Essential buyer’s guide

Fire away: the best shoot 'em ups on PS4 and PS5

From old-school high score chasers to white-knuckle next-gen stunners, there's a shmup for any skill level.

Essential buyer's guide

Fire away: the best shoot 'em ups on PS4 and PS5

From old-school high score chasers to white-knuckle next-gen stunners, there's a shmup for any skill level.

Terminology: What is a 'Shmup'?

A cheeky portmanteau of 'shoot 'em up', a 'shmup' is the modern short-hand for any traditional, arcade-style shooter. It spans a range of subgenres, but if you're shooting and dodging, you're probably playing a shmup.

Keep it movin'

Run-and-gunners

Metal Slug Anthology | 2016

SNK’s venerable series may have grown beyond its Neo Geo origins, but its fluid sprite work, richly detailed backgrounds, massive bosses and tongue-in-cheek sense of humour are as much of a delight now as they were in the '90s. This collection cobbles together no less than seven Metal Slug games (1-6 and X) in one convenient package.

Blazing Chrome | 2019

A true homage to the side-scrolling shoot 'em ups of early '90s, Blazing Chrome mixes together a myriad of influences from the arcade shooter hey-day, delivering a mixture of modern and retro which is just as much fun to master in solo runs as it is to tear through with a friend. 

Contra Anniversary Collection | 2019

A seminal series that has graced multiple platforms, Contra is a true icon of the arcade shooter genre. This collection brings five of the series' most spectacular titles to PS4 in a variety of regional and console variants. All offer the same mix of power-ups, co-op play and ballistic sci-fi mayhem that made the series so influential.

Huntdown | 2020

Huntdown embraces the look and feel of the 1980s so whole-heartedly it could almost pass for a 16-bit platform shooter. Its pure action-movie excess and snappy side-scrolling action are as addictive as they are engaging and the pure passion poured into the project oozes from every pixel.

Terminology: What is 'Bullet Hell'?

An intense, skill-based genre where you're bombarded with lethal projectiles, explosives and hazards. 'Bullet Hell' games put as much focus on positioning, planning and dodging as they do on shooting.

Point and shoot

Twin sticks and side-scrollers

Enter the Gungeon | 2016

A dodge roll-driven, top-down bullet hell roguelike that randomizes levels with every death, Enter the Gungeon is about style, skills and really silly guns. Though every run is unique, the cash pocketed on runs can unlock permanent drops in the titular Gungeon that deepen successive dives in a quest to find the ultimate weapon.

Cuphead | 2020

Combining the 'rubber hose' animation stylings of the 1930s with the masterful boss-rush, run-and-gun mechanics of classic arcade games, Cuphead is at once one of the most visually sumptuous and downright fiendishly difficult games on this list. You make a deal with the devil; you pay the price.

PS4 | Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions | 2014

Infused with the same frenetic, claustrophobic twin-stick shooting mechanics as the first two games, Dimensions breathes new life into the classic genre with innovative 3D level layouts. Everything else remains satisfyingly familiar though: dodge, shoot, destroy enemies and scoop up their bonuses to smash the scoreboards.

An arcade legacy

The evolution of Housemarque

Formed in 1995 from the burgeoning Finnish indie demoscene, Housemarque’s longstanding dedication to arcade-style shooters has won it a devoted fanbase and a fearsome reputation. It's unique blend of bleeding-edge tech and tight, old-school gameplay made its PlayStation debut in 2007, with its most recent release, Returnal, winning widespread critical acclaim.

Notable releases

Super Stardust Ultra | 2015

Building on the PS3's modern re-imagining of this Amiga classic, Super Stardust Ultra brings the series' signature astroid busting action to PS4 along with a broad suite of multiplayer options, improved performance and visuals, and global online leaderboards to challenge friends and best rivals.

More in this series: Super Stardust HD [PS3] 2007, Super Stardust Portable [PSP] 2008, Super Stardust Delta [PS Vita] 2012, Super Stardust Ultra VR [PS VR] 2016

Dead Nation | 2014

Dead Nation saw Housemarque evolve thier design, switching to a fresh angle and a grungy new aesthetic. The same dash, multiplier and power-up mechanics that made its prior games so addictive are all here, but now bolstered by sprawling level design, environmental hazards and a deeper, post-apocalyptic narrative.

