Shoot 'em up

An Introduction

Shmup is short for shoot ‘em up, which is not to be confused with the FPS/TPS genre. Shmups saw popularity many years ago when consoles primarily focused on 2d games, and indeed most modern shmups operate on a 2D plane even if they have 3D graphics.

Part of the enjoyment from most shmups comes from their difficulty and addictive “one more try” gameplay. They typically either concentrate on avoiding enemies and fighting your way to a boss, or “bullet hell” where the player attempts to avoid the hundreds of bullets flying at them.

Sub Genres

Side Scrolling

  • Focus on environment hazards such as walls
  • Less enemies

Vertical Scrolling

  • More enemies
  • Bullet hell, more bullets on screen
  • Little environmental interaction

Multi-directional Shooter

  • Typically dual control for moving both the ship and weapons separately
  • Also possible with thursters (ie, Asteroids)
  • Major popularity after Geometry Wars on Xbox Live Arcade
  • Freedom of movement in a fixed 2d environment

Tube Shooter

  • Fixed movement on a non 2d plane (often a tube as the genre would imply)
  • Enemies fly along edges of tube
A screenshot from Panzer Dragoon Orta


There is huge variety in the type of weapons shmup's employ, with various systems for upgrading or changing your weapon. Super Aleste on the SNES has multiple levels for each weapon and you can grab weapons to change to that one and keep your level, a bit like a 2d table of weapons.

Weapon 1 Weapon 2 Weapon 3
Level 1 Level 1 Level 1
Level 2 Level 2 Level 2

And so on.

Other games have a more simplistic system with 1 type of weapon and a special attack that drains energy of some kind.


The genre has always attracted a niche, but extremely dedicated audience. It has also seen resurgence thanks to the internet. The shmup genre is almost certainly the most popular for indie developers thanks to its ease of development and addictive gameplay. They’ve always been popular on phones too, thanks to their simple gameplay.


In essence, Space Invaders was the first shmup but they’ve become far more complex since this time. It is also arguable whether some games feature in the genre such as Alien Hominid and other side scrolling platform shooters which feature familiar weapon sets and waves on “stupid” enemies.


Enemies are obviously key to any shmup else there would be nothing to do. They typically appear in pre-set waves and attempt to either shoot the player or ram into them. Destruction usually grants the player with points and maybe some kind of combo multiplier depending on the games scoring system. Another vital feature are bosses which come about at the end of a level and have pre-set attack patterns to attempt to kill the player. So the player must concentrate on attacking weak points (if they exist) and avoiding bullets raining down upon them.

Notable titles

  • 1942
  • Ikaruga
  • Radiant Silvergun
  • Gradius
  • R-Type
  • Star Fox
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