Thursday, 29 July 2010

Top Five Master System Shmups

Shoot 'em ups have long been one of my favourite genres and one that I probably own most examples of. The fact that my recent 'Top Five MegaDrive Shmups' post has been my most popular yet indicates I'm not alone! I also seem to have sparked a craze for compiling shmup lists, with all and sundry now apparently listing their own favourites, including my friend Graeme (Jdanddiet) here! So, continuing the theme, I thought I'd return to my first console, and here's my choices:

Games-Related Top Fives Disclaimer: I've traditionally stuck to the games I know and love so far, and these game-related top fives reflect that. One of the purposes of this blog is diversify my gaming experiences, to play games I haven't played before, so I will do new game-related top fives in a few years to see how different they are!

5. Cloud Master (1989)

I never really had much interest in this one due to the average scores it seemed to get in reviews, but when I actually played it I discovered that I (at least) really liked it! One of the reasons for this could be the highly varied and imaginative enemies which seem to be straight out the Fantasy Zone school of weirdness (although not quite as psychedelic!), but it's got a rather unique premise too with a young fellow seeking to learn the secrets of the five lands in order to become a wizard. The graphics are really nice and include some fantastic sprites, the music's not bad either, but it's just one of those games that's really enjoyable to play too. Besides, where else can you ride around on a cloud?

4. Astro Warrior (1986)

This largely unknown gem was an early MS release, one of the first shooters to appear on the MS in fact, and was originally a pack-in game which came on a combi-cartridge accompanied by Hang-On or Pit Pot. It did get a standalone release as well though, and it deserved it - it's a cracking little game! It reminds me of a kind of cross between Cresta's Moon and Terra and the power-ups increase the size of your ship a bit like those games too. Its set over three space-based zones - Galaxy, Asteroid, Nebula - which feature landscapes (space stations?) littered with destroyable stuff and the plenty of formation-flying enemies ensure that there's always plenty to do. I love these early space-based shooters and Astro Warrior is a great example. It might be a bit short but it's great fun while it lasts.

3. Fantasy Zone 2 (1987)

Yes, the first game is a top blaster but this sequel just does everything a little bit better in my view. Happily, the hyper-cute (and weird) enemies and super-colourful backdrops from the first game return (if anything they're even more garish here!) and this time the stages are all divided into several areas each too. The basic gameplay remains unchanged, but hey - if it ain't broke and all that! The graphics in particular are even more impressive in this game with some stunning backgrounds and the memorable music is once again superb. I guess the Fantasy Zone games are an acquired taste but the crazy, eye-melting graphics and simple, addictive, and challenging gameplay is all part of the charm of playing a Fantasy Zone game, huh? I'm pretty sure it was the first Fantasy Zone game I played too.

2. R-Type (1987)

Many people's bet for number one, I'm sure! Few shooters have become as iconic or proved as influential as this one, and the conversion of Irem's all-time great that the Master System received is an outstanding one for sure. It has a few small issues such as some sprite flicker but I don't think anyone could really have expected any more from the humble Master System. The graphics are surprisingly faithful and all the outstanding and challenging gameplay made the transition intact. They even found the space to cram in an extra level here too! The PC Engine conversion might've gotten the most adulation but this is still impressive stuff and the best horizontal-scroller on the MS.

1. Power Strike (1988)

Perhaps better know as Aleste to some, this was one of the first games I got for my Master System and I've still got it now, such is its splendour. It really is a technical marvel too - there can be dozens of sprites on the screen at once and there's almost no slowdown or flicker, and it has very fast scrolling at times. Graphical achievements aside, this is a first-class vertical-scroller. Its six long stages, eight varied weapons, and interesting (and tricky) enemy attacks make it one of the best shmups I've played. In fact, one of the only ones I've played that's better is another game in the same series! Power Strike is gorgeous, loud, challenging, and addictive - what more could you ask?


  1. Ooh, ooh, ooh! Do NES shooters next!

  2. Haha, I've never played any NES shooters! :P I guess it's as good a reason as any to start ploughing through the NES back-catalogue though...

  3. Great choices, personally I prefer the conversion of R-type to Power Strike but they'd both make my top 5. Nice to see Cloud Master in there it one of my favourites too.