Hamster’s Arcade Archives line of retro re-releases consists of hundreds of games at this point, covering decades of arcade gaming history. It’s only natural that one of the most popular genres of the arcade scene, the shoot-em-up, makes up a huge part of the line-up. There are nearly a hundred shoot-em-ups across the entire Arcade Archives, making for a daunting challenge for someone walking in fresh. We’ve selected ten of our favorites that we feel represent the best of the best in the line. This is just our opinion, and the titles are in no particular order. If you have any favorites you want to shout out, please comment below.
X Multiply ($7.99)
For whatever reason, R-Type isn’t part of the Arcade Archives line. That’s unfortunate, but it means we get a chance to widen our horizons a bit with some of Irem’s other great games. The side-scrolling X Multiply is perhaps the best of the famed publisher’s lesser-known shooters, swapping out the Force power-up for massive tentacles that can be used to attack the enemy and protect your ship. In terms of atmosphere, it feels like a blend between R-Type and Konami’s Life Force, sending you into a body infected by an Alien Queen.
Life Force ($7.99)
Life Force has always been a cult favorite, offering up both side-scrolling and vertically-scrolling stages and an enjoyable multiplayer feature. There are substantial differences between the Japanese and overseas versions of this game, and this Arcade Archives includes pretty much all of the variants. Whichever version you play, you’re in for a fantastic time. The usual Konami-quality presentation and snappy gameplay put this head and shoulders above most of the competition.
Thunder Cross ($7.99)
There are a lot of Konami games in this list, but what can I say? The publisher had some of the best of the best in the arcades in general. Thunder Cross is another side-scrolling shooter, and like Life Force it offers two-player simultaneous play. It shares a lot of elements with Gradius, including its Options that help spread out your offensive power. It’s a friendlier game than Gradius to coin-feed your way through if that’s your preference. Note that the Japanese version is far better than the overseas version here, with a lot of features that were removed for whatever reason. You can pick whichever version you like in this Arcade Archives release, so you know what to do.
Bells & Whistles ($7.99)
Okay, we’ll move on from Konami soon, I promise. Bells & Whistles is part of the TwinBee series of vertically-scrolling shooters, and it’s part of the cute-em-up sub-genre. Vibrant colors, cartoonish enemies, and a rock-hard level of challenge, with the tough but compelling bell-juggling power-up system that the series is known for. This is arguably the best game in this series, and another fantastic co-op shooter to add to your collection. Certainly the most adorable game in this list, but underestimate it at your peril.
Taito is another heavy hitter in the shoot-em-up genre, though it has reserved many of its games for its own collections. Indeed, Darius is available in the quite excellent Darius Cozmic Collection with lots of interesting extra features. If you’re willing to throw down the money, you’ll get a great Darius experience that way. But if you just want to enjoy the original classic on its own, this Arcade Archives release is a solid way to do it. The extremely wide display and superb soundtrack give this game an atmosphere unlike any other shooter, though it is best played on a larger display rather than the handheld screen.
Terra Cresta ($7.99)
The Cresta series was recently revived with the impressive Sol Cresta from Platinum Games, but if you want to see why this series was worthy of being revived then this is the game to go to. It’s a vertically-scrolling shooter with a unique formation system that allows you to build on to your ship and ultimately temporarily transform into an invincible fiery phoenix. There’s a great sense of risk versus reward in this game, and the ship-building results in a surprising amount of variety.
Dragon Spirit ($7.99)
I will fully acknowledge that this one is a personal bias. I love Dragon Spirit. It’s basically a super-charged take on Xevious, swapping out spaceships and lasers for dragons and fire breath, but doesn’t that already sound awesome? The presentation is excellent, and the power-up system makes the game somewhat lenient compared to some of its peers. This Arcade Archives release comes with two versions of the game, with the newer one fixing bugs, making the gameplay smoother, and changing the music a little. A terrific, atmospheric vertical shooter.
Image Fight ($7.99)
Here’s Irem’s entry into the vertically-scrolling shooter field, and one that achieved a bit of popularity in its time via its various home ports. If you think the R-Type games are tough, Image Fight is going to uppercut you into the Sun. More than half of the game takes place in a holographic simulation, which is where the name is drawn from. You need to get an average kill rate of 90% or higher if you want to immediately proceed to the later stages of the game. If you fail to do so, you’ll first have to battle through a Penalty Zone that is exactly what it says on the tin. In terms of power-ups, you get a Force system similar to R-Type along with additional pods to increase your fire power. Not one for the faint of heart, but worth smashing your head against.
Speaking of extremely tough vertical shooters, Seibu Kaihatsu’s Raiden is another game that will kick your teeth in. This one was popular enough in its time to create a little cottage industry of homages and clones, and it’s easy to see why. Despite not really doing anything particularly novel or ground-breaking, it’s just a fun, well-polished game with just the right amount of action and excitement. It’s another one with a two-player simultaneous option, and you should certainly exercise it if you can. It also has outstanding music, which is an essential ingredient for a truly great shooter.
Gradius II ($7.99)
It’s a shame that Gradius II is likely the least-known mainline entry in Konami’s storied series, because it may well be the best. With more advanced hardware under its hood, it ups the ante from the first Gradius in just about every way. Its seven stages take you on a genuine journey, with an impressive array of creative locales that will dazzle your eye as they devastate your craft. You can now choose your weapon load out from four different options, introducing new weapons to the series. It’s a tough game, and it’s just as much of a pain to recover here if you die as it is in other Gradius installments, but it’s probably the fairest and most fun of the lot.
That’s the list, friends. Gosh, Konami made a lot of great arcade shooters. Honestly, I could probably list thirty games before I get to anything I’d consider even slightly less than great, so consider this but a stepping stone on your journey to find your next favorite shoot-em-up. As I said at the top, if you’ve got an Arcade Archives shooter you want to boost, feel free to comment below. It’s always nice to hear other opinions on this fine genre.