Greetings, all. We're back for part 2 of my riveting journey through the top 10 shoot 'em up games on the Sega Genesis. If you didn't catch part 1 which covers numbers 10 through 6, you can find it on the home page of my blog, or on the bottom of this page where it says “previous entry.” I'll reiterate here that the criteria of my top 10 is based on the North American releases for the Sega Genesis. I realize that there are many highly regarded shoot 'em up games which were released in foreign markets and did not make it to North America, but my list does not take them into account. In the future, I hope to branch out into Japanese releases in particular, but thus far, I have only collected and played through the North American shoot 'em up releases. And once again, I'll preface the list with the disclaimer that my list is not the be all end all, just the opinion of a wild and crazy guy. Feel free to call me an idiot or whatever if my opinion differs from yours. And with that, here's the conclusion to the 'Top 10 Sega Genesis Shoot 'em Ups.'
5. Lightening Force (aka Thunder Force IV)
The most beautiful looking shooter on the Genesis and one of the most beautiful looking games on the entire system, Lightening Force is a graphical juggernaut. This game pushes the Genesis to the limit, there’s no other way to put it. The finest examples of parallax scrolling, and there are some effects that I’ve only ever seen duplicated on later CD-based games. However, for all of the incredible graphical effects that make my eyes weep, there is a hefty price to pay……SLOW DOWN! Holy spit is there a ton of slow down in this game. It’s not Super R-Type bad, but it sho ain’t good. With that elephant out in the open, the game is still Thunder Force, and is therefore, still a blast to play.
In comparison to the prior game in the series, this one definitely ups the ante in the difficulty department, particularly with the boss battles. And while you can switch between weapons on the fly in this game just as in the prior, here there just seems to be a bit more strategy involved in your decisions. Not that that wasn’t also the case in TFIII, but in this game, choosing the right weapon for each situation seems to be more important and comes up more often than in the predecessor. There’s no doubt that this is the most polished game in the Genesis TF series.
Anyway, I get that many a gamer fawns over this one, and rightfully so, it is a great game with incredibly impressive visuals and an excellent kickass Technosoft soundtrack that is memorable and highly appropriate for the proceedings, particularly the deeper into the game you get; however, while the gameplay has some tweaks from the previous game, it is not anything that we haven’t seen in the series before, as it basically plays the same as TFIII. Now, that is not a bad thing, as TFIII is one of the best shooters on the system, but the massive amount of slow down in Lightening Force just makes it less fun to play overall, so I don’t like it quite as much. Obviously, with all of that said, Lightening Force still broke into my top 5, so I still enjoy playing the heck out of it, but it’s just not the pinnacle of Genesis shooters to me that it is for many gamers.
Have you ever wanted to man a super powered tank and eff some stuff up? If so, then Granada is the game for you. As Leon, you get to drive Granada, “a maneuver cepter from which unit or country of origin is unknown. This weapon has been destroying all kinds of weapons one after the other regardless of attached camps, north or south. Somebody calls it “god of the African continent,” another calls it “ghost of the soldiers.” Only those who actually happen to see it know the truth.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, Wolf Team, we get it. It’s a badass tank that blows stuff up. Hahahaha.
What makes Granada different than the other Genesis shooters is not only the fact that your vehicle is a tank instead of a plane or ship, but that each level of the game has a set of objectives that you must complete before getting to face the stage end boss. This brings in the ability to strategize your way through the levels as you have to choose which targets to take out in which order. The stages are laid out in a maze pattern, and there are traps along the way which can impede your tank. The tank can shoot and move in any direction, plus it has the ability to strafe while holding a button which is absolutely imperative during certain boss battles. There are different weapons which can be picked up for your tank as well as little satellite buddies which help your tank out by giving a little added protection and extra fire power. These little fellas are hidden throughout the levels which adds more incentive to search the levels a bit instead of just making a beeline for the targets. And finally, regarding your shots, you can hold the button to power up your shot to make it do extra damage. This is a big help during boss fights, just be sure to hold your strafe to dodge attacks while that baby is warming up.
Graphically, the game is nothing to get all that excited about. While the level layouts are clever and fun to negotiate, the colors and textures are rather bland. Also, your tank and most of the enemies are small and don’t exactly have all that much detail. The bosses, on the other hand, are huge, creative and often colorful. They really stand out compared to the rest of the design choices in the game. The music is average to perhaps slightly above average for the shooter genre, as it’s upbeat and appropriate for the goings on, but I wouldn’t load it up on a mixtape or anything. Serviceable is probably the best word to describe it.
Phew, now with all of that out of the way, is Granada fun? Hells yes, it is! Maneuvering that little tank throughout the stage mazes is fun as all get out, and the designs of the levels have obviously had plenty of thought put into them. There are 9 levels total and some of the end bosses are really cool looking. One of the end bosses hangs out in a box with walls that deflect your shot. To best describe what I mean, this simulates a pool table. So, you must use your geometry skills to judge the angles of your shots to bounce of the walls the right way to hit the boss. I loved this boss fight and wish there were more like it in the game. Regardless, it’s all fun, and while it is certainly unorthodox in comparison to the multitude of other Genesis shooters, Granada stands out as one of the best.
3. Thunder Force III
When I first picked up Thunder Force III on my Genesis back in the day, I wasn’t yet familiar with the series. I hadn’t yet played TFII or Lightening Force, and didn’t know exactly what to expect beyond the screenshots and what was written on the back of the box. I just knew that I liked shooters and I thought that it looked like a cool game. Well, I chose wisely that day because TFIII is a top-notch horizontal shooter that does everything right. Right off the bat, the game is jam packed with character as you get to choose from 5 different planets, each well-defined with its own individual ambiance and feel. It’s clear that a lot of thought went into creating this universe. And when you’re starting up a new game, it’s refreshing to able to do it your own way by choosing which order to play through it. This was a rather novel concept for shooters of the era.
Now, being able to hold an arsenal of five shot types, and only losing the one that is in use when your ship is shot down, and keeping the rest in your arsenal is rather forgiving for a shooter. And with the ability to power up these shots and protect your ship with a shield, once you’ve put some time into the game, and memorized some of the more random moments that can sneak up on you, TFIII is definitely one of the easier games in the shoot ‘em up genre. But in order to get to the point where you can breeze through much of the game, you have to put in the time. On the flipside, it’s more forgiving nature makes it much more attractive to new players who may not be experts in the genre. Anyway, that is a small quibble I have with the game, it is a bit on the easy side compared to most of my favorite shooters. But it is still so much fun to pick up and replay frequently, and being able to start the game on any of the 5 initial planets is a big part of that, the Baskin Robbins of shooters.
For me, TFIII is Technosoft’s masterpiece. While it is not the graphical stunner that its sequel is, the visuals are still jaw dropping at times; particularly that famous wavy fire background on the Planet Gorgon. But each of the levels have their own charm with tons of detail and lots of visual treats like layered backgrounds and parallax scrolling. TFIII goes to great lengths to create its own immersive universe. And while the soundtrack may not be the all time classic of its sequel, it is still fantastic. Each stage has music that has clearly been thought out and inspired by the level’s theme, and the boss fights all feature a more dramatic and uptempo theme that helps you to get into the proper mindset and step your game up for the bigger challenge. But most importantly, TFIII has it where it counts, gameplay; all the TF goodness without all of that pesky slow down. The best horizontal scrolling shoot ‘em up on the Genesis, mark it.
Truxton is pure shoot ‘em up nirvana. No gimmicks, just balls out shooter action that packs a ton of fun into a measly 2 mega power package. This was a very early release, so you’d think it would be a plain Jane fugly frau, but they added so much character and personality to this game, and even after all these years (I had this game in the early 90s, I think it was my first shmup), it’s still a blast to play. Unlike the other 2 Toaplan games on my list (Fire Shark and Twin Cobra), the backgrounds of Truxton have texture and colors and actually create a universe which makes the game that much more immersive. The ship and enemy sprites are even more detailed. That said, Truxton doesn’t have the graphics or technical virtuosity of many of its more heralded genre brethren, but it has it where it counts, fun addictive gameplay. Now I realize that this game has its share of haters, but what can I say? To quote Sly and the Family Stone, “different strokes for different folks, so on and so on and scooby dooby doo.”
