Shoot'Em Up

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" Sometime in the future, Earth will be menaced by hordes of alien spacecraft that fly in predictable patterns and can be killed in one hit. The logical course of action will be to dispatch one brave hero in an untested plane/tank/spaceship to take them all on without help."
Games Radar, "101 things we've learned from games"

A classic staple of The Golden Age of Video Games that has fallen out of favor in recent years. Everything is trying to kill you, and you have unlimited ammunition and a license to shoot first and ask questions later. Frequently, you're flying a spaceship or some other small craft, but other examples of the genre involve abstract shapes, people walking around with guns or bows and arrows, and so forth.

So popular were Shoot Em Ups (and their close-combat cousin the Beat'Em Up) that many computer games magazines of the mid-late 80s took to jokingly appending "'em up" to whatever genre of game they were reviewing—Puzzle 'em ups, platform 'em ups, Quiz 'em ups and so on.

The term shmup is an abbreviation of "shoot 'em up", but is typically used by the fans who coined it to refer specifically to fixed-scrolling shooters that are not three-dimensional. For instance, 1943 would fit this description, whereas Geometry Wars would not (it is free-scrolling according to player movement), and neither would After Burner (it scrolls into/out of the screen in 3D). This kind of restrictive use is, however, debated among shoot 'em up fans.

Power Ups typically increase the power and spread pattern of the primary weapon, which is usually fired continuously from the start of play until the end. Usually, a limited number of screen-clearing Smart Bombs are included to get the player out of a jam in a hurry. Many later games end their levels with a giant Boss Battle.

The actual shooting part can vary in complexity. It can be as simple as holding down the fire button and never letting go or it can be more complex either due to ship's low firepower (e.g. Space Invaders) , scoring systems required to watch what and when to shoot (e.g. Radiant Silvergun) or other reasons.

The Ur Example is possibly Space War (although it's more of a one-on-one shooter rather than a shoot 'em up), the Trope Maker is Space Invaders, and the Trope Codifier is Galaga.

Like the Platform Game, Shoot em ups have become popular with amateur game developers for their relative ease of development. While very few professional examples of the genre have been developed recently - for example Gradius V, which wasn't developed by series creator Konami—the "Bullet Hell" subgenre, characterised by very large numbers of slow-moving enemy projectiles and seen in Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga and the entire works of CAVE has become relatively popular, along with the Cute'Em Up sub-genre.

Today, Shoot Em Ups suffer from terminal It's Short, So It Sucks-itis. Worsening the decline is the redefinition of the term "shooter"—no longer used to refer to shoot-em-ups, they now refer to the distantly-related First-Person Shooter genre, or (merely) closer-related Third-Person Shooter.

Life in A Game spoofs them, specifically Star Fox, in Episode 4-2. Not to be confused with either the action film of the same name, or the other video game genre focused on shooting.


Space War derivatives:
Overhead run-and-gun shooters:
Other shooters with two degrees of freedom:
Space Invaders derivatives:
Other scrolling shooters:
  • Abadox (scrolled horizontally and vertically on alternate stages)
  • A-Jax (alternates vertical scrolling and 3d scrolling stages)
  • Axelay (scrolled horizontally and vertically on alternate stages)
  • Ether Vapor (scrolled horizontally and vertically on alternate stages)
  • Salamander/Life Force (spinoff of the Gradius series; scrolled horizontally and vertically on alternate stages)
  • Silver Surfer (scrolled horizontally and vertically on alternate stages)
  • Starship Hector (spinoff of the Star Soldier series; scrolled horizontally and vertically on alternate stages)
  • Thunder Blade (scrolled vertically and into-the-screen on alternate stages)
  • Viewpoint (scrolled diagonally and had isometric graphics)
  • Warning Forever (vertical Boss Rush variant with ever evolving boss encounters)
  • Zaxxon (scrolled diagonally in Isometric Projection)
"Into-the-Screen" Shooters:
Others: