Tengai is part of a distinguished niche in the shmup pantheon that we like to refer to as the ‘flying-person shooter’. It sits comfortably on top of other great examples of the genre such as Forgotten Worlds, Space Harrier, Lords of Thunder, Cho Aniki and Gynoug (aka Wings of Wor). It's not only one of the finest shoot 'em ups developed by Psikyo during its active years, but an absurd luxury to have on Switch at a very sensible price. It offers an arcade perfect, single- or two-player horizontal scrolling experience that still manages not only to pack a punch and a challenge, but make modern efforts look a little dull by comparison.
Strikers 1945 II is a lot like the first (already great) game, but this sequel improves on it thanks to its frantic gameplay and new approach to charged attacks. Two-player is a lot of fun whether played on the big screen or undocked in TATE mode with detached Joy-Con and trying to improve on your high score adds plenty of replayability. The game could benefit from an online high score board, but it's a joy to play through each time and it's quasi-historical WWII setting is a pleasant change from the usual future tech and fantasy common to the genre, although there are still plenty of mechanical sights that wouldn’t have been seen in 1945.
Dragon Blaze is Japanese developer Psikyo on top form. You might be a little disappointed that this strays so very close to bullet hell instead of the more traditional games that made its name famous in this industry. However, the game remains a beautifully executed vertical-scrolling shoot 'em up with a unique gameplay gimmick that goes beyond having the titular dragons as eye candy, effectively making them a core part of the high score chasing experience. You may be able to clear the whole game loop in under 30 minutes, but we very much doubt you will play it once and never touch it again. It's quite simply brilliant, addictive and another must-have addition to your growing digital arcade Switch collection.
Graceful Explosion Machine is a masterful example of a modern arcade shooter done right. Eye-catching visuals and extremely fine-tuned gameplay combine to make this a memorable and compelling experience for anybody looking to get into a faster paced, action focused game. That being said, there is a minor element of repetitiveness which never goes away entirely; the selling point comes not from the amount of levels, but from how many times you'll be playing each one. We still give it a very strong recommendation, though; considering the amount of polish and replayability on offer, this is quite the bang for your shmup buck.
Danmaku Unlimited 3 is a brilliantly executed ‘best of’ collection of bullet hell ideas wrapped up in a phenomenal package. It's a stand out game in the whole Switch library and even if you don’t particularity like shmups - or if Japanese bullet hells are not your particular favourite flavour within the genre - exposure to the insane lightshows provided by this game might just turn you into a die-hard fan. We only really found one significant fault with the game: every other shmup on the system will arguably feel a little slow and dull by comparison after you've sampled this one.
Like so many Neo Geo games, there's little doubt that some of Blazing Star's appeal lies in the fact that, at one point in time, it was almost totally unobtainable unless you were comfortably rich. Even so, Yumekobo's esteemed shooter has enough quality to entertain even when stripped of its lofty status as a collector's item; the action is fast and challenging, while the controls are tight and responsive. The three shot types add tactical depth to the gameplay and some of the boss encounters will have you sat on the edge of your seat. Our biggest complaints are the rather inconsistent pre-rendered graphics and the way in which the difficulty level smashes through the roof in the latter stages of the game, but these are minor issues when you consider how downright enjoyable Blazing Star is. One of the most famous Neo Geo shooters is an essential purchase on your Switch, especially at this price.
Another M2 joint, this time the port wizards take on Taito's classic side-scrolling shmup series and collect all the 2D games on one Switch cartridge. And unfortunately, it is available exclusively on cartridge in Japan at the moment. We're not sure why exactly it's physical-only, but if you're too impatient to wait for a western release, it's easy enough to import and pop in your Switch right now. Regardless of the peculiarities surrounding its release, Darius Cozmic Collection is a glorious compilation of some stone-cold classics presented in various configurations and modes, with all the attention to detail we've come to expect from M2. Enthusiasts will probably want to import the costly Special Edition which includes an extra five home console games (including the super rare PC Engine Darius Alpha), but newcomers to the genre are probably better off waiting for a western release.
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So there you have it - an excellent selection of the finest shmups available to humanity. There are plenty more to discover, of course (the NES version of Gradius is available as part of a Nintendo Switch Online subscription), but the games above represent the very best shoot 'em ups the console has to offer right now.
Which are your favourites from this list? Are there any that you'd add given the chance? Share your thoughts in the the usual place...