Also available on: PS3, PS Vita

Resogun | 2013

A return to the old-school aesthetics of Housemarque's earlier games, Resogun puts on a dazzling technical display, using 3D voxels and GPU accellerated particles to create massive, morphing alien hordes and screenfilling ballistic effects. Dashes, score multipliers and power-ups are key, alongside a frantic race to rescue Earth's last human survivors.

Also available on: PS3, PS Vita

Alienation | 2016

Using the same twin-stick approach as Dead Nation, Alienation combines the tight, top-down gameplay with added role-playing elements, weapon upgrades and three different character classes to choose from. With a suprisingly deep end-game, online leaderboards and tactically focused co-op, Alienation is an addictively replayable arcade experience.

Nex Machina | 2017

Co-created with industry luminary Eugene Jarvis (creator of classics like Robotron 2084 and Defender), Nex Machina is Housemarque's thumb-shredding tribute to hardcore arcade classics. Tight controls and blistering bullet hell encounters make for an intense, fast-paced shooter focused on mastery, multipliers and pure technical finesse. 

Returnal | 2021

A cutting-edge culmination of two and half decades of development, Returnal combines many of Housemarque's signature motifs (power-ups, dashes, bullet hell and boss battles) with stunning new visuals and a deep science fiction narrative. Harnessing the cyclical design of a roguelike, each death in Returnal informs the next randomized run through Atropos's deadly alien environments.

Terminology: What is 'Tate'?

Prounounced “tah-tay,” this Japanese term literally means “vertical” and refers to the orientation of screens in arcades that would sometimes match the top-down gameplay, rotating a screen on its side so that it was taller than it was wide. Some console editions continued this, leading to actual TVs being turned on their side for maximum at-home authenticity.

Proudly old-school

Classic arcade shooters

Ikaruga | 2018

Ikaruga’s central mechanic is simple but elegant: your ship flips between dark and light modes that absorb matching oncoming projectiles. This leads to wildly shifting patterns of screen-filling projectiles through which you must carefully navigate, taking down enemies and honing your skills.

Sol Cresta | 2022

Join the fourth battle in the Cresta series, stretching back to the Japanese arcades of the 80s. Fast forward four decades and the saga continues with this full-on, finger-twitching shmup with patterned enemy waves, retro visuals and the ability to dock with ally ships and merge into a super-ship.

Panzer Dragoon: Remake | 2020

This much-loved cult classic came to PS4 in 2020 with sharp new visuals and improved preformance. If you missed it back in the '90s, now's the perfect time to climb astride your mighty dragon and check out the surreal vistas and 360-degree shoot 'em up mechanics that made it such an enduring favourite.

R-Type Final 2 | 2021

R-Type’s formula, forged in the febrile atmosphere of the '80s arcade scene, has changed little over the years: a lone ship, waves of invading aliens and a hefty suite of power-ups to collect. Customise your ship, stack your power-ups and unleash screen-shattering attacks to lay waste to the game's grotesque, bio-mechanical bosses.

Terminology: True Last Boss

Shoot ‘em ups are already tough, but classic games sometimes hid an extra, optional final boss that could only be revealed by performing a truly great showcase of skill such as surviving the entire game on a single life (“no-miss”) or without continuing (“1cc”).

A matter of perspective

Isometric shooters

Ruiner | 2017

Drawing influence from the Japanese cyberpunk scene of the '80s, Ruiner is a feverishly tense and violent tech-noir action shooter. The classic twin-stick controls are combined with a clever time-stop mechanic that encourages you to mix strategy and brutality to pull off some bone-crunchingly satisfying kill-streaks.

Assault Android Cactus | 2016

AAC infuses its twin-stick shooting with a kind of candy-colored flair that complements the tight controls and lightning-fast gameplay. Though the odds are stacked sky-high (with your battery power constantly draining), power-ups are plentiful and the tables can turn on a dime – important because the levels are constantly changing size and layout!

PS4 | Helldivers | 2015

A chaotic co-op shooter with personality to spare, Helldivers puts a strong emphasis on team play and trust as you air drop onto remote alien planets, gunning down enemies and gathering resources as the proud ambassadors of Super Earth. A tongue-in-cheek homage to sci-fi B-movie classics, Helldivers is as hazardous as it is hilarious.

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