Shoot Em Up
GENRE
Shoot-em-ups, also known as shmups, occupy their own unique place in the arcade universe and have iterated endlessly on a relatively simple formula: a vertically- or horizontally-scrolling playfield in which the player shoots a wide variety of enemies, picks up weapon powerups, fights bosses and travels through increasingly dangerous levels. From relatively simple early titles like Scramble and Xevious to increasingly complex games like the Gradius, R-Type and Raiden series to the brutal "bullet hell" shmups of Cave and others, shoot-em-ups have endured and flourished long after arcades went dark.
PLEASE NOTE: These overlays contain only artwork to enhance your gaming experience – they do not include the games themselves, or the MAME software required to run them. Learn more about MAME and download it here, or read this quick introduction to how it works. Copyrights are property of their original or current owners, who are not affiliated with this site.
ABOUT THESE OVERLAYS  (Expand to view)  
HOW TO USE:

These overlays (sometimes known as bezels) display art on top of the game you're playing. To use them, you need a PC or Raspberry Pi (or other compatible system) running some version of MAME and the associated game software, as well as a widescreen (16x9) monitor mounted vertically. To display the overlay while playing a game, download the artwork file for that game overlay (it must have the same filename as the game), place it in the Artwork folder within your MAME directory and launch the game. (For instance, the software for the game Magic Sword is called msword.zip, so it requires a file in the Artwork directory also called msword.zip.)

All overlays are 4K resolution (2160 x 3840), and listed dimensions are for the game screen, relative to a 4K vertical monitor. The actual game screen size will depend on the resolution of your monitor.

ABOUT THE PRESETS:

Most of the overlays include multiple presets that let you choose the size of the game screen, access a "dark" version designed to look more like a dark arcade, and sometimes other options. To choose a preset, press Tab while running the game to bring up the MAME menu, select Video Options, and select a preset from the list.

Some overlays include Curved presets designed with a curved screen port, to better simulate the look of a CRT monitor. These presets work best if you are using a geometry shader that adds a curved look to the game screen. For an optimal experience, you may need to adjust your shaders to match the curvature of the screen shape in the overlay. If you are not using a geometry shader, you are using a shader that adds a curved bezel, or if you prefer a rectangular screen port, choose a Straight preset where applicable.

1944: The Loop Master
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Capcom
2000
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Continuing the legacy of the 1942 series, which began at approximately the time World War II ended (er, *checks notes*, 1984 to be precise), 1944: The Loop Master brings some new mechanics to the well-worn WWII fighter series. The fighters have only a single starting weapon type, but have access to a charge-up system that unleashes a concentrated burst of fire and makes them temporarily invulnerable to attack, in addition to the standard bombs and power-ups. The planes also have a health bar that depletes progressively when hit, allowing for more hits but with fewer opportunities to recharge your health. The game's use of Capcom's CPS-2 platform adds a new level of sophistication to the visuals, putting it on par with many of the shoot-em-ups of the late 90s/early 2000s.

Batsugun
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Toaplan
1993
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Batsugun represented both an end and a new beginning for the shoot-em-up genre – it was the last game produced by genre innovator Toaplan, but it is considered to be the beginning of the "bullet hell" or manic style of shoot-em-ups, filling screens with mazes of deadly projectiles. Like a number of games that followed it, Batsugun features a cast of characters that each have unique strengths and attack styles, but its key differentiator is an RPG-like level system that makes your weapons increasingly powerful. The game's finely tuned challenge, flashy visuals and ability to upgrade your weapons to absurd levels make it an excellent stepping stone between earlier, simpler shoot-em-ups and the more complex games that followed from Cave and others.

Dogyuun
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Toaplan
1992
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Dogyuun features many elements common to Toaplan's shoot-em-ups, including brilliant visuals, inventive weapon options, striking boss designs and intense gameplay. Players are charged with bringing the fight to a race of alien robots who have taken over the planet Dino, piloting Sylfers attack fighters that can combine (if there are two players) into a single formidable (but vulnerable) ship. Though some have complained that the game put too much of an emphasis on visuals over gameplay (as some previous titles had been criticized for the opposite balance – you can't please them all), the game strikes an enjoyable balance between earlier Toaplan titles like Truxton and the dizzyingly-complex games the team would later create at Cave.

