Golden Age (1980 - 1995)

The early days of shmups caved a section for them in gaming history. With games like Space Invaders and Asteroids, shumps became very successful genre and was one of the top game genres ever. Time only saw more improvement and success for shumps, resulting what many call the Golden Age of shmups, the time from 1980 to 1995 (sic), an era that coincided with the golden age of arcade games.

Although there were several gaming companies who made shmups, the most prominent companies in the shmup world were Taito, Namco, Atari. The early 80's brought in more companies hoping to cash in on the success of shmups, like Irem and Konami, resulting in several series that still exist today.

Innovations (1980)Edit

In 1980, Sega released Carnival, an early shooting gallery game with a bonus round,[1] and Space Tactics, featuring a first-person perspective, the player having to defend five bases, a shield with limited renewal capability available to protect the bases, each base capable of firing a large single shot, the alien ships attacking in a 3D pattern towards the screen, the entire screen mobilizing and scrolling in multiple directions as the player moves the cross-hairs, and a laser that shoots into the screen, creating a real-life 3D effect.[2] Space Firebird, developed by Nintendo and published by Sega-Gremlin, featured a special warp button that gave the player temporary invincibility.[3] Other notable games from that year include Sun Electronics' Stratovox, a simple fixed-shooter best known for being the first video game to introduce speech synthesis,[4] and SNK's Sasuke vs Commander, a fixed-shooter that featured human characters instead of spaceships, specifically shuriken-throwing ninjas, as well as boss encounters, against shinobi with abilities such as shooting flame.[1]

Rise of scrolling shooters (1981)Edit

Up to this point, shmups were primarily fixed shooters, only consisting of a single screen for the playing field. That all changed in February 1981, with the release of two major side-scrolling shooters: Defender[5] and Scramble.[6]

Defender involved protecting people from invading aliens and is quite complex and difficult in play. Defender, although not inducing the frenzy of Space Invaders, was revolutionary for shumps as it helped popularize the concept of scrolling multiple screens and adding a different style of play. It established scrolling in shoot 'em ups, offering horizontally extended levels. Unlike most later games in the genre, the player could move in either direction.[2] The game's use of scrolling helped remove design limitations associated with the screen,[3] and though the game's minimap feature had been introduced before, Defender integrated it into the gameplay in a more essential manner.[7]

Konami's Scramble was a side-scrolling shooter with forced scrolling. It was also the first scrolling shooter to offer multiple, distinct levels.[2] The game featured 6 levels that were very difficult to beat. Some call this the first game of the Gradius series ,as Scramble was the basis of the game series mechanics, but the games are not visually similar, or placed in the same universe.

That same year saw the release of Jump Bug, a scrolling platform-shooter where players controlled a car and featured levels that scrolled both horizontally and vertically.IGN: The Leif Ericson Awards SNK's first scrolling shooter Vanguard was also released that year,[4] and it was both a horizontal and vertical scrolling shooter that allowed the player to shoot in four directions.[1][8] It was also an early dual-control game, similar to the later multi-directional shooter Robotron 2084, but using four directional buttons rather than a second joystick.[9]

Namco's Bosconian in 1981 introduced a non=linear, free-roaming style of gameplay where the player's ship could freely move across open space that scrolls in all directions. It also featured a radar that tracks the positions of the player and enemies on the map.[10]

Although scrolling shooters were revolutionary, a number of early 80's shmups were still fixed shooters.

A very popular fixed shooter released in 1981 was Namco's Galaxian successor Galaga, one of the first games with a bonus stage.[11]

Another notable example is Gorf by Midway which gained notoriety by having 5 different "missions" which were mimics of other games, for example Galaxian. This resulted in playing basically playing 5 games in 1, a rare breed of game. Gorf also featured one of the first bosses of sorts, the mothership in mission 5.

