10 Great Shoot-em-ups On The Master System

 

 

#1 MOST ASKED QUESTION: “Is Sega Does dead or alive?”

While I’m out gallivanting with the NES book and other assorted projects, writer James Swift of Uncommon Journalism has graciously offered to pen some Sega-themed articles for the site. Expect them once a week for the next while!

 

The Sega Genesis is often considered one of the greatest consoles ever for shoot-em-ups, and rightly so. While the 16-bit powerhouse can lay claim to having some of the greatest shooters ever (Thunder Force III, M.U.S.H.A.), many retro enthusiasts overlook the genre’s presence on the Genesis’ 8-bit predecessor, the Master System. For shame. The following 10 games prove that the Master System houses the finest shoot-em-ups on any 8-bit console.

 

Aerial Assault (1990)

DEVELOPER: Sanritsu Denki

PUBLISHER: Sega

 

 

The  best way to describe Aerial Assault is a side-scrolling version of 1942. The game has a consistent WWII military theme, eschewing the genre’s typical sci-fi tropes … up until the fourth level, when the stage turns into an R-Type-ish labyrinth and you start getting attacked by sentient androids. In addition to its considerable challenge, Aerial Assault has some of the system’s most impressive (and intimidating) genre boss battles. All in all, a fun, no-frills shmup with satisfying and addictive gameplay – although the game never explains how a fighter jet works in the deep, dark vacuum of space. 

 

Astro Warrior (1986)

DEVELOPER/PUBLISHER: Sega

 

 

Astro Warrior might be rough around the edges, but this early SMS release was certainly better than any shmup on the NES up to that point. With virtually no flickering or slowdown, the game gave early Master System adopters the most technologically advanced home console shooter to date, complete with fast, frenetic gameplay that felt darn near arcade-perfect. Of course, the visuals haven’t aged well and the fact that you can beat the game in less than ten minutes may turn off a few players. For its time, however, it gets the job done.

Read the full review.

 

Bomber Raid (1989)

DEVELOPER: Sanritsu Denki

PUBLISHER: Activision

 

 

The spiritual successor to the Atari 2600 classic River Raid is every bit as good as its pioneering forerunner. The visuals are bright and colorful and, unlike most NES shmups from the same era, there’s hardly any flickering or slowdown to ruin the pace and tempo. The action is constant and lightning fast and the boss fights are truly a sight to behold. The enemy types and well-designed levels are icing on the cake. Easily one of the best and most underrated shoot-em-ups of the entire 8-bit era.

Read the full review.

 

Cloud Master (1989)

DEVELOPER: Taito Corp.

PUBLISHER: Sega

 

 

If nothing else, Cloud Master takes home the title of weirdest SMS shmup. In this beautifully animated side-scrolling blast-fest, you play a redheaded kid who (true to the title) rides atop a cloud. Cannon-carrying pigs, sentient bowls of kamikaze instant noodles, and other kooky adversaries all want to take you down. Just wait until you get to the boss fights against the giant green gargoyle with the friar’s haircut and Buddha himself! The animation and sprites in this game are tremendous, and there are plenty of weapon upgrades to keep things interesting. Cloud Master does get a tad repetitive towards the end, but it’s a wacky little adventure while it lasts.

Read the full review.

 

Power Strike (1988)

DEVELOPER: Compile

PUBLISHER: Sega

 

 

Power Strike is a Compile shooter. How could it possibly suck? If you’ve ever played Gun Nac or Zanac on the NES you’ll feel right at home here, as the central gameplay and weapons systems are practically identical. The pace is amazingly fast and there is an astounding amount of action happening on-screen. Add to the mix a ton of beautifully designed stages, and you have all the makings of an absolute must-play shooter.

Read the full review.

