More specifically known as Akai Katana Shin, this shooter is almost as fun to play as it is to listen to because Ryu Umemoto's rocking soundtrack makes the intense action even more enjoyable. Although it takes a while to master its unconventional mechanics, Akai Katana is an ultimately rewarding and highly underrated shoot 'em up.
4 Raiden IV / Raiden Fighters Aces
If you've read some of my previous shmup content, you probably know that I absolutely love Raiden. The addictive vertically scrolling shooting with satisfying upgradable weaponry and intricate enemy and boss designs is spot-on for arcade shooting fun. Thankfully, Raiden IV retains the classic feel perfectly. Plus, it comes with a radical soundtrack CD! Meanwhile, Raiden Fighters Aces includes the mid '90s shmup gems Raiden Fighters, Raiden Fighters 2: Operation Hell Dive, and Raiden Fighters Jet by original developers Seibu Kaihatsu. I could go on all day about how incredible that trilogy of games is but just buy it and experience them for yourself.
Raiden is still going strong so check out my Raiden V: Director's Cut review.
When Treasure first released Ikaruga, it became an instant classic due to its high degree of challenge and unique polarity mechanic where you alternate between black and white in order to absorb similarly coloured bullets. Although North American gamers first experienced it on GameCube, this downloadable Xbox 360 version allows the gorgeous shoot 'em up to look even better in glorious HD.
2 Radiant Silvergun
Although Ikaruga usually steals the show, Treasure's Radiant Silvergun is a phenomenal shoot 'em up with tons of satisfying weapons that you can unleash to devastate enemy forces. The cool thing is that you can use these seven weapons at any time; no power-ups required! Taking the time to memorize how to deploy each weapon and use them to your advantage makes it one of the most rewarding and intricate shmups ever crafted. It's surprising but I indeed enjoy it slightly more than Ikaruga (its spiritual successor).
1 DeathSmiles / DeathSmiles II X
Here we have the third Cave shooter on this list. DeathSmiles definitely deserves top spot as it not only provides some of the most intense and satisfying shmup gameplay ever, it's also set in a stylish gothic world that really pops with its distinct visual style and catchy soundtrack. Although the original has an overall Halloween vibe, DeathSmiles II X is set in a grim take on Christmas with evil Santas and such. I absolutely adore these two games and hope that we see another entry in the series sometime down the road.