In case you saw our catch line, we used the term "shmup". For those who don't know what a "shmup" is, it's a shortened term for "shoot 'em up" or rather a shooter of the old school scrolling variety. A "shmup" it's usually a "one man army" sort of game where you're either in a top-down or side-scrolling view, battling hundreds of enemies with power-ups until you face an eventual boss.
Many companies have made these games over the years, including Taito, Treasure (Radiant Silvergun!), and Capcom, but one of the developers that's been nailing the pattern is Cave. This Japanese developer has gone so hardcore with its art of "shmups" it's eventually deemed them as "bullet hell" shooters, where ammunition from enemies goes flying all over the place and it's your job to not get hit. Good luck with that.
The company's been running around the shooter front since 1995, with the release of the original Donpachi through Atlus, and hasn't looked back since. But only lately have they really stepped out to the forefront, releasing a number of their classics on the App Store and Android to a great deal of popular reception worldwide. Even U.S. gamers are getting more and more into "shmups" – one good look at my game inventory indicates that.
In celebration of this, I've decided to take a look at specific examples from Cave's history of "shmups" and talk about why you should give each of one them a look the next time you're shopping around and looking for that ideal shooter. They're challenging, but the better you become at "shmups" the more you'll appreciate them. At least... that's the logic anyway.
A shooter heavily influenced with the kind of goth and Halloween themes that you only expect to see once a year, Deathsmiles has since gathered its own legendary appeal following its initial release in 2007. It became a hit in Japan, leading Guilty Gear publisher Aksys Games to bring it to the U.S. on Xbox 360, in both a regular release and a limited edition bundled with a faceplate. The game was a modest seller, but introduced a great new "shmup" for U.S. players to appreciate. Shortly thereafter, Cave released it for the App Store for iPad and iPhone players join in on the fun.
The appeal behind Deathsmiles lies within its supernatural design. You'll face everyone from demon chef pigs to bloodhounds to a huge evil cow (yes, a huge evil cow) throughout the game, using a variety of power-ups and spirit summoners to do some damage.
The game managed to gain enough of a following to get a sequel, and Cave signed deal with Microsoft that allowed them to release it as a Games On Demand title through the Xbox Live Marketplace. It's about $30, which isn't bad considering what importing the game might have cost you. Definitely check out the original Deathsmiles – and Deathsmiles II – when you can.
Akai Katana is another great shooter, this time in the side-scrolling sense, that managed to get a U.S. release for Xbox 360 earlier this year. It focuses on a samurai warrior who fights his way through a huge army using special attacks and gunfire to fend them off. As expected, this "shmup" has variable degrees of difficulty. Crank it all the way to the top and the screen simply fills with gunfire.
This is one of those games that stands out for its sheer beauty, while at the same time delivering the kind of teeth-gritting challenge that any true "shmup" fan can appreciate. Akai Katana also feels more accessible than most "shmups," probably due to its storyline and set-up. If you get a chance, be sure to pick it up either in retail form or as a download through Xbox Live Marketplace.
The theme behind Cave's 2010 release is actually environmental, as a group of survivors following a world-ravaging attack during the Great Shinra War vow to fight back and restore it and bring back plant life and the human population with it. The enemies you face aren't too thrilled with this idea and like things the way they are, so you'll summon magic attacks and a heavy amount of gunfire to try and convince them otherwise.
Espgaluda II was one of the first games Cave released for the App Store market and it was met with a good number of sales, resulting in the team releasing a special high-definition version compatible with iPad 2 and newer models. The game was also released on Xbox 360, but only in Japan. Luckily, importers can buy the game easily as it's region free and works just fine in U.S. systems.
This is one of Cave's most beautiful shooters, so definitely give it a shot.
Our final classic from Cave sees two warriors, Reco and Palm, through a number of historic eras as they battle everyone from huge gunships to a rampaging T-Rex that spews fire. Yeah, it gets crazy like that in Futari, but that's just the way fans like it.
Futari actually went through a number of downloadable "versions" following its release on Xbox 360, including the addition of a "Black Label," complete with new modes (like a boss battle mode) and an even harder challenge than what the game initially offered. It was clear that Cave wanted to cater to its fans.
The game was released for the App Store as Bug Princess 2 but don't be fooled – it's the original Futari all the way. You can get it for the Xbox 360 on disc as well, as it's region free just like Espgaluda II.
Cave isn't going anywhere, as they're still working on new projects for both mobile and consoles that should keep "shmup" and action gamers happy. It's not too late to become a fan!