 

Power Strike II (1993)

DEVELOPER: Compile

PUBLISHER: Sega

 

 

Not only is Power Strike II the best shmup on the Master System, it might just be the best game on the SMS period. As good as the first Power Strike was, this sequel absolutely outclasses it in every category, with better visuals, better music and gameplay that’s exponentially more intense. This game looks and feels more like a Genesis/TurboGrafx-16 shmup than anything else on the platform. First-time players are sure to have their minds blown witnessing how remarkably fast and fluid Power Strike II is. This is about as close as we’ll ever get to an 8-bit M.U.S.H.A., and if you’re a genre fan you owe it to yourself to give this extraordinary shmup a try.

 

R-Type (1988)

DEVELOPER: Irem

PUBLISHER: Sega

 

 

This was the game that proved once and for all that the SMS was the superior platform for 8-bit shmups. Not only did this port of the arcade classic look better than just about every other shoot-em-up on the home console market, it felt way closer to the coin-op experience than any of the flicker-heavy shooters on Nintendo’s hardware. The stages are huge and exquisitely animated (if you thought the “body horror” stages in Life Force were something else, just wait ‘til you see what R-Type throws at you), and the game runs with zero lag. With 16 enormous levels to plow through, you’re going to be logging a lot of hours with this one.

Read the full review.

 

Sagaia (1992)

DEVELOPER/PUBLISHER: Taito Corp.

 

 

Don’t let the title fool you: Sagaia is actually a port of Darius II. Of course, it isn’t as polished and visually impressive as the Genesis version. But considering the SMS hardware limitations, Sagaia is nonetheless a downright solid shoot-em-up experience. There are six ginormous stages to blast your way through, each with a preposterously oversized end boss awaiting you at the end of every level. The sprites look fantastic, the action is super-challenging and the background effects are some of the best-looking on the Master System. Special shout out to the music, especially that bangin’ track on level three!

Read the full review.

 

Scramble Spirits (1989)

DEVELOPER/PUBLISHER: Sega

 

 

While you really can’t call it a faithful arcade port, Scramble Spirits is still an enjoyable shooter. The pastel-hued levels are vibrant and well-animated, and the twitch action is more intense than you might expect. It has its demerits: the soundtrack is repetitive, all the boss fights take place in mono-colored abysses and you can probably finish the entire game in 20 minutes. Even with these issues, for me, Scramble Spirits‘ entertaining and engaging two-player mode makes it one of the best genre offerings on the system.

Read the full review.

 

Submarine Attack (1990)

DEVELOPER/PUBLISHER: Sega

 

 

Submarine Attack needs to be experienced for its uniqueness. You’re constantly being bombarded by enemy attacks, not only horizontally, but from above and below the ocean, too. The level layout is more of a labyrinth than a straight forward side-scroller, with tons of tricky environmental obstacles all over the place. The sprites are tremendous, with some of the most intimidating looking bosses you’ll see in any Master System offering. The levels, although a bit short, all look great and differ drastically from one stage to the next. Submarine Attack may not be as great a sub-themed shmup as In the Hunt, but it beats the pants off Steel Diver.

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9 thoughts on “10 Great Shoot-em-ups On The Master System

  1. Wonderful list, Dylan! I think the GIFs really help. Thanks the recommendations, I’ll add most of these to my ‘master system games to play’ list.
    By the way, looking forward to your ‘giant hub website’ you foreshadowed. Hope the restructuring is going well. Keep it up, man!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks MetroidFantasy! These are actually guest author James Swift’s recs, not mine. Perhaps I will do my own in a list some day!

      The NES book is close to getting prepped for production, and once that’s finished, work on the new hub website will begin in earnest. I’ll keep y’all in the loop!

      Like

  2. I really love Power Strike II. It’s a hyper-paced shooter with relentless action that would always keep you on your toes. To me, this is Compile’s best shoot-em-up.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ll throw my $.02 in as well, in shock that Fantasy Zone II isn’t on the list, especially over Scramble Spirits, which is a solid shmup, but certainly nothing the NES couldn’t (and didn’t, in a couple cases) do better. However, the rest of the list is respectable. I was not familiar with Submarine Attack, and will definitely have to seek it out!

    Liked by 1 person

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