Dragon Breed
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Irem
1989
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Dragon Breed brought numerous innovations to the shoot-em-up category, both in its fantasy setting and its unique gameplay mechanics. The player controls King Kayus, on a mission to save his kingdom from the King of Darkness, Zambaquous (who was released by the people in a Brexit-like moment of bad judgment). Kayus rides atop Bahamoot, a serpentine dragon whose body can be used as both a shield and a weapon. Kayus fires a crossbow, and holding the fire button causes Bahamoot to release fireballs of increasing power, while picking up power-ups changes the dragon's color and weapon. Though not the most complex shoot-em-up of its time, Dragon Breed's dragon riding mechanics and occasional platforming sequences made it stand out from the crowd.

Gemini Wing
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Tecmo
1987
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Feeling a bit like a Greenpeace revenge fantasy, Gemini Wing takes place in a far-flung future where the plants and insects of Earth have mutated into fearsome enemies threatening humanity's very existence, and the last two Gemini Wing fighters must push back against Mother Nature. Gemini Wing departs from standard shoot-em-up fare in numerous ways beyond its premise and visual style, most notably in its weapon systems — certain defeated enemies drop orbs known as Gunballs, which unleash a particular power on command, but not always in the way you expect. The Gunballs trail along beyond your ship and deploy in the order you grabbed them, which means you may or may not get the weapon you're looking for (but you can always pick up new ones). The game's fanciful style, lush natural environments and quirky enemies and bosses make it a pleasant departure from the usual shoot-em-up.

Giga Wing
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Capcom
1999
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Giga Wing centers around a mystical medallion that grants godlike power, and a team of pilots charged with destroying it after it falls into the wrong hands. Released for Capcom's CPS2 platform during a late 90s resurgence of interest in shoot-em-ups, Giga Wing features a horizontal screen and a bright, almost garish graphic style. The game's four pilots each have different storylines and weapons, but they all share the Reflect Force, a rechargeable shield that reflects bullets back at enemies, typically releasing a cascade of score-boosting medals across the screen. Though the Reflect Force helps somewhat manage the bullet hell of the game's later levels, Giga Wing's high level of difficulty has limited its appeal somewhat; nonetheless, the game spawned two sequels for both arcades and consoles.

Gunbird
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Psikyo
1994
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Gunbird's primary claim to fame amid the increasingly crowded shoot-em-up category was its cast of quirky characters, whose diverse attack styles and storylines give the game most of its charm. The characters include a pre-teen witch with a pet bunny (which she frequently mistreats), a jetpack-wearing adventurer (with an unhealthy interest in the aforementioned witch), a Russian robot, a monkey warrior girl and more, and their humorous (if sometimes questionable) cutscenes add some levity to the otherwise combat-driven gameplay. The characters are all battling a pirate gang known as The Trump for control of a magic mirror that is said to grant one wish, across randomly-chosen levels that provide a decent challenge, though with somewhat less polish than shmups to come. This game features an original overlay based on artwork from the game's promotional materials.

In the Hunt
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Irem
1993
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In the Hunt sends players into the deep in the helm of the Granvia, a submarine going to battle with the excellently-named Dark Anarchy Society. In the Hunt is thought of by some as a cross between R-Type and Metal Slug, and if it reminds you a bit of the delightfully cartoony violence of the latter, it should, as it was designed by the team that went on the create the Metal Slug series. Being underwater, the game has a somewhat slow motion feel compared to some of its bullet hell peers, and it takes full advantage of its unique setting with beautiful animations and a range of actually believable weapons. There's a lot going on at once on the screen and it can get a little confusing, but it's a standout in the shoot-em-up genre that's worth diving into.

Ketsui
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Cave
2002
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Fully titled Ketsui: Kizuna Jigoku Tachi (“Determination: Cutting the Bonds of Hell”), Ketsui is a bullet hell shoot-em-up released by Cave during the genre's early-2000s renaissance, and remains a favorite for its punishing difficulty and unique scoring system. Though less well-known than popular Cave shooters such as Dodonpachi and Deathsmiles, Ketsui features the same type of frenetic action you expect from a Cave game, but destroyed enemies here drop chips that increase in value depending on your distance from the enemy and connect into chains if you can maintain your pace. The mechanic creates a scoring multiplier metagame that raises the intensity, while Ketsui is simultaneously less unforgiving in some areas than similar Cave games.