All right, so Truxton isn’t a technical marvel, but it is action packed and loads of fun. And with adjustable difficulty, as well as getting progressively tougher each time it is looped, the game packs a solid challenge. There are only 5 levels, but they are split up into 2 sections each, so a single playthrough without looping still runs about the average amount of time as most Genesis shooters. And the end battles feature some massive bosses that are plenty of fun to defeat. The 3 main shot types are red spread fire, green laser blast and a blue homing electro beam. Each of these weapons can be powered up numerous times until they can handle just about anything the game throws at you. And you can always clear the screen at will with the colossal signature skull bomb which was the most metal thing 10-year-old prof had ever seen. There are also speed power ups, and while I like to grab a few here and there because the default speed is rather slow, I find that fully powering up the speed can get a bit too ridiculous for me, to the point that you barely touch the d-pad and your ship is zipping across the screen. Some may dig that, but it’s too much for me; hence, my preference for half speed or so. Going back to the Thunder Force games, I like that they let you adjust your speed level on the fly, I wish more games had that feature. Finally, the music in Truxton is some of the most memorable on the system for me. It’s so fast and intense, and it really gets me pumped up for blasting away at some alien bastards.
I realize that Truxton isn’t a favorite of many gamers, but heck, most of my list probably isn’t and I love this game. Even after playing it for over 20 years, I still pop it into my Genesis and loop it at least a few times a year. And I can’t even say that for every game on this list, let alone some other more heralded games out there.
Right from the opening animated cutscenes which set up the story, I was hooked. “How can you expect the five of us to attack this massive enemy armada?” “Shut up Greg, all you ever do is complain!” Hahahaha, yes! It doesn’t matter anyway, Greg, because you’ll be shot down before the actual gameplay even begins. Compile's MUSHA encapsulates all of my favorite things about the shoot ‘em up genre into one glorious little cartridge. Engaging story with anime-style cut scenes, the most amazing Sega Genesis music that has ever been recorded, beautifully detailed character and enemy sprites, backgrounds which utilize the Genesis hardware with layers, transparencies and parallax scrolling as well as some stuff that people don’t even realize is possible on the hardware (when the floor tiles fall and enemies are shot down into the lava pit in the second or third level, it’s a similar effect to the SNES mode 7). But on top of all of this technical prowess, MUSHA’s gameplay is amazing and second to none in the genre.
The fact is that MUSHA appears to be somewhat more complex than the average shooter on its surface, but in actuality it is quite simple, and a great example of “easy to pick up and play, but difficult to master.” There are only 3 types of weapon shots available, but they can each be powered up numerous times, and when your ship is hit, you lose a power level. However, your life isn’t lost unless you are on the lowest power level. So, while MUSHA has a reputation for its difficulty, it is actually rather forgiving compared to most shoot ‘em ups, and once you put some time into it and understand the ins and outs, you’ll be able to beat it in no time. From collecting little cylinders that you can shoot out of a helper ship (similar to the gnomes with the magic bags in Golden Axe) your ship also gets some aid from 2 little robotic satellite ships that are called arms. These fellas can be adjusted to shoot in different directions by pressing the A button. Granted, they aren’t all that powerful, but in some sections of the game, their help is greatly appreciated, particularly considering the lightning fast pace at which MUSHA runs. It definitely seems quicker than a lot of shoot ‘em ups, and blasting my way through it (with that killer soundtrack cranked up on my stereo) can be a real rush.
In addition to the excellent gameplay, music and graphical effects, what makes MUSHA really special is the overall universe that it creates. It all takes place within an alternate Japanese history in which feudal architecture and culturalisms exist side by side with advanced futuristic robotics. It makes for a very cool setting, and some of the bosses have to be seen to be believed. MUSHA just has so much character and personality. I realize that over the years it has built a reputation among collectors and now commands a hefty price tag. I was fortunate to pick up a copy many years ago before it started going for crazy prices. But if there was ever a game that flash carts like the Everdrive were created for, this is the one. My all time favorite shoot ‘em up, and one of my favorite video games of all time, MUSHA!
*Feature photo of Lightening Force gameplay courtesy of Hardcoregaming101.