Taito's Space Dungeon in 1981 featured an automap to keep track of the player's movement from screen to screen. The game also featured gameplay and dual-stick controls similar to Robotron 2084 and Smash TV.[12]

As an example of expanding subgenres, tube shooters entered the fray. Possibly the first game of this rare breed was 1981's Tempest, where the player would move between connected walls and shoot at enemies coming up before they reach the top. The look of the game was 3D-like and used vector graphics. Tempest set the standard for subsequent tube shooters. It was one of the earliest tube shooters and an early attempt to incorporate a 3D perspective into shooter games.[13][14] Tempest ultimately went on to influence major rail shooters.[15][5]

That same year, Taito released Space Seeker, a shooter that allowed the player to choose which level to play, some of which were side-scrolling while others were viewed from a first-person perspective.[16] Another 1981 release, Sega's Eliminator,[6] was notable for its colour vector graphics, competitive and cooperative gameplay,[17] and for being the only four-player vector game ever released.[6] Sega's Space Fury that same year also featured colour vector graphics, in addition to speech synthesis.[18] Mayday by Hoei (Banpresto) was inspired by Defender but added several new features, including an eight-direction joystick, a 'Mayday' button that enables slow motion for five seconds, being able to speed up and slow down the ship's forward momentum, and the ability to crash into cavern walls.[19] The same year, Snap Jack by Universal (Aruze) was a scrolling shooter that played like a cross between Scramble and Pac-Man.[20]

Further developments (1982-1985)Edit

1982 saw an influential game released by Namco, called Xevious. Noted for many things, Xevious is often credited with being the first major vertically scrolling shooter. Several games before had backgrounds that scrolled, for example the star background of Galaxian, but the field itself never scrolled; earlier games that had vertically scrolling backgrounds and enemies were Konami's Ozma Wars and Namco's SOS in 1979. Nevertheless, Xevious was the most influential vertically scrolling shooter.[2] Xevious is also the first to convincingly portray realistic landscapes as opposed to purely science fiction settings.[7] Xevious also became notable due to the two fields of play, the upper and lower levels. The player is always on the upper level where enemy ships would fly and attack and the player could destroy them using the main guns. There were also enemies on the ground that could be destroyed using bombs that lock on to the target.

Another important game released that same year was Zaxxon, the first isometric scrolling shooter. A popular fixed shooter from that year was Robotron: 2084, which was released in 1982. Although it was a fixed shooter, it became a big influence on future multidirectional shooters. The game gave the ability to move and shoot separately, allowing the player to shoot at enemies while on the move.

Also in 1982, Irem's Moon Patrol is a side-scrolling shooter that introduced the use of parallax scrolling to give an early pseudo-3D effect.[8] That same year, several early vertical-scrolling run & gun shooters were released, including Taito's Front Line, an early military-themed multi-directional shooter to have players control foot soldiers rather than vehicles;[21] Taito's Wild Western, where the player character on a horse must defend a moving train from robbers;[22] and Jaleco's Naughty Boy, about a boy who throws rocks at monsters to destroy them, with the longer the fire button held down, the farther the character can throw rocks, while featuring boss encounters and bonus rounds.[23] That year, Kaneko also released Red Clash, a space shooter that allowed moving and scrolling in all four directions, running on Namco Galaxian arcade hardware.[24] Sega released Tac/Scan, where the early overhead levels scrolled in all directions while later levels were in third-person perspective;[25] SubRoc-3D, an early stereoscopic 3-D shooter played from a first-person perspective;[26] and Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom, a third-person rail shooter with fast pseudo-3D scaling and detailed sprites.[27][28] Nichibutsu also released Star Attack, a scrolling shooter where shooting ships increments the time counter and which featured a "Freeze" button that stopped everything except the player's ship.[29] And finally, Konami released Time Pilot, which featured a time travel theme and a free-roaming style of gameplay where the player's plane could freely move across open air space that scrolls indefinitely in all directions.[30]

