Gaming History 101

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Top 5 Shmups on Portable Consoles

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Given the frantic and brief nature of most shmups, the genre is perfect for the portable platform, much like it was perfect for the arcade. For one reason or another, these titles can be rare to find on traditional handhelds and even harder to find actually good ones. On the other hand some of my favorite shmups are exclusive to portables (at least in the United States) so we’ve compiled a list of the portable shmups actually worth playing.

5. Space Invaders Extreme (Nintendo DS)

space_invaders_extremeWhen Taito decided it would re-invent the Space Invaders formula I was skeptical. We were told in previews that the game would feature an upbeat techno soundtrack, plenty of screen tricks and explosions, dual screen integration on DS, and a hybrid between modern game mechanics and the original title. Just in case that sounds tempting to you, it’s almost verbatim what no gamer wants to hear when a beloved franchise is rebooting. Somehow Taito pulled it off and with no updates save for that fearful list Space Invaders Extreme was an addicting masterpiece. It released in a few forms on a few consoles but bar none the Nintendo DS version is the one to get. With non-linear level progression and utilization of dual screen to make the DS function more like a vertical arcade monitor, it’s like having Space Invaders on speed. Bonus rounds, boss battles, and power-ups were simple tweaks to the original formula that switched up gameplay without being a specific reason to play the game. Needless to say if you haven’t played Space Invaders Extreme, regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of the original, you should give this handheld game that’s easy to learn and brutal to master a try. It will keep you occupied for many a train, plane, or bus ride to come.

4. Halley Wars (Sega Game Gear)

halleywarsWith the small screens of most portable consoles it never ceases to amaze me how many vertical shmups find their way over, but despite that fact Halley Wars is not to be missed. Set in space, this is the sequel to the 1986 arcade game Halley’s Comet entails defeating an alien invasion that is utilizing Haley’s famous comet as cover for an attack on Earth. In Halley Wars you progress through six levels that are not only lengthy but end with great pattern-based boss battles. True, this game did come to home consoles in Japan but in America the only version we received was on the Game Gear. While I can’t think of anyone who had this in their collection growing up, I found it surprising that this title is neither hard to find nor is it expensive locally or on eBay.

3. Solar Striker (Nintendo Gameboy)

solarstrikerGameboy (and Gameboy Color) aren’t really hurting for shmups, but I don’t like many of the home console ports that seem forced into Gameboy’s little screen, especially when I’ve got a much better version I can play in another room. Solar Striker was developed purely for the Gameboy and it’s a vertical shmup that not only follows the Gradius theory of beating the game in one life, but it also takes to the green blurred effects of the portable nicely. Each enemy is larger, taking up real estate on the screen and not making their presence a secret, sub bosses and end stage bosses offer pattern learning that’s sure to aggravate today’s gamers with their initial unfair feel. You get power-ups throughout the game and building up five in a row gives you a primary shot that fills a big portion of the screen, which is why I say the game is best completed in one life. Maybe compared to all shmups that exist it’s nothing special, but for a game that is aware of and works with the limitations of the Gameboy, you can’t do much better.

2. Gradius Gaiden (as part of the Gradius Collection on PSP)

Hosted at Universal Videogame List www.uvlist.netThis is another game that was previously released to a home console, but unfortunately we never saw Gradius Gaiden on the PS1 in the US so your only option is through the collection. It’s really a shame too because Gradius Gaiden is easily the best in the series, utilizing 3D sprites in a 2D background and bringing a nice aesthetic to the Gradius formula. It’s not all smoke and mirrors either, this was the first in the series to feature fully customizable ships and power-up chains – you can literally use any previous Gradius ship and have your power-ups unlock in any order. If you want to have your first power-up be options, fine, you can have 5 options before the brunt of the level even starts. This doesn’t make the game easy by any means; the balance is that attacks and enemies are so varied you will need various power-ups to overcome many of the levels. Not only that but the new graphical tricks allow for some crazy encounters like ice caves crashing to pieces and dropping snow and debris into the play field as you traverse the level or a cube of Moai head statues rotating in all directions around you. While the Gradius Collection is the only of the three Konami collections to release on PSP in the US (there are fantastic Salamander and Parodius collections in Japan), it has become a title that’s a bit hard to come by with no digital version released. Still, I don’t see it for more than about $10-$20 when I do find it and you can always give in to eBay mark-up if you’re desperate, but the fact that you get Gradius Gaiden plus the original three titles (including the super rare Gradius II: Gofer No Yobo arcade version) makes this a must buy for shmup fans on the PSP.

1. Aerial Assault (Sega Game Gear)

aerialassaultI have no specific argument as to why this is my favorite portable shmup, except for the fact that it fulfills the need for catharsis with every move. You play as a simple airplane craft that navigates a horizontal landscape taking down mostly easy to shoot enemies and collecting power-ups along the way. Like the other Game Gear title on this list, the levels are lengthy and offer a decent run for a game designed to be played in short spurts. While I’m sure hardcore shmup fans find the difficulty to be pathetic, I personally appreciate the fact that the game isn’t too hard or requires too much concentration from you. It isn’t enough to make your bored, there is still some fight in the title, but it’s not Ikaruga by any means. I appreciate it because the developers seemed to understand that you will most likely be playing this in public where it’s difficult to offer the concentration of a normal shmup and you probably don’t want to throw a hissy fit in front of a bunch of strangers. It’s for those long days at the office or nervous moments before a dentist appointment when you can bring out your Game Gear, spend 10 minutes feeling like a badass by blowing up a ton of aircraft, then power it off and move on with your day. Thankfully this title is neither rare nor particularly expensive and as it’s the only fighter jet shmup series that’s set in my preferred horizontal perspective. As if this isn’t enough, growing up this was the first portable title that I played at home when I had other consoles at my disposal. I can’t help but love the fact that Aerial Assault exists.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 21, 2013 at 11:00 am

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