Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Top 10 Sega Saturn Shoot 'em Ups

When the Sega Saturn was released in the 1990s, it quickly established itself as the premier household arcade gaming platform. Not only was the system bursting at the seams with excellent renditions of popular fighting, racing and light gun arcade titles, there was also no shortage of shoot 'em ups available (shmups for short).

While the US only officially received two of these, that did not stop gamers from importing the dozens of other quality shooters available in Japan. With that in mind, let's take a few moments to reminisce about some of the best shmups the system has to offer:

10. Sonic Wings Special

While not as flashy as some of the other shooters on the Saturn, Sonic Wings Special still stands as being one of the more 'complete' arcade-style packages on the system. It pieces together segments from all three arcade Sonic Wings (Aero Fighters) titles and features nearly two-dozen selectable ships and characters, each with their own style, abilities and endings. The basic arcade game itself is rather lengthy, clocking in at roughly ten stages, and multiple paths keep things fresh for consecutive plays. After completing the main game with every base character, a second/alternate level set is unlocked, doubling the number of stages in what was already an extensive shmup.

9. Salamander Deluxe Pack Plus

The Salamander series is a spin-off of the popular Gradius series by Konami. This collection includes the late '80s Salamander and Life Force arcade games, as well as the excellent 1996 overhaul, Salamander 2. It's one of the more varied shooter experiences on the system thanks to constant changing between top-down, horizontal, and vertical-scrolling segments.

8. DoDonPachi

A shooter that, along with a few other titles in the mid '90s, helped define the sub-genre that we now know as "bullet hell" or "manic" shooters. The Saturn port was a near-perfect port of the arcade game and still stands as being one of the craziest shooters from its era.

7. Batsugun

Toaplan, one of the premier shooter developers in the late '80s and early '90s, released their final game, Batsugun, in 1993. It was THE pioneer bullet hell shooter, bringing to the table the idea of selectable characters, massive firepower never seen before and very rarely since, and layers and layers of bullets on-screen at once. A flawless port to the Saturn was released in 1996, and thanks to an added arrange mode with a remixed soundtrack, this is the once-great studio's swan song.

6. Strikers 1945 II

While Psikyo had ported several of its arcade shooters to the Saturn prior to this, Strikers 1945 II was the game that perfected the formula found in the earlier Gunbird and Strikers 1945 games. The sprites are huge and well-animated, each ship offers its own kind of style and gameplay experience, and the absence of load times between stages keeps the excellent action constant. There's also a rocking soundtrack, something uncommon in Psikyo titles.

5. Darius Gaiden

A massive overhaul of the formula found in the other Darius games, Gaiden takes full-advantage of the Saturn's 2D strengths with a never-ending stream of psychedelic graphical effects, layer upon layer of parallax scrolling, and a heavy use of scaling. Polished visuals, smooth gameplay, a catchy soundtrack and seamless stage transitions make for a non-stop ride that holds up as one of the best shooters of the mid '90s. It's also the first title on this list to be released in the US, so the chances are better that you might have played it.

4. Thunder Force V

Taking elements from the Thunder Force games on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, Thunder Force V cranks up the gameplay speed, adds new weapons, and shifts the visual look to a 2D/3D hybrid mixture of sprites and polygons. The effect is put to very good use and clearly plays on the strengths of the Saturn's hardware. Visual effects aside, the gameplay is no slouch, either, with varied level design, excellent boss fights, and a gameplay/system upgrade halfway through the game. To top it off, it features one of the most infectious soundtracks to ever appear in a shmup. On a side note, it was released in the US when it was ported to the PlayStation. The port, while still an excellent game, received many visual downgrades, making the Saturn version the definitive version.

3. Galactic Attack

Known as Layer Section in Japan, Galactic Attack is a port of the Taito arcade shooter RayForce, and is the second Saturn shmup available in the US. This game modified the standard shooter formula by allowing the player to lock-on to enemies on a lower plane, while still shooting the regular enemies on the player's level. Much like Darius Gaiden, the seamless stage transitions, fitting soundtrack, and constant use of heavy 2D scaling and scrolling makes this one of the most refined shooters on the system. The balanced difficulty also makes it one of the most accessible.

2. Soukyugurentai

A port of a SEGA ST-V arcade game (the arcade hardware that was based on the Saturn itself), Soukyugurentai is a unique blend of your standard shooting and lock-on based gameplay . Its huge boss battles and constantly zooming, playfield-expanding camera make it one shooter that should not be missed. It was also ported to the PlayStation, but only in Japan. And considering it was built specifically for Saturn hardware, it's an inferior version, but one still worth playing.

1. Radiant Silvergun

Created by the ever-original Treasure in 1998, Radiant Silvergun is widely regarded as one of the greatest shoot 'em ups ever conceived. The experience-based weapon upgrade system, frequent and massive boss-fights, beautiful soundtrack and deep chaining system make for one of the most unique and original shooters ever created. On top of that, it's a highly valued collector's item, rarely available for less than $250 if complete with the box and manual. Most will probably be more acquainted with its spiritual successor, Ikaruga.

Due to the rarity of these titles, many are out of stock on our site. While we used to sell them in the store, some were never added to the website...until today. Now that we're taking trade-ins on these titles, we expect to receive some soon.