Why We Play SHMUPs, And Why They’re Great

Mega Cat Studios
5 min readApr 18, 2024


Why We Play SHMUPs, And Why They’re Great

Ever wonder why SHMUPs are still popular? On the outside, these games seem pretty simple. Often, they’re just run-and-gun shooters, scrolling up or down the screen and moving left to right to wipe out some baddies.

Even so, SHMUPs are still surprisingly popular, and even games like Nier Automata have their own shooting segments in their intro sequence. It’s a niche genre, especially compared to the bigger dogs in the industry, but there must be a reason why people still love it.

Let’s look and find out why they’re so beloved.

They’re addictive and fun

The bottom line of any SHMUP game is that they’re designed to feel satisfying. A good SHMUP look, feel, and responsiveness are top priorities; they show best in gameplay. If the game’s controls are tight, responsive, and entertaining, you’ve probably got a good title on your hands.

Contra | Courtesy of Konami

What’s more, SHMUPs are often very replayable. While SHMUP levels tend to play out the same, the visceral feeling of blasting through these levels at high speed always has you pushing for one more level or trying one more time after you fail.

This level of simplicity has its fans coming back for more, to try and try again despite all odds.

Cygni | Courtesy of Konami

They reward skill

SHUMPs are always designed with the intention of you doing better. Bouncing around the stage is always fun, but skill expression is the game’s name, and it’s most obvious when you see the carnage you’ve left on the world around you.

Radio Viscera | Courtesy of Fire Face

Some players may play safe, slow, and steady, but a good SHMUP always pushes for more, especially if they’re after a high score. Some SHMUPs gate extra content behind rankings, and some around speed or efficiency, but one thing’s for sure — it always feels good to have your name on the leaderboard. For a good SHMUP, nothing says success quite like your name on the number one spot.

Zepton | Courtesy of Rez

They’re over the top and entertaining in their designs

Sure, SHMUPs tend to play well, but another entertaining part about them is the over-the-top approach some of them take to gaming. Some SHMUPs start simple and straightforward: Find the bad guy, put them down, pew pew. Simple, easy to understand, sleek, and stylish.

Desync | Courtesy of Adult Swim Games

But more ridiculous SHMUPs tend to push boundaries. Bullet Hells, a sub-genre of the SHMUP, is notorious for being a visual feast of bullets and effects, which can be found in games like Touhou.

Touhou Fantastic Danmaku Festival | Courtesy of Steam

Whether you’re playing a more recent SHMUP or a classic retro title, chances are you’re in for a treat. Blowing up space stations, fighter ships, dragons, monsters, giant bees, mechanized soldiers, and more is all in a day’s work for a good SHMUP enthusiast.

Giga Wing | Courtesy of Capcom

There’s a lot of good quality ones to pick from

While other genres have up and gone by the wayside, the SHMUP is here to stay. The SHMUP genre is filled with great titles in various sub-genres to pick up and play, some of them free, some paid, but many good.

Space Runaway | Courtesy of 110 Industries

Want something with a roguelike twist? Vampire Survivors has your back, filled to the brim with replayable stages, random items and power-ups, and plenty of characters to pick from. Want to play a retro SHMUP? Try Ikaruga’s rerelease on Steam, one of the classic SHUMP games, which is fully playable on your PC today.

Ikaruga | Courtesy of nicalisblog

Want to try a retro-inspired SHMUP that combines the convenience of the modern day with the design philosophies of the greats? Check out ZPF and download its demo. Inspired by the Sega Genesis games of old, ZPF promises to bring you back to days long gone, with tons of levels and secrets to explore.

ZPF | Courtesy of ZPF Team

There’s no lack of choice in what SHMUPs to play, and that alone keeps it evergreen. It’s a genre that keeps giving, with plenty of sub-genres to explore, plenty of titles to enjoy, and tons of content, both released and to be released, to look forward to. If you’re interested in learning more about SHMUPs, check out a brief rundown of their history here.

This is the Why We Play series, where we dissect the games and genres you love and find out what makes them tick. Join us next week to tackle something different and discover why we play these games!

About the Author

Alexander Cuaycong is a writer with a passion for history and video game. When he’s not busy buried in dusty books, he’s out there trying to make his fantasy worlds come true. For him, gaming isn’t a hobby so much as a calling, and it’s one he’s been doing his best to follow. Whether it’s reviewing games, or writing about their history, he’s on a mission to spread that love with others.

Originally published at https://megacatstudios.com on April 18, 2024.



Mega Cat Studios

Mega Cat Studios is a creative first company based out of Pittsburgh, PA. We love creating games. From retro cartridges to PC & VR, come play with us.