Gleylancer's fantastic use of parallax scrolling adds not only speed but excitement to its varied eleven stages of 16-bit shmupness, which takes you down through icy depths, weaves between small gaps in tight tunnels, slowly loops around a gigantic battleship, or hurtles through an asteroid field. The ways your Movers — the floating gun turrets that follow your ship — can behave are so different from one another they have a direct impact on how you tackle everything from “popcorn” enemies to level bosses, and the newfound flexibility of Modern Mode feels like the perfect twist on an already brilliant idea. Gleylancer is as fresh and thrilling as it’s ever been, only now it’s as authentic — or accessible — as you want it to be too.
Gynoug hasn’t quite got that special extra spark that turns a great game into a spectacular one, but even so it’s still a unique and thoroughly enjoyable thirty-year-old shmup capable of standing proudly next to any other sold on the eShop, and yet another affordable retro re-release sitting in that perfect middle ground between modern convenience and hardcore authenticity.
Although there’s nothing here that hasn’t been seen previously, this is still a package bursting at the seams with content, and the sequel’s novelty Christmas theme is perfect for memorable December gaming. Driven by an excellent set of punchy organ arrangements and murky musical notes, Deathsmiles I & II is a very large Halloween-themed cake; an exuberant, gothic flourish punctuated by enduring bosses and a unique route-and-rank structure that encourages experimental replays. With little middle ground between casual and concerted professional play, it might not be Cave’s most balanced piece of work, but there’s no doubt it has something for everyone, no matter how you choose to approach it.
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DoDonPachi Resurrection is arguably one of the best of its genre even after all these years and a lot of competition (plenty of it coming from developer Cave themselves). It’s relentlessly challenging, breathlessly inventive and exhilarating to play; an essential purchase for confirmed shmup fans. But it’s also one that needs you to do a lot of homework to get anything meaningful out of it.
The ultimate M-KAI package, this three-strong historical evolution is the purest distillation of the developer’s vision for the shoot-em-up. Eschatos’ beautiful bombast will suck you in, fire up the adrenaline, and spit you back out with an instant just-one-more-go mindset. If that’s not worth diving into, why are you playing games at all?
Toaplan Arcade Garage: Hishou Same! Same! Same! is wonderful, historical stuff, conserving two beautifully designed roadmaps for the future succession of the genre. Antique, yet savagely modern in their viciousness, there are few titles that brew with as much energy beneath a late-'80s vintage aesthetic, driven intrepidly by Tatsuya Uemura and Masahiro Yuge’s incredible soundtracks.
Despite this, it would be misleading to cite the package as something for everyone. It’s a perfect addition for people collecting M2’s series, and for those with an interest in the preservation and best possible representation of notable arcade titles. As shoot-em-ups, Flying Shark and Fire Shark require a specific approach and methodology, and won’t necessarily be to all tastes. If you revel in the thrill of old-school hardcore gaming, it’s a duo that potentially offer years of service. For everyone else they may feel a bit samey, samey, samey.
Layer Section will always be a high-roller, and if you’ve never played it, you’re in a ride like few others. As a Switch port, on the other hand, the relatively bare-bones production is the only real negative. Notable historical works deserve the gold standard: a bigger, bolder package that offers the best possible representation. To that end, City Connection has failed to do this game the justice it deserves, which makes it very lucky that Layer Section & Galactic Attack S-Tribute is still so damn good.
While staying true to the series that it extends, Cotton Rock ‘n’ Roll / Fantasy brings so many different experiences in a single shmup that it may as well be a compilation release — and unlike the arcade versions, it is all presented in English language. The more time you give it, the more the replay value snowballs. The faults to be found are few and far between, while sharp level design and a joyful, even mischievous personality define Success’ latest. Simply put, Cotton Fantasy has a lot of fun to give.
Import-only at the time of writing, Akai Katana is one hell of a game. Black sheep it may be, but in our opinion its thrill factor and scoring satisfaction is superior to the likes of Deathsmiles, making it another shooting game favourite among an already long list. It’s soft enough to encourage rookies and deep enough to send the hardcore into a digit mining frenzy. At the same time, it’s absolutely beautiful-looking; a stunning panorama that fuses the historical and futuristic into a bombastic theatre of war. Whether soaring over snowy mountain ranges, hillside forests, sunset-bathed railways, or across the ocean floor, it’s a feast. With three superb modes, years of depth, and an incredibly satisfying scoring apparatus, Akai Katana is not just Shinobu Yagawa’s most accessible shooting game, but also one of Cave’s best horizontal efforts.
