Shoot ’em up games have been a staple in the video game world since Tomohiro Nishikado designed Space Invaders in 1978. As technology has improved and video games have become more and more like movies, with design and effects as good as any Hollywood movie, it can be argued that a little bit of the simple fun element has been taken out, replaced with a need to create something bigger and better every time.
In the 80’s, as arcade games became more advanced, the likes of the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) and the Sega Master System started to release the new breed of scrolling shoot ‘em ups, including R-Type and Contra. But it wasn’t until the 90’s that these types of games really hit their stride, with dozens of classic titles which spawned sequels that are still being released on mobile phones and other platforms to this day.
Here are a list of five of the greatest shoot ‘em ups of the 90’s. Prepare to be transported back to a nostalgic world of amazing graphics, insane gameplay and big bad bosses that spoke to you before trying to blow you out of the skies …
Konami released some great shoot ’em up titles in the 90’s, and Axelay was one of the best. Released on the Super Nintendo in 1992, the starting sequence alone is epic, foreshadowing the 1996 sci-fi movie Independence Day by starting with the large shadow of a spaceship covering a city before blowing it to hell. When the game begins, your spaceship is bombarded with enemy after enemy, and Axelay features some of the best end of level bosses of the period. The boss that emerges from the fire in the game is so awesome he features on the cover of the game, and he’s not even the main bad guy. Axelay makes common appearances on most magazines ‘Top 100’ lists of games in the 90’s, and in the shoot ‘em up genre, it’s in the top 5 for sure.
Super Aleste (AKA Space Megaforce)
With the likes of R-Type and Axelay dominating the genre, dozens of scrolling shoot ‘em ups flooded onto the market around 1992. Created by Toho, Super Aleste (or Space Megaforce as it is known in North America) was one of the very best, featuring absolutely insane gameplay where the screen is filled with bright, beautiful backgrounds and dozens of enemies flying and firing at you at any one time. It’s a miracle that you get out of one level alive, and you have to pause for breath between each level. It’s so fast paced.
Super Aleste is fondly remembered because of two things: The epic soundtrack, which features some of the catchiest tunes ever to feature on a computer game, and the voice work, which was revolutionary when Super Aleste hit the shelves. A voice tells you the weapon, i.e. “Scattered shot” and “Multi-direction shot”, and when you come face to face with the end of level boss, you’re met with a battle cry or a put-down like “I’ll watch you die!” or “Welcome to the underworld!”. If you were a kid in the 90’s, chances are you’ll remember these bosses very well.
OK, theoretically, R-Type was released in 1987, but the best versions of the game came in the 90’s, including Super R-Type in 1991 and R-Type III: The Third Lightning in 1993. Whereas Axelay and Aleste are classic vertical scrolling shoot ‘em ups, R-Type was a horizontal scroller, and contains some of the toughest levels of any genre. Although it suffers from “throw a console through a window” syndrome – which is brought about by having to start a level from the beginning every time you die, even if it’s against the end of level boss – R-Type is an absolute classic of the genre, with great SFX, music and gameplay. The final boss in Super R-Type looks like a spaceship version of H.R. Giger’s Alien design too, harbouring face-huggers. This just makes it all the more awesome.
Super Probotector: Alien Rebels (AKA Contra III: The Alien Wars)
Another classic from the year 1992, Super Probotector (or Contra III) was a classic shoot ‘em up that took the genre away from the skies and onto the ground. A horizontally scrolling shoot ‘em up from those guys at Konami once again, Contra Spirits (as it’s known in Japan) has as many compliments to be handed to it as it has names. How many names does a game need?
When the game was released, the Super Nintendo was the superior system for graphics, and really showed off with this game, taking the scrolling shoot ‘em up to a whole new level. In the game, the two heroes (another awesome thing about the game – two player action!) fight on the ground, climb up to new heights with the camera following and fight bad guys with a top-view setting on two of the games levels. The flexibility with the levels really gives the game some depth and originality, and the bosses take some beating, too. The moment that the giant robot emerges from the background is as iconic as the Terminator rising from the flames. A truly awesome moment in gaming, and a massive achievement for the Super Nintendo at the time.
Pop ‘N TwinBee
Released in 1993 by those guys Konami again (they owned the 90’s!), Pop ‘N TwinBee is an exception to the serious sci-fi heavy alien-fests that also feature here, in that it is so beautiful, colourful and adorably cute. It was the kind of game that guys didn’t want to play in front of their friends because they would think you were a wimp, yet they probably all had hidden a copy of the game under their bed to play when their friends were done with Contra III and had to go home.
All jokes aside, Pop ‘N TwinBee is so much fun, and still looks stunning now. The franchise was so popular in Japan after starting out as an arcade game in 1985 that is spawned anime and audio drama adaptations. Even the damn bosses are cute. You feel bad shooting at some of the bad guys in this game, such is the cuteness and attention to detail in the game. You feel yourself falling in love with the characters, something that is unlikely to happen with the boss at the end of Axelay…