Hello, friends. It’s been a little while since our last SwitchArcade Special Edition. In the past, we’ve put together a bunch of “best-of" lists for a variety of genres on the Nintendo Switch. Today another popular genre on the platform gets its turn in the spotlight: the shoot-em-up. Sometimes known as ‘shmups’, these games have been around since practically the dawn of the medium. The genre has had its ups and downs, but it’s been having a bit of a renaissance lately. The Switch has particularly reaped the rewards, with tons of new and classic examples available. In no particular order, here are our picks for the best of the lot.
In the opinion of many players, Ikaruga is the pinnacle of vertical-scrolling shoot-em-up games. Whether you’re an expert player or a beginner, there’s a lot of fun to be had with its intriguing color-switching system and impressive visual design. The gameplay mechanics focus nearly as much on swapping to the right color as they do on twitch dodging, making for a rather unique experience within the genre. If you’re not that hot at shoot-em-ups, you can just enjoy the ride. More experienced players can dig into the rich scoring system and the challenge it offers. This Switch port is an excellent version of the game, to boot.
Gunbird 2 ($7.99)
You could fill a whole list with the amazing works of Psikyo, and indeed there are two full collections available on the Switch. You can’t go wrong with most of them, but one of its more popular titles over the years has been Gunbird 2. It’s colorful, a bit silly, and full of amazing bullet-hell action. Like most of the games on this list, it can be enjoyed as a fun tour for players of any level, or as an impossibly deep test of skill for experts. The Switch version has some input lag that ends up being a bit of a bummer, but that’s mainly going to be a problem for high-level play. If you just want to dive in and enjoy the sights and sounds of one of the classics of the genre, this version will suffice.
R-Type Dimensions EX ($14.99)
Irem created a lot of popular, fantastic games back in the day, but its greatest lasting legacy is surely the R-Type series. The original game remains a favorite of many shoot-em-up veterans even now, and if you want to see why, you need to pick up R-Type Dimensions EX. It contains the first two R-Type games with a wide array of options to make them as easy or tough as you want them to be. You can choose between a more faithful look or spiffy new visuals, even. The often grotesque designs of the stages and enemies combined with the highly versatile Pod power-up give the R-Type games a special place in the history of the genre, and this is a great way to experience where the series started.
Black Bird ($19.99)
Originally, I was going to include SEGA AGES Fantasy Zone in this list. It’s a terrific game, and if you’re looking for an eleventh shoot-em-up to grab, it’s a good one. But I really dig Black Bird, the modern spin on Defender/Fantasy Zone created by the folks at Onion Games. The action is on point, but what really makes this one special is its atmosphere. It’s a dark fairy tale, with a gritty yet cartoonish look that sets it apart from just about anything else. Perhaps not as much replay value as the others on this list, but it’s a memorable ride.
Danmaku Unlimited 3 ($9.99)
I have to give at least one nod to Team Mobile in this list, and the excellent Danmaku Unlimited 3 from Doragon Entertainment seems like a good way to do that. This is a game that focuses almost entirely on its mechanics, with little in the way of context for the action. Its Spirit/Graze system pushes you to take a lot of risks, and the many combinations of weapons, enemies, and bosses ensure that you’ll always have new challenges to tackle. It runs amazingly well on the Switch, with a rock-solid 60 FPS and very low input lag. A real shoot-em-up fan’s shoot-em-up.
Crimzon Clover – World EXplosion ($19.99)
This vertical shoot-em-up stormed onto the Switch in late 2020 and blew us away with its incredible, hectic bullet-hell gameplay. It is perhaps the most intense game on this list, but this version has been loaded up with enough options and modes that even a less experienced player can enjoy it. Perhaps more importantly, it gives you a lot of tools for improving so that you can get more experienced if you desire. The Break system pushes you go past your limits, and rewards you greatly for doing so. The boss battles in this game are really something else, too. There aren’t any Cave-developed vertical shooters on the Switch yet, but this game picks up that particular baton and runs like heck with it.
SEGA AGES Lightening Force ($7.99)
Also known as Thunder Force IV in other regions, Lightening Force is among the finest of the SEGA Genesis’s impressive shoot-em-up library. It’s an excellent horizontal-scrolling game with some absolutely wild visual effects given the original console’s specs. As with the other Thunder Force games, you can control the speed of your ship and switch between a variety of weapons after you’ve collected them. This SEGA AGES version for the Nintendo Switch adds in extra modes and options to make the game a bit easier to approach, along with some new ships for some variety. If you enjoy what you get here, you can also pick up SEGA AGES Thunder Force 3 AC to keep the good times rolling.
Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade ($44.99)
The value proposition of Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade isn’t as customer-friendly as you might hope, but you do get multiple versions of the early games in the series to help pad things out. The real treat in this set is Darius Gaiden, a game which many fans consider the best in the series. Darius has always stood out thanks to its enemies looking like mechanical aquatic monstrosities, but Darius Gaiden‘s impressive visuals, outstanding soundtrack, and cool capture mechanic puts it a cut above its peers. It’s worth picking up this collection for that game alone, but you’ll also get a few variants of the first two Darius games as a bonus.
Capcom Arcade Stadium – Arcade Evolution Pack ($14.99)
What? We’re listing DLC? Yes, we are. Capcom Arcade Stadium is a free download, after all. It’s the DLC packs that you need to consider whether to purchase or not, and you can make a strong case for any of them. For our purposes, we’ll be highlighting the Arcade Evolution Pack that includes ten games, four of which are shoot-em-ups. The four in question are 19XX: The War Against Destiny, 1944: The Loop Master, Giga Wing, and Progear. The first two are fun shoot-em-ups in their own right, but it’s the last two that really make the pack. Giga Wing is an outstanding vertical shooter from the turn of the millennium that hasn’t seen a home release since the Dreamcast, while Progear is at the time of writing the only Cave-developed shoot-em-up available on the Switch. While Cave isn’t as well-known for its horizontal shooters as it is for its vertical ones, its top-notch quality is on full display in this title. The only negative is that the input lag in some of the games in Capcom Arcade Stadium is a bit on the high side, impeding higher-level play.
Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection ($19.99)
I was going to pick one of the games from this set in its Arcade Archives guise, but given the relative prices of buying this collection versus picking up an individual release, there’s really almost no reason to go with the latter. This collection includes eight of Konami’s classic coin-op titles, with seven of them being shoot-em-ups. You get the first two games in the Gradius series, the much-loved Life Force, vertical cute-em-up TwinBee, the historically-significant Scramble, the accessible yet entertaining Thunder Cross, and the oddball A-JAX. Don’t worry about that eighth game. For the entry price, those seven shooters will more than cover the tab.
This list is admittedly a bit biased towards the more “pure" style of shoot-em-up, and depending on your tastes you may gravitate more towards recent games that incorporate RPG-style elements. We may do a separate list for those at some point. What I can say is that if you’re looking for white-knuckle action, these are some of the best games around. What do you think? Do you have any favorite Switch shoot-em-ups you would have put on this list? Feel free to comment below with your faves to let us know.
Interested in more lists? Check out our other recommendations!
- The Best Nintendo Switch Fighting Games
- The 10 Best Action-RPGs on Nintendo Switch
- The 10 Best Rhythm Games on Nintendo Switch
- The 10 Best Visual Novel Games on Nintendo Switch
- The 10 Best JRPGs on Nintendo Switch
- The 10 Best 3D Platformers on Nintendo Switch
- The 10 Best Metroidvanias on Nintendo Switch