The Switch remains the best console for shmups since the Saturn – and these are among the best

The Switch is well into its fifth year, one way or another, and despite fierce competition from the Steam Deck recently, it hasn’t lost its shine or its standing by my side wherever I go. :maybe it’s something to do with the huge library I have I got on mine at this point, filled to the brim with shmups of all sizes in what has long been a specialty of the system .

It used to be the novelty of having these things on the go, plus the ease of playing vertical scrolling shooters as intended in ‘tate’ mode with the screen flipped (and without worrying about permanent damage like I was doing it by pushing a big old CRT on its side to play Ikaruga as Treasure intended). Now it’s just the abundance of classics that can be dipped in and out at will – and what I love about the humble shmup is how immediate they are, making them perfect for short explosions.

So here’s a list of some personal favorites and an overview of the shmups that run almost constantly on my Switch. There should be an emphasis on people here – there’s no science here, and a lot of bias towards my own taste for simple, spectacular shmups rather than ones with difficult rating systems. So there’s no Ikaruga here I’m afraid – apologies, I love it but I’m not going to claim to be a master of his rigid polarity-based system (when – or if – Radiant Silvergun comes one day at the Switch you can be assured it will top this list, though).

Also, apologies. I know the term ‘shmup’ is an unsightly thing, and I understand that if it hurts your back – it hurts me too, but the thing is, if I started calling them ‘STG’, I end up like one of those assholes who insists it’s pronounced Moog, Actually. Well, I’m one of those jerks, it turns out, but shmups are what the whole world knows them to be, so shmups are what we’ll call them.

G-Darius

After a few years of exploring the mobile space with some success, the legendary Taito has ramped up its console operations in recent years and is well represented on the Switch, which is really a nice thing: there’s also been a new Puzzle Bobble like some exquisite history lessons from the company’s past, led by Darius Cozmic Collections who largely pressed the three-screen behemoth on the Switch thanks to the work of the ever-brilliant M2. Elsewhere you can find a decent port of the essentials layer section from City Connection – too bad it costs almost as much as Saturn’s original will cost you, but it’s still a convenient way to play an all-time classic.

If I had to pick just one to get you started, it would be another M2 joint – more specifically, the excellent G-Darius that gets its most lavish release here. It’s also a great entry point if you’re new to the Darius series – while the deranged Darius Gaiden remains the highlight of the series for me, G-Darius is where you’ll find a more accessible version and exciting of the majestic shmup with a dizzying number of routes and some electric decorations. It has also gone through a number of updates, and with ver. 2 smoothing out some of the harsher edges, it’s now the complete package.

Aleste Collection

If you want a taste of M2 in its most ambitious form, there’s no better port of call than its Aleste Collection – a group of beloved, fast-paced games from Compile that comes with one of M2’s most outrageous efforts to date. Here you get a decent look at Aleste’s 8-bit installments – shmups that serve up simple, straight-forward, blazingly fast fun – with the original Master System plus the two Game Gear releases that offered some of the best action available on the Sega handheld.

But how about a brand new Game Gear release for Aleste, in which M2 stays true to the limitations of the hardware and its 160×144 resolution while pushing the intensity of the action to the max? GG Aleste 3 is all that and is a dream game. It’s worth buying the whole collection for it alone, and the fact that you get a handful of excellent 8-bit shmups from Compile additionally makes the Aleste collection pretty much essential.

thunder force 4

There are a handful of enjoyable Mega Drive shmups on Switch, such as the sleek but perhaps too simple Gleylancerand even a number of Techno Soft’s Thunder Force games to choose from, but surely the pick of the bunch is Thunder Force 4. Perhaps that’s the nostalgia speaking and the reverence with which I once held the Mega Drive – a console that as a kid always felt like your older, cooler brother – but Thunder Force 4 to me has always epitomized the tough style that made Sega’s machine so desirable.

It’s a big open shooter with levels you can get lost in, delivered with aggressive parallax scrolling that’s sometimes dizzying in its depth. It might be adequate rather than exquisite to play – apologies if that’s sacrilege – but it’s a deeply immersive shmup, which seems to be the point. If you want to surround yourself with the 16-bit style of Techno Soft, complete with FM synth heavy metal riffs, then Thunder Force 4 is your best port of call.

Esp.Ra.De Psi

I’ve never been smart or competent enough to fully appreciate Cave’s shmups and their complex rating systems – apologies if that’s sacrilege, fellow shmup fans, but that’s more of an admission of how I am terrible at these things – but I still love groping through games clearly pieced together with the highest level of craftsmanship. There’s a nice selection to choose from on the Switch, from all time Mushihimesama to the classics DoDonPachi Resurrection and Spain.

My personal choice, however, is ESP Ra.De. The port is another M2 seal, which means it comes with all sorts of bells and whistles that help deconstruct the complexities of Cave’s notation systems, and let you play through this sublimely beautiful shmup bit by bit. close as desired. Being both lazy and unskilled, I tend towards the path of least resistance, so that I can soak up the atmosphere of this weird sci-fi bullet hell in which you dance through curtains of bullets that fly atop a gloriously realized near future.

Devil’s Engine

Drainus recently won me over as one of the best contemporary shmups playing to my love of side-scrolling classics – and there’s no news of a Switch port of that yet, but keep in mind that ‘It plays wonderfully on SteamDeck – but there ‘will always be a place in my heart for Devil Engine.

The release was sadly overshadowed by the shenanigans of disgraced publisher Dangen Entertainment, but that shouldn’t distract from Protoculture Games’ accomplishments. This is a shmup delivered with heart and soul, plus a small amount of chunk – if you like your action to shake the screen, then Devil Engine is for you. It’s an explosion of style and swagger, a student of the classics who isn’t afraid to mix things up a bit and a great time indeed.

moon dancer


The eShop serves up quite a load to browse, and it’s easy to overlook more modest fare. But stop there! Some of these mundane-looking games offer bountiful riches from smaller studios, and there’s a whole range of amazing boutique outfit shmups on the Switch; games like Super Hydorah, Earth Atlantis, Steredenn: binary stars or the excellent Unlimited Danmaku 3 – a high energy vertical scroller which is as good an entry point into shmups as any.

I recently fell in love with the work of tiny Terarin Games – who I believe is mostly one person, daytime cybersecurity engineer dropping these amazing games in his spare time – whose entire output can be found at the eShop, if you know where to look. Moon Dancer has just hit the Japanese eShop and is a good place to start, an unashamed homage to RayStorm with a familiar locking mechanism that gives it a distinct flavor, it’s also a pleasingly energetic take on the genre that has a charm all of its own.

Xexex

If you spend as much time perusing the eShop as I do, you’ll be familiar with the Hamster’s Arcade Archives weekly series drops – perhaps one of the biggest services offered in games right now, and a constant source leftist delights and treasures. For the shmup fan, it offers a dizzying array of amazing games, some of which were previously hard to reach. There’s SNK and Aicom is blurry blazing starNMK is limited but beautiful gunnail and Thunder Dragon 2or all time like those of Konami Gradient 3.

My pick, however, is Gradius’ close relative, Xexex. Lysergic aesthetic development. It’s been hard to get your hands on before, limited to a Salamander collection on PSP or those lucky enough to get an original card whose finicky sound chip still works. Mine, unfortunately, does not…

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