The Nintendo Switch is in its sixth year of life and, despite being attacked by Steam Deck which made it fierce competition, it has not lost its polish or appeal, at least from my point of view: perhaps it will be thanks to the large amount of games I own on this console, chock full of shmups of all sizes, a genre that the console soon specialized in.
It was once a novelty to have all these possibilities on a laptop, with the added value of being able to play the vertical scrolling shooters as they should, or in “tate mode” with the screen arranged vertically (and without worrying about damaging the screen as it happened when I was playing Ikaruga on an old CRT that I overturned for this purpose). There is now an incredible abundance of classics on the console and the thing I love most about this genre of games is the immediacy, they are perfect for playing fast games with little time available.
So here’s a list of my favorite titles and a rundown of the ones I play regularly on my Nintendo Switch. I state that this is personal taste, not exact science, so don’t be surprised if Ikaruga is missing. I know and I apologize … I love it but I don’t pretend to be a master of its rigid polarized system (but if and when Radiant Silvergun arrives on Switch, rest assured that you will find it at the top of this list).
For those unfamiliar with the term ‘shmup’, it comes from the abbreviation for shoot ’em up, and is universally accepted as the acronym for aircraft or spaceship shooters. Although the term ‘STGs’ is also used – ‘Swear to God’ and I have often come across those who insist that they are pronounced Moog. I’m one of them but as shmups is the universally accepted acronym, that’s what I’m going to call them.
After a few years since its landing in the mobile universe, the legendary publisher Taito has consolidated its releases on consoles and is well present on the Switch: a new Puzzle Bobble game has arrived accompanied by some delicious lessons on the history of the past of the company, led by Darius Cozmic Collections who brought the titanic three-screen shooter to Switch thanks to brilliant work done by M2. Also you can find a decent port of Layer Section by City Connection (a shame it costs as much as retrieving the original for Saturn today, but always convenient to have such a timeless classic on hand).
If I had to choose a game to recommend, it would be another fruit of the collaboration with M2 or the excellent G-Darius. This is a great entry point to the series if you’ve never played it. While for me the exaggerated Darius Gaiden remains the high point of the series, G-Darius is decidedly more accessible, providing an interesting approach to this timeless shmup, is peppered with paths of choice mixed with others obliged. The game has also received several updates, with the .2 version adding a filter to remove aliasing from the edges. It is now truly a complete package.
If you want a taste of M2 at its peak, there is no better port than Aleste Collection, a collection of some of Compile’s masterpieces. This includes a roundup of 8-nit versions of Aleste (the original for Master System plus two of the best shooters created on Game Gear).
But what about Aleste’s unedited release for Game Gear, which M2 has treated with the original limitations of the original hardware (160×144 resolution) but pushing the intensity of the action to the maximum? Aleste 3 for GG is a dream that becomes reality. It’s worth the ticket price alone, but on top of that, you’ll also get all the other 8-bit Compile titles, and this factor makes Aleste Collection a must-buy for shmup fans.
On the Switch there are several shmups coming from the Mega Drive such as the simple but stylized Gleylancer but also a good number of games in Techno’s Thunder Force series, the best of which is undoubtedly Thunder Force 4. Maybe it’s nostalgia that makes me talk like that, as I owned a Mega Drive 30 years ago, a console that had the power to make kids feel older and cooler then, but I can say that Thunder Force 4 has always embodied that charm that made Sega’s 16-bit console so coveted.
It is a large and wide shooter with levels in which it is also easy to get lost, staged with an aggressive parallax scrolling that amazes for its depth. The gameplay may not be great, but it is a truly immersive shmup. If you like Tecno Soft’s 16-bit style and love metallic soundtracks sampled with FM tuners, then this Thunder Force 4 port is a must.
I have never been so good and skilled as to fully appreciate Cave’s shmups which are distinguished by their complex scoring system. I don’t want to be blasphemous (rather I admit my inability), but despite everything I still enjoy enjoying the complexity of these games. On the Switch there is a good choice, from Mushihimesama to the classics DoDonPachi Resurrection ed Spiky.
My personal choice is ESP Ra.De. This port is still the result of collaboration with M2, so there are all the add-ons that help make the considerable complexity of the Cave scoring system more scalable, so everyone can play as they wish, there is great accessibility. Since I am scarce and lazy, I always choose the easy way with which I can fully immerse myself in the evocative atmosphere of this strange sci-fi bullet hell where you dance between a row of bullets flying over a futuristic dystopian Tokyo.
Drainus has recently won me over and I think he is one of the best contemporary shmups. Unfortunately there is no news of a possible port for Switch but it plays beautifully on the Steam Deck. But in my heart there will always be a special place for Devil Engine.
The release was sadly overshadowed by publisher Dangen Entertainment’s wrongdoing but this shouldn’t detract from Protoculture Games’ excellent product. This is a shmup made with heart and soul, and if you like the action to almost destroy the screen, then Devil Engine is definitely for you. This game is practically an explosion of style and swagger, like a classical student who does not disdain the most distant subjects.
The Switch eShop is chock full of titles and it’s easy for lesser-known products to go unnoticed. But stop here! Some of these seemingly anonymous products offer wonderful experiences created by small studios, and among them is an incredible array of shmups: games like Super Hydorah, Earth Atlantis, Steredenn: Binary Stars or the excellent Danmaku Unlimited 3a high-energy vertical scroller that is also a good entry point for the genre.
Recently I was captured by the work of the small studio Terarin Games, which I believe is made up of a single person, a cyber security engineer who in his spare time devotes himself to the development of these incredible games and whose entire library is available on eShop, provided that you know where to look. Moon Dancer was only released on the Japanese eShop and is a good entry point: it is a tribute to RayStorm with a fairly familiar lock-on mechanic. An action-packed title with a charismatic look that makes it a particular product.
If you spend a lot of time browsing the pages of the eShop then you will surely have often come across the weekly releases of the Hamster Arcade Archives series, probably one of the best services currently offered on the Nintendo store and a constant source of delights and hidden treasures. For fans of shmup there is a ton of choice, and some of these titles are extremely difficult to recover on the original platforms. There are Blazing Star by SNK, the wonderful Gunnel e Thunder Dragon 2or Konami’s timeless classic, Step 3.
My choice, however, falls on Gradius’ close cousin, Xexex. Developed by former developers of the team responsible for Gradius 2, it is a psychedelic spin-off that is inspired by R-type with its loadable blast. It had been a difficult title to recover so far, having previously only been included in the Salamander Collection for PSP. Alternatively, you need to retrieve an original arcade card, hoping the sound chip will still work. Mine, unfortunately not …