In 1983, Taito released Bio-Attack, a vertical-scrolling shooter where the player controls a microscopic ship through a human body while shooting bacteria,[31] and Sesame Japan released Vastar, a side-scrolling shooter where the player controls a mecha robot.[32] That same year, Nippon (Nippon Electric Company) produced Ambush, an early spaceship shooter played entirely from a third-person perspective,[33] Technosoft released Thunder Force,[34] an overhead shooter that allowed the player to freely scroll in any direction,[35][36] and Sega released Astron Belt, an early first-person shooter and the first arcade laserdisc game to be developed, featuring live-action footage (largely borrowed from a Japanese science fiction film) over which the player/enemy ships and laser fire are superimposed.[37] Konami's Mega Zone was a vertical-scrolling shooter that introduced nonlinear gameplay in the form of multiple different branching paths.[38] That same year also saw the release of Enix's Kagirinaki Tatakai, an early run & gun shooter for the Sharp X1 computer that featured fully destructible environments, a convincing physics engine, and a choice of several different weapons.[9]

1984 saw the release of another early run & gun shooter for the Sharp X1 computer, Hover Attack.[9] The game allowed the player to freely scrolled in all directions, to shoot diagonally as well as straight ahead,[10] and fire in any direction independent of the direction the character is moving. Hover Attack is known for inspiring the later more famous Bangai-O (1999).[9]

1985 was another big year for shmups as several influential games were born. The most infamous of these would have to be Gradius, Konami's legacy shmup series. Gradius added many things to the shmup genre, including the introduction of pods in the form of Options. These were actually very complex pods in that they would mimic the movement and firepower of the player. The game gave the player greater control over the choice of weaponry, thus introducing another element of strategy.[2] The game also introduced the need for the player to memorise levels in order to achieve any measure of success.[11] Gradius, with its iconic protagonist, defined the side-scrolling shoot 'em up and spawned a series spanning several sequels.[39] Also in 1985, Game Arts released Thexder, a breakthrough title for run & gun shooters.[10] That same year, Irem released The Battle-Road, an early open-ended vehicle combat shooter that featured branching paths and up to 32 possible routes.[40] Sega's Space Harrier, an influential rail shooter released in 1985, broke new ground graphically and its wide variety of settings across multiple levels gave players more to aim for than high scores.[41][42] It was one of the first arcade games to use 16-bit graphics and Sega's "Super Scaler" technology that allowed pseudo-3D sprite-scaling at high frame rates,[43] with the ability to scale as many as 32,000 sprites and fill a moving landscape with them.[12] It was also an early example of a third-person shooter.[44]

While not as notable as Gradius, Tiger Heli was also created in 1985. It is famous for two major reasons. One was that it was the first shooter from the developer Toaplan, who would become an important name in shmups. The most infamous of their games is Zero Wing, known for the internet "sensation" All Your Base, although that occurred when it was ported. The second important aspect of Tiger Heli is the introduction of the Megabomb, which would be used to cause massive damage to a wide area, possibly block shots, and was limited in number making it a pinch weapon.

Continue from here (1986-1989)Edit

Shoot 'em ups such as SNK's Ikari Warriors (1986) featuring characters on foot, rather than spacecraft, became popular in the mid-1980s in the wake of action movies such as Rambo: First Blood Part II.[4] The first game of this type is uncertain but the first influential example is Commando, released in 1985.[13] Commando also drew comparisons to Rambo[14] and indeed contemporary critics considered military themes and protagonists similar to Rambo or Schwarzenegger prerequisites for a shoot 'em up, as opposed to an action-adventure game.[13] In 1986, Arsys Software released Wibarm, a shooter that switched between a 2D side-scrolling view in outdoor areas to a fully 3D polygonal third-person perspective inside buildings, while bosses were fought in an arena-style 2D battle, with the game featuring a variety of weapons and equipment.[9]

In 1986, Compile would release their first shoot 'em up, Zanac, on the MSX computer and Famicom Disk System console. In the years to follow Compile would become one of the biggest developers of shoot 'em ups on consoles and computers. Sega also released Fantasy Zone, this same year, on their new 16-bit arcade hardware. The title would become very popular in Japan, and it introduced Sega's mascot Opa-Opa.