Team Ladybug is really demonstrating its programming expertise with Drainus. It’s both dangerous and brave to attempt a shooting game on the scale of Gradius V or Einhander, yet for the most part, the developer pulls it off in convincing fashion. It’s not entirely perfect, arguably overly easy, and various aspects will sit better with some players than others. But, at the very least, it’s a spectacular sci-fi action epic that constantly evolves, creates, and showboats. To that end, Drainus will land well with both hardcore and casual players alike.
Clarifying Radiant Silvergun’s place in the genre is trivial in light of its achievement. It remains, despite its uncompromising nature, deservedly celebrated. The game wears its hardcore credentials on its sleeve, and its depth in both technical and artistic terms is astonishing. As stimulating and rewarding as it is exhausting, it’s a labour that has transcended not only the genre but the medium to some degree. Regardless of its difficulty — and in that difficulty, its lack of immediate connection — those who learn to fell the game proper can say they truly lived Radiant Silvergun. That’s an experience worth fighting for.
So there you have it — an excellent selection of the finest shmups available to humanity. There are plenty more to discover, of course, but the games above represent the best shoot 'em ups the console has to offer (anything that received a review score of 8 or above).
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...
This article is one of our Switch Essentials guides which cover a wide variety of genres, including the Best Switch FPS Games, the Best Switch RPGs, the Best Switch Games For Kids, the Best Switch Couch Co-Op Games and the Best Switch Fitness and Exercise Games. We can also help out hunting down the Best Switch Horror Games, the Best Switch Racing Games, the Best Switch Action-RPGs, the Best Nintendo Switch Roguelikes, Roguelites and Run-Based Games, the Best Free Switch Games, the Best Remakes And Remasters, the Best Switch Music And Rhythm Games, Best Feel-Good Switch Games, Best Switch Open-World Games, Best Switch Soulslike Games, Best LGBTQ+ Switch Games, and even Games to Play After You've Finished Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Whatever your favourite genre, we've got you covered: Strategy Games, Metroidvanias, Puzzle Games, Party Games, Online Multiplayer Games, Local Wireless Multiplayer Games, Shmups, Twin-Stick Shooters, Visual Novels, Kart Racers, Fighting Games, Football Games, Funny Games, Golf Games, 'Walking Sims' And Narrative Games, Switch Games For Lovers And Lonely Hearts, Detective Games, Hidden Gems, 2D Platformers, 3D Platformers, Puzzle Platformers, Tabletop Mode Games, Run and Gun Games, LEGO Games, Sports Games, Survival Games, Beat 'Em Ups, Camera Games, Chill Games, Family Games, Retro-Inspired Games, Short Games, Card Games and Deck-Builders, and Life Sims And Farming Games.
Still hungry for more? Elsewhere we look at Wholesome Games, TATE Mode Games, Flight Sim and Space Combat, Point and Click Adventure Games, and the Best Switch Exclusives, as well as Every Arcade Archives Game, Every ACA Neo Geo Game, Every SEGA AGES Game On Switch, plus the Best Switch Ports, Best Wii U-To-Switch Ports, Best Switch Collections And Compilations, Best Cheap Switch Games, Best Switch Demos, Games That Are Better On Switch OLED, Switch Games Under $10, $20, $50, and Switch games with the Best Soundtracks and the Best Graphics. Phew!
If you're looking for the best Switch games regardless of genre, our reader-voted selection of the Best Nintendo Switch Games should help you out, and you can also find the Best Nintendo Switch Games of 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021. And finally, if you're interested in other Nintendo consoles and retro games, check out the Best Game Boy Games, Best GBC Games, Best GBA Games, Best Nintendo DS Games, Best Nintendo 3DS Games, Best NES Games, Best SNES Games, Best N64 Games, Best GameCube Games, and Best Wii Games, and Best Wii U Games, as well as Every Available Nintendo Switch Online Retro Game, and ranked lists of Every Nintendo Switch Online NES, SNES, N64 and Sega Genesis / Mega Drive Game.