5. Image Fight (1990)
Developed by Irem soon after they unleashed R-Type, this fantastic vertical scroller is for some bizarre reason far less revered than its sibling, which is odd because even a quick session with it reveals Irem were more than adept at this kind of shmup as well as the horizontal variety. It’s not the flashiest shooter ever – the graphics aren’t particularly impressive and the music is instantly forgettable, but it is challenging, well designed, and, much like R-Type, features some interesting power-ups. Rather than the now-legendary Force from that game, here it’s possible to attach a variety of devices to the front of your ship, each of which give it a different weapon. A top blaster which deserves more recognition.
4. Magical Chase (1991)
For a long time an Engine exclusive, this horizontal-scroller is so charming it’s as if you’ve had a spell cast on you by the ‘Star Maiden’ protagonist of the game! It’s a horizontal-scroller in a similar vein to Cotton (which was released around the same time) which sees you in control of a witch complete with broomstick (but apparently no black cat) battling six demons and their bizarre minions across the six stages! A very strange but nonetheless compelling and highly playable little game which looks fabulous, has a fantastic soundtrack, and constantly beckons you to discover what lies around the next corner.
3. R-Type (1988)
Until the PlayStation came along, this remained the most faithful conversion of this eternally worshipped, all-time classic yet seen (Lord knows why it never appeared on the MD, come to think of it, that could’ve been a cracking version). Despite the fact that it was initially spread over two separately released Hu-Cards, it was still hard to fault it. The graphics and music are near- faultless and as close to arcade perfect as anyone could reasonably expect, and the timeless level design and gameplay is faithfully recreated. This was a God-send for the game’s many fans.
2. Gradius (1991)
As is the case with R-Type, this was arguably the best version of Gradius until the arrival of the 32-bit consoles, although the X68000 effort was also superb. While it’s true that the graphics are simplistic and do suffer from bouts of slowdown now and then, they are also beautifully defined and the twinkly, multi-coloured stars in the background are hypnotic! The remixed soundtrack here is fantastic too, and among my favourite shmup soundtracks on any system, but it’s the finely honed gameplay that keeps me coming back. Challenging it may be, but the difficulty curve is well pitched and there’s so many distinctive touches (including an extra level) it’ll take ages to see all it has to offer.
1. Gunhed (1989)
It’s amazing to think that this was one of the first shmups released on the Engine. After all these years it’s still one of the finest vertical-scrollers I’ve played on any system. It’s true that there’s a vast number that I’ve still not played but that doesn’t detract from the sheer quality of this classic from Hudson. It eases you in with the gentle opening stage before gradually ramping up the intensity to sweaty-palms, edge-of-the-seat levels – this really is a game that oozes quality in every department. Given the Engine’s prowess with this genre, it’s possible I may encounter an even better shmup at some point but it’ll have to be something really special to beat this legendary game.