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The demise of the arcade across most of the world (Japan being the notable exception) caused a major shift in the popularity of gaming genres. Shooters are perhaps the best example. Today we associate the term with games like Call of Duty, but in the 80s this word was used to describe top-down shoot ’em ups like Raiden and Space Invaders.
Retro-style shooters haven’t been abandoned, however. If anything, the recent surge in indie game development has given the genre a second chance. Here are 10 great shooters available today on PC, Playstation or Xbox.
This modern classic is a great choice for gamers who are new to retro shoot ’em ups. Besides beautiful graphics, an engaging co-op mode, great level design and a quirky store, Jamestown offers an important extra; a difficulty curve! Gamers who’ve never touched a retro shooter before can pick this up and play through at least the first few levels without going insane. There’s also support for co-op with up to four players, each of whom can pilot a different ship.
Ikaruga, though now over a decade old, was released as an arcade game in 2001 with the intent of modernizing the shooter genre. The game boasts intriguing graphics, fiendishly difficult gameplay and a unique polarity system. The player’s ship can change between blue and red polarity, making it immune to gunfire of the same volor. This is one of the only shoot ’em ups where it’s sometimes okay to get hit!
A very recent release, Luftrausers lets you sign up as a pilot in a comically villainous version of Nazi Germany complete with creepy scientists and super-weapons. The goal is to complete a series of increasingly difficult objectives by destroying enemy planes and ships. Luftrausers’ standout feature is its customization system, which lets the player change how their fighter maneuvers and the weapons it can use.
Luftrausers is available for PC, Mac and Linux on Steam and on the PlayStation 3. You’ll pay $9.99 on both platforms.
A new console usually means stunning new blockbuster games, but the PlayStation 4’s release saw the major studios trumped by Resogun, a side-scrolling shooter in which you fight above gorgeously detailed circular cities. You can change direction to proceed either left or right, and each is a loop. This provides more freedom of movement and, in some cases, will change how you handle enemies and boss fights.
Resogun is only available on the PlayStation 4, where it goes for $14.99.
Geometry Wars 2: Retro Evolved
The original Geometry Wars is arguably the game that put Xbox Live Arcade on the map and proved inexpensive indie titles could be awesome on a console. Geometry Wars 2 is just a bigger, better version of the original. There are six different game modes, each with unique objectives, along with a wide variety of power-ups. Geometry Wars 2 also benefits from an incredibly smooth feel; of all the modern shoot ’em ups I’ve played it is by far the quickest to respond to player inputs.
Geometry Wars 2 is only available on the Xbox 360 and is sold for $9.99.
What sets the Pixeljunk games apart from most retro shooters is the level design, which is far more than just a backdrop on which you fight enemies. There are puzzles to solve, humans to save and obstacles to avoid. With that said, the franchise’s core shooting mechanic is excellent and there are plenty of cool power-ups to grab, including some that change your ship entirely.
PixelJunk Shooter is available for Windows, Mac and Linux on Steam and is $8.99. There are also various editions for PlayStation platforms, including an upcoming Ultimate Edition for PlayStation 4 due this summer.
Raiden Fighters Aces
Raiden is my favorite franchise in the shoot ’em up genre. I love the game’s responsive controls, wild power-ups and wide variety of opponents. Though there’s nothing like the arcade experience, Raiden Fighters Aces lets you come close to it at home. This title bundles three Raiden games into one package: Raiden Fighters, Raiden Fighters 2: Operation Hell Dive and Raiden Fighters Jet.
This bundle is available only for the Xbox 360 and is $19.99. Unlike other games here, there’s also a disc version, new copies go for almost twice the price of the download.
Gatling Gears is an often overlooked, newbie-friendly game that puts you into the seat of a steampunk mech armed with deadly missiles and cannons. Like PixelJunk Shooter, Gatling Gears offers a campaign mode with beautiful levels to go alongside its crazy boss fights, but Gears is more about shooting than solving puzzles. The game also offers some mech customization and solid drop-in, drop-out co-op gameplay.
Though originally released for Xbox 360 and ported to PlayStation 3, it’s strangely disappeared from those platforms. You’ll only be able to grab it for Windows, where it’s $9.99.
This beautiful side-scroller offers everything you’d expect from a shoot ’em up including awesome power-ups, challenging bosses and unique level design. But there’s a twist; instead of a health bar or a simple one-hit-kills system, Sine Mora uses a timer. Taking damage reduces the timer while killing enemies increases it. When time is up, you’re dead. There’s also a slow-motion power available for tough sections, but it can only be used in very short spurts.
These ten games represent the best retro-shooters that are available today, but they’re hardly the only titles available. The rabbit hole goes deep, particularly if you get into Japanese import games, many of have a region-free version.
What’s your favorite modern shooter? Do you prefer hardcore “bullet hell” games, or more casual experiences like Gatling Gears and PixelJunk Shooter? Let us know in the comments!