Gaming History 101

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Top 5 Shmups Worth Importing

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Ah March, shmuppreciation is back and in full effect on Gaming History 101.  If this is your first time hearing the phrase, shmuppreciation is for the love of the shoot-em-up genre (shmup for short) and is celebrated all March on the site.  If you missed Shmuppreciation 2012 I highly recommend you check it out as we provided more than 30 articles dedicated to introducing you to genre specifics and the myriad of popular series in the most triumphant genre of all time.

This year we’re going past introductions and into the intermediate world of shmups, which requires more skill, dedication, and money than the games covered last year.  While I would hardly call the games we will be covering obscure by any stretch, these titles are much less known outside of enthusiastic shmup fans.  To kick it off we’re featuring the top 5 games worth importing.  Shmups are of the most expensive games out there so you can expect a bit of sticker shock even with the games mentioned here.  Just keep in mind that you’re currently dropping $60 for day one releases and sometimes even more if you’re into that special edition stuff.  The titles in this list are unique because they have not seen a release, even digital, within the United States and thus require some sort of special circumstances to play today.  There’s a great list of import games that have released digitally on PSN, XBLA, and Wii Virtual Console as well so be sure to check out our article on those titles as well.  In order to play these games you have to either import them or get access to a digital service outside of your region.  The links in each title will take you to the games’ review or video on our site.

5. Zero Gunner 2 (Arcade, Dreamcast- Japan Only):

Zero_Gunner_2_CoverartWhile it’s not a traditional shmup by any means, Zero Gunner 2 is similar to Geometry Wars except that the arcade and Dreamcast title didn’t have twin sticks.  In a 3D rendered world, it carries an aesthetic similar to that of Silpheed or Star Fox updated by the graphical prowess of the updated hardware.  Ironically the game plays much like a traditional arcade game with a series of enemies attacking you on a single screen and you are taxed with taking them out by flying around the screen and firing in all directions.  Now that I think of it, connections could be made to Asteroids without much of a stretch, but there’s no denying the addictive nature that is Zero Gunner 2. – Review with video coming next week.

This title can only be found in Japan but is easy to find in the import market.  Dreamcasts require a mod chip or boot disc to load an import game.  Typically the title sells for $80-$110 on Dreamcast and upwards of $500-$750 on JAMMA arcade PCB board.  The PCB is high in cost due to the rarity and difficulty to emulate properly in MAME.

4. Espgaluda (Arcade, PS2 – Japan Only):

espgaludaNot only is this title developed by prolific studio Cave, known for shmups of all kinds, but this danmaku title has been adapted to a more general audience.  Since “bullet hell” shmups dominate the contemporary market today it is key to get good at weaving in and out of the bright beautiful bullets invading the screen in various patterns.  Instead of getting a game over every five minutes in the traditional origins of the genre, Espgaluda is highly recommended because it’s adapted for a general audience.  When you get ambushed by bullets, like you will, they slow down to allow easy maneuver between them and getting hit doesn’t net you a death.  With a great cyberpunk setting, bright colorful sprites, and an adapted difficulty make this a must buy for those who want to get into modern shmups.  I won a contest and received it as a prize, which at the time I didn’t realize how lucky I was.  Now I know.

This title can only be found in Japan and is somewhat common in the import market.  Playstation 2 requires a mod chip or a boot disc to load an import game, however boot discs can be frustrating due to various security methods in the console.  Of course a Japanese PS2 is another (albeit expensive) option.  Prices range from $50-$75, making it one of the cheapest on our list, however the arcade JAMMA PCB is more rare and valuable due to popularity and thus sells for around $350 (and much higher) in US import shops and at least 40,000 yen ($450) in Japanese stores.

3. Sexy Parodius (Arcade, PS1, Saturn, PSP – Japan Only):

sexy_parodiusI do love this title and despite what the name suggests, it’s not very titillating and the best installment in the Parodius series.  A long running parody of Gradius, Konami released these games in every territory but the United States and why is anyone’s guess – although the original titles did mock American culture in some levels.  As the only title in the series not released outside of Japan it’s a shame that more shmup fans haven’t been able to enjoy this great game, especially because most ports were nearly arcade perfect.

This title can only be found in Japan however it’s very common.  Saturn can only play imports via Pro Action Replay cart (most modchips do not make it region free) whereas PS1 can use either a modchip or a boot disc with mild modification to the console.  PSP can play imports naturally and this title is found in the Parodius Collection.  All console versions sell for around $35-$60.  The JAMMA PCB is also quite common and sells for around $100-$125 in US import stores.

4. DoDonPachi (Arcade, PS1, Saturn – Japan Only):

Dodonpachi_titleCave’s most popular shmup of all time and partially responsible for the love danmaku is every bit as great today as it ever was.  Despite its ramped difficulty, the game features amazing explosion animation and unlimited credits as an option in the console versions.  It’s a point of contention as to whether the PS1 version and Saturn version differ much, but I can see that argument given the Saturn was designed around 2D sprites and the Playstation around 3D polygons.  Personally I do feel the Saturn version is a bit better, however given the larger availability of the PS1 version it’s not worth the extra cost.  Many consider this title to be the best shmup of all time and it’s among my favorite in my collection.

This title can only be found in Japan however it’s very common and even available on the Japanese PSN.  Saturn can only play imports via modchip whereas the PS1 can use either a modchip or a boot disc with mild modification to the console.  PS3s from any region can get a Japanese PSN account and with prepaid cards play the title off of the Japanese PSN PSOne version.  At $75-$100 on both PS1 and Saturn this is a justified expensive import and the JAMMA PCB is quite rare at $300-$500.  On the other hand the Japanese PSN version is a meager 600 yen ($7) and definitely the best option (it even plays on PSP and Vita if you go through the annoying process of setting up a Japanese account on it). 

1. Battle Garegga (Arcade, Saturn – Japan Only):

gareggaCountless lists of best shmups of all time will rank Battle Garegga as number one and for good reason.  It feels like the pinnacle of the airplane vertical shmup that was started by the 19xx series but with design choices that are appreciated by those that aren’t purists.  It has fast paced action, modified bomb options, and is one of the few shmups from 90s that can be completed without memorizing the game after countless hours of play.  It’s not a cake walk either, but Battle Garegga can be successfully navigated by twitch instincts, making it feel more “fair” like the classics.  Furthermore the Saturn release, while one of the most costly on the console and in my collection, is arcade perfect and has special features that resemble contemporary shmup releases.  If you’re going to get into the Saturn for its great library, especially as a shmup fan, the title justifies its ridiculous cost.

This title only released in Japan and is rare due to its print run and popularity.  Saturn can only play imports with the use of a Pro Action Replay cart (most modchips do not make the Saturn region free) that is to this day available at various outlets for $30-$40.  This title sells for a staggering $125-$175 average complete – I found mine for $75 at a retro convention in disc only format – and the arcade JAMMA PCB (if you can find it) has sold anywhere from $200-$500. 

There you have it, five incredible titles tailor made for shmup fan consumption and almost $500 to collect them all.  Still the entire concept of a shmup is that you play them over and over.  When you think about it, any one of these titles can take months or even years of your gaming life if you let them.  Keep in mind these are titles that never entered our country, never became part of a re-release or collection in the US, and never got released in digital format.   When you think about it that makes them obscure and rare for all gamers worldwide and thus justifies the higher price tag.  Stay tuned for more great shmup coverage and reviews on the three games we haven’t already reviewed on this list next week!

Written by Fred Rojas

March 1, 2013 at 8:49 pm

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