Legendary Wings
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Capcom
1986
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Legendary Wings follows the quest of two winged warriors, sent by the war god Ares in what appears to be ancient times to destroy an alien supercomputer (um, sure). The plot is not the game's only mashup – while the primary game is a vertically scrolling shoot-em-up, the protagonists are occasionally sucked into side-scrolling platform-based levels where they must fight various mythical enemies on foot. Though the graphics have a pleasant mid-80s feel, the game comes from a somewhat awkward period in which shoot-em-ups were often very difficult simply due to incredibly sluggish player controls and fast enemies, and the platform levels are underdeveloped and similarly difficult to control. If you're willing to adapt to the controls, the game itself is an enjoyable excursion that combines ancient Greece with aliens in a fun way.

Mars Matrix
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Capcom
2000
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Mars Matrix (sometimes subtitled Hyper Solid Shooting) is a relatively rare vertically-scrolling shoot-em-up that used a horizontal monitor, featuring a more sophisticated visual style with high-res, partially-rendered graphics, powered by Capcom's CPS-2 board. The game's central mechanic revolves around your ship's ability to vacuum up enemy projectiles (which are plentiful) and fire them back at them, but the ability is balanced by a timer and the fact that all of your ship's weapons (including a fast-firing gun, a more powerful blast weapon and an even more powerful Gravity Hole Bomb) are all activated with timed presses of a single button. Mars Matrix's polished visual style and beautiful-but-deadly cascades of enemy projectiles give it a feel that stands out from the crowd of turn-of-the-millennium shooters.

Prehistoric Isle
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SNK
1989
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Prehistoric Isle (presented as Prehistoric Isle in 1930 on its title screen) sends intrepid pilots on a mission to investigate the disappearance of ships in the Bahamas, only to find Greenhell Isle, populated with dinosaurs and other creatures long believed to be extinct. Naturally, "conduct an investigation" translates to "annihilate the entire island," and the pilots proceed to exterminate everything they come into contact with, which includes an impressive array of creatures across multiple stages. Prehistoric Isle mixes up the standard shoot-em-up formula with stages that scroll in different directions, while your plane always faces to the right, and features an R-Type-like satellite that can be repositioned.

R-Type
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Irem
1987
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Developed by Irem and released by Nintendo, R-Type brought a level of depth and sophistication to both the graphics and gameplay of the growing shoot-em-up category, with huge organic-looking aliens and environments brought to life with realistic animations. The mission of the game's spaceship-piloting protagonist is to destroy the Bydo, an alien race that is (apparently) bent on the destruction of humanity. The game's key innovation was the Force, a floating shield and weapon platform that can attach to the front or back of the player's ship or detach and float ahead while shooting, which added numerous tactical possibilities to the game. Complex, ever-changing stages and imminent threats from all sides give R-Type a high level of difficulty, but the addictive shoot-em-up gameplay brings players back for one more assault.

R-Type II
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Irem
1989
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"Space was ripped by hatred and desire to counterattack and take revenge," proclaims the flyer for R-Type II, which translates to: the Bydo are back, baby, and they're pissed off. R-Type II picks up after the apparent defeat of the Bydo, and Earth forces are called upon once again to defend against a resurgence of the galactic evil empire. This time, players control an upgraded ship, the R-9C, which adds a second charge level to its main cannon in addition to new laser weapons and bombs. Everything about the original game has been amped up, with tougher enemies, more projectiles and more complex environmental hazards, adding a new level of difficulty to an already challenging game. Can you save us from the Bydo? With enough virtual quarters, yes you can! (Probably.)

R-Type Leo
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Irem
1992
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What to do when you've defeated an alien empire not once, but twice? Why, you build a mechanical planet and then undertake a daring mission to destroy its malfunctioning, homicidal supercomputer core! At least that's what humanity did in R-Type Leo, a spiritual successor but not quite sequel to the first two R-Type games. The biggest difference here is that the Force, your faithful pal and offensive/defensive sidekick, has been replaced by two floating satellites called Psy-Bits, which aim in the opposite direction of your movement and can be launched to attack enemies (mostly because the game was not originally conceived as an R-Type game). You also continue where you die (with so little fanfare you can miss that you actually died), which combines with other aspects of the game to make it a fair bit less punishing than its predecessors. Our overlay features original art elements derived from the Japanese promotional materials.

