The death of shmups

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The shmup–or, shoot-em-up, for those opposed to unfortunately sounding abbreviations–played an important role in the development of the medium of video games. Space Invaders and Galaga were instrumental in building the popularity of games both domestically and in Japan. Games like Gradius and R-Type were megahits on in the mid and late-80s, spawning multiple sequels that had equally massive sales. From the mid-80s until the early-90s, both Hudson Soft and Naxat released a new shmup each summer and held a yearly competition, called the Summer Caravan and Summer Carnival respectively. Gradius III was the only third party North American launch title for the Super Nintendo. In fact, the library of 16-bit consoles, particularly the Genesis and PC Engine, are littered with shmups and such games routinely find their way onto retrospective best of lists.

The transition to three dimensions was not kind for the genre. Rail shooters such as Star Fox and Panzer Dragoon splintered off, but for the most part, the genre left the mainstream and transitioned to niche. Many will blame this for its demise, but I can’t help but wonder if the insanely steep learning curve of most shmups is what actually led to the genre’s downfall. The average player won’t last more than a minute or so playing a contemporary bullet hell shooter like Caladrius or Genso Rondo and are more likely to develop a migraine playing than actually finishing either. Rote memorization and long hours of practice are required to beat these games. In an era where games often spend long introductions easing players into the controls and fundamentals, it’s a shame, though throughly unsurprising, that the immediate difficulty spike of shmups have left the genre practically vestigial.

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