Taito also released Darius, the first in their flagship shooter series. It featured a unique three-screen arcade cabinet and a non-linear level design where the player is given a choice of which path to follow after each boss; out of 28 possible stages, the player would only be able to play through seven at most during each run through the game.[45]

1986 also saw the emergence of one of Sega's forefront series with its game Fantasy Zone. The game received acclaim for its surreal graphics and setting and the protagonist, Opa-Opa, was for a time considered Sega's mascot.[46] The game borrowed Defender's device of allowing the player to control the direction of flight and, along with the earlier Twinbee (1985), is an early archetype of the "cute 'em up" sub-genre.[2][15] 1986 also saw the release of Squaresoft's medieval fantasy shooter King's Knight, which featured four characters, one per stage, where the player must keep them alive before they join to face the final boss; when a character dies prematurely, it's a permanent death, and the game shifts to the next character in their own stage.[16] Silpheed, a forward-scrolling third-person space combat game by Game Arts, was an early example of a 3D polygonal shooter.[17]

In 1987, Square's 3-D WorldRunner was an early stereoscopic 3-D shooter played from a third-person perspective,[47] followed later that year by its sequel JJ,[48] and the following year by Space Harrier 3-D which used the SegaScope 3-D shutter glasses.[49] That same year, Sega's Thunder Blade switched between both a top-down view and a third-person view, and introduced the use of force feedback, where the joystick vibrates.[50]

R-Type was introduced in 1987. The brain child of Irem, it became one of the major archetypes for side-scrolling shooters to follow, with vividly realized levels, and refined, methodical gameplay. Toaplan followed up Tiger Heli with Twin Cobra. This title introduced a system with a wandering power-up that changed colors to represent different weapons. This convention would become a staple of their games, as well as those of others.

Also in 1987, Konami created Contra as a coin-op arcade game that was particularly acclaimed for its multi-directional aiming and two player cooperative gameplay. However, by the early 1990s and the popularity of 16-bit consoles, the scrolling shooter genre was overcrowded, with developers struggling to make their games stand out (one exception being the inventive Gunstar Heroes, by Treasure).[18]

Old material (1990-1995)Edit

By this time the major conventions of the genre had been firmly established, and shoot 'em ups became the most popular action genre for arcade games. This period lasted into the early and mid 90s and saw the release of many popular shooters, including Raiden, a Toaplan-inspired game from Seibu Kaihatsu, Gun Frontier, and many sequels to Gradius, R-Type, and other popular series of the day.

Console and computer shooters became more common and were increasingly able to offer comparable experiences to their arcade counterparts. The PC Engine (TurboGrafx-16) saw a whole slew of shooter titles released for it (in fact, PC Engine has by far the highest shooter/game ratio of any console in the postcrash gaming world) and the Thunder Force Series brought arcade-style shooting to Japanese home computers and later the Sega Genesis. Games like Axelay and Bio-hazard Battle produced visuals and sounds worthy of their arcade contemporaries.

During this period, shoot 'em ups did not evolve a great deal. The genre remained vital while reusing variations on the same gameplay ideas that had proven themselves. In the early 90s new genres began to emerge, and the market diversified. Fighting games reached new-found popularity in the arcades with the release of Street Fighter II. Meanwhile, many console gamers were turning toward games that could provide longer playtime and in-depth narratives, and shoot 'em ups began to decline in popularity. In 1993, Compile shifted its focus away from shooters. In 1994, Toaplan closed its doors, and the genre lost one of its most devout supporters. For many this would serve as a signal that the Golden Age of shooters had ended.


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