Raiden
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Fabtek
1990
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Appearing at a time when vertically-scrolling shoot-em-ups had been around for years, and new games typically needed some kind of gimmick to continue to bring in quarters, Raiden ("thunder and lightning" in Japanese) didn't necessarily seem like anything special at first glance. What it brought to the genre was solid shooter mechanics, a straightforward but effective weapons system and challenging gameplay that is considered a forebear to the "bullet hell" or danmaku shooters that became popular a decade later. The storyline is somewhat muddled depending on the source (Are you fighting the alien Crystals? Or is the Crassanian Empire? Does it matter?), but whatever the case, the game's balance and satisfying feel make it a standout in a crowded field.

Raiden DX
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Fabtek
1994
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Raiden II was a breakout game for creator Seibu Kaihatsu, and Raiden DX is essentially an extended remix of its big hit, adding a variety of new levels and challenges while retaining the original's core concept, gameplay and visuals. The new content consists of three game modes: an Alpha course considered a "training" level that gauges your overall skill, a Bravo course that recaps the first five levels of Raiden II, and a Charlie course that remixes the entire game with new levels and enemy types. Overall, Raiden DX brings more of what makes Raiden II a great middle ground in the shmup world, a sophisticated shooter that is challenging without putting players through (bullet) hell.

Raiden Fighters
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Fabtek
1996
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If Seibu's earlier Raiden games had a somewhat more measured pace compared to the rest of the genre in the mid-90s, Raiden Fighters was designed to catapult the series forward, with a fleet of fighters to choose from and more frenetic gameplay. The ships on offer here vary more dramatically in their weaponry, giving players a true choice in play style, with the enemies, bosses and graphics all upping the ante alongside them. With driving techno music and a more complicated scoring system, Raiden Fighters succeeds in pushing the series forward without abandoning its roots.

Raiden Fighters 2
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Fabtek
1997
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Subtitled "Operation Hell Dive," Raiden Fighters 2 follows Seibu's usual "don't fix what ain't broke" philosophy and doubles down on what made its predecessor work. The sequel increases the fighter roster to a whopping 14 fighters (plus two hidden fighters) featuring a wide range of attack styles, including one fighter that is, in fact, a slow but cute dragon with a very powerful flame weapon. The rest of the game continues the higher intensity of the original, with some additions such as a cooperative attack that syncs the two players to unleash a devastating barrage. If you liked the first one, you'll certainly want to play the second.

Raiden Fighters Jet
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Fabtek
1998
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The final release of the Raiden Fighters series and considered by some to be one of the greatest arcade shmups of all time, Raiden Fighters Jet continues the splashy visual style and diverse gameplay styles of the first two games. It includes 14 fighters, introducing one new craft into the roster carried over from its predecessors, and its primary difference from the previous games is a branching stage structure based on your score (which is in turn driven by a variety of factors, including medals and enemy kills). Doing better sends you to different levels, while doing poorly (but still continuing) can send you all the way back to the beginning. Raiden Fighters Jet refines the series to a sheen, and offers considerable challenges and rewards to dedicated players.

Raiden II
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Fabtek
1993
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Raiden II isn't a dramatic departure from the original – not only the premise, but the shooting mechanics, the enemy types and behaviors, most of the weapons and the overall feel are very similar. It does feature new level designs and upgraded graphics, with upgrades like more detailed shadows, enemies that disintegrate into flying debris upon destruction and an overall more sophisticated look, plus the ability to continue the action immediately upon dying. But its primary difference is the addition of a new weapon, a purple energy ribbon (referred to by some as the "toothpaste laser") that locks onto a primary enemy while snaking around the screen to damage others. It's a novel weapon that's very satisfying to use, and along with the game's other improvements, it was enough to make the slightly old seem new again, and breathe new life into a genre that had started to lose its luster in the early 90s.

