FEATURE | SHMUPs: Welcome to The Curtain of Bullets

by Aljosa K.

SHMUPs are one of the oldest video game genres in existence. It’s true. Even before games like Ultima and Wizardy – shooters preceded them all. It all started in 1978 with the release of Space Invaders. A revolutionary game by the Japanese developer known as Taito which still makes arcade boards and other video games. More than 30 years later since the release of the original. Now, in the year 2010.

The genre has became one of the least accessible and is literally never mentioned in mainstream video games. Even Rogue-like fans who recently got The Dark Spire and Shiren The Wanderer are laughing at fans of the shooter genre. Here is a blog totally dedicated to the dying genre. I will include some recommendations for beginners, hybrid shmups, and what I think are the best games and developers in the genre.¬†¬†Before I begin, these are merely my opinions and shouldn’t be considered anything more than that.

Recommendations for Beginners

The genre is very diverse, that much is obvious. The tricky part is finding out which game is for you. First recommendation is a game called Bangai-O Spirits for the DS. It is the sequel from the original Dreamcast version. It is made by the amazing developers over at Treasure who made games such as Ikaruga, Sin and Punishment, and Radiant Silvergun. It’s fairly easy to get into for the first half but the difficulty ramps up.Well worth a look.

Second game is on the 360. It is called Raiden IV. The Raiden series is also a well known series on the scene. It’s a throwback to old games like Gradius, Radiant Silvergun, and Giga Wing. You can find it fairly cheap at your local video game store. Finally, the last game is Castle of Shikigami III. This series goes back to the PS2 and is also pretty easy to get into if you have patience. It is notorious for the god awful voice acting that will make you cringe, and then laugh your heart out.


Like every other genre, SHMUPs have hybrids too. Only here, they are one of the easiest games to get into. Examples of these are Starfox 64, Pilot Wings, and just about any Panzer Dragoon game. If I had to pick ONE game that is my absolute favourite, then that game is Sin and Punishment on the N64 and now Wii Virtual Console.Sin and Punishment is the perfect game in a variety of ways. It is another example of Treasure doing what they do best. It is a SHMUP combined with some aspects of a rail shooter.

There are still curtains of bullets that you must dodge like all games in the genre, but there is a twist of being able to move on both axis. Sin and Punishment combines amazing set-pieces, great music, and just all-around perfect gameplay. The only dent in it’s armor is the nonsensical story and voice-acting. But honestly, who plays these games for a compelling narrative? Nobody, that’s who!

The Best of the Best

The pinnacle of what this genre has, are the independent Japanese games aka “Doujins”. An example of this is the Tohou Project. ONE guy makes a series of games including one which is my favourites, Perfect Cherry Blossom, the game in that first picture in this blog. You don’t need to dig deep to find the gems, just hit up and Google and get ready for a goldmine of classic game design for free. If I had to pick TWO developers that are the best that this genre has to offer, they are definetly Treasure and CAVE.

I have cited Treasure numerous times in this blog because they are just THAT good. CAVE on the other hand, is a dev that rarely releases it’s games outside of Japan but most of them are region-free so you can import if you have the desire. Examples of their work are Mushihimesama Futari 1.5, EspGaluda II, DoDonPachi Daioujou, and DeathSmiles. All of these games are at the height of the genre. CAVE has perfected the concept of “bullet hell” while still being somewhat accessible due to the amount of difficulty levels. So if I had to pick three games that are my utmost favourites, they would be Sin and Punishment, Mushihimesama Futari 1.5, and Ikaruga.


I hope you enjoyed reading this blog and it got you at least somewhat interested into this genre of video games. So until next time, peace folks!

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