Scramble
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Konami
1981
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Scramble is often considered the first true shoot-em-up arcade game, as it featured constantly scrolling levels with fixed terrain, enemies both on the ground and in the air and a succession of distinct, increasingly difficult levels. Its graphics and gameplay set the stage for a great many scrolling shooters to come, and it was difficult for its time, requiring constant vigilance against airborne enemies, missiles from below and managing your ever-dwindling fuel levels (it's not entirely clear why destroying fuel tanks on the ground replenishes your ship's fuel supply, but just go with it). Our overlay includes both the American cabinet artwork and the more fanciful Zaccaria art released in Europe.

Side Arms Hyper Dyne
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Capcom
1986
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Side Arms Hyper Dyne takes the ordinarily spaceship-driven shoot-em-up formula and replaces the ships with giant mech suits, while adding a layer of weapon customization reminiscent of Konami's Gradius series. Defending an attack by the alien Bozon empire, Lt. Henry and Sgt. Sanders jump into their Mobilsuits to take the fight to the aliens, wielding several different selectable weapons upgradable via power-ups. Shooting a power-up switches it between weapons, speed upgrades and an orbiting orb that enhances your firepower, allowing players a fair degree of freedom in choosing their weapon loadouts. Death can come swiftly, as the game plays notably faster than many shoot-em-ups of its era, but it doesn't feel cheap. The visual style and deeper weapon selections foreshadow the feel that would define Capcom's Forgotten Worlds three years later.

Sky Soldiers
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Romstar
1988
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Sky Soldiers combines serviceable shoot-em-up mechanics with a storyline reminiscent of Time Pilot, sending players back in time from the year 2110 to stop a supercomputer-turned-supervillain whose time-traveling minions are wreaking havoc in the past. Each stage represents a major conflict of the past, featuring both conventional combatants and massive robotic future machines, giving the game something of a steampunk vibe. Sky Soldiers is more challenging than it looks, thanks to plentiful fast-moving enemies and a relatively slow ship, with a weapon power-up system that requires more tactical thinking than many shoot-em-ups (you are given a limited number of powerful missiles or other weapons per level and no screen-clearing bombs).

Truxton
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Midway
1988
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Developed by Toaplan and published by Midway in the US and Taito outside the US (as Tatsujin), Truxton is a vertically scrolling sci-fi shoot-em-up that charges players with fighting an alien invasion by the alien Gidans, led by the dastardly Dogurava. Released during a period of increasing complexity in SHMUPs, Truxton is more technical than some games of the era, based around memorizing enemy placements and choosing the right weapon to counter them. Its distinctive weapon power-ups and memorable skull-shaped bomb and enemies give it a unique appeal that has made it an enduring favorite decades later.

Vasara 2
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Visco
2001
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A bullet hell shmup from Japanese developer Visco, Vasara 2 is actually a prequel to the original Vasara, but both take place in a feudal Japan that is for some reason populated by giant robots, flying battleships and heroes on hover bikes. The game's characters, based on quasi-historical Japanese figures of the period, each bring different weapons into battle against villain Oda Nobunga, but all have both a close-range charge-up melee attack that destroys enemy projectiles and the Vasara ability, charged by collecting gems dropped by enemies, in addition to standard attacks. The Vasara attack clears the screen of bullets and severely damages enemies, something you'll need to manage to endless fields of bullets and enemies. Killing bosses with your melee attack yields flags, part of the Prestige Kill System that powers an increasing score multiplier. Though not one of the best-known or loved games of its type, Vasara 2 is another option for shmup fans looking for something new (that's somewhat old).

Viper Phase 1
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Fabtek
1995
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An entry in Seibu Kaihatsu's long-running Raiden series that wasn't quite a Raiden game, Viper Phase 1 takes the just-right mechanics of the earlier games (satisfying but not punishing difficulty, attractive graphics and simple weaponry) and launches them into space. Your mission is simply to blow through waves of enemy ships, capped with increasingly impressive boss ships, but the weapon system encourages regular weapon switching rather than incentivizing you to power up a single weapon and stick with it. What Viper Phase 1 lacks in true innovation it makes up for in straight-ahead fun, and it's a great entry for shoot-em-up fans looking for something less than a panic attack in their games.