What is Rail Shooter? [Gaming Definition, Meaning]

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What is a Rail Shooter? You’re Not on a Roller Coaster, That’s For Sure!

Just as the title says, rail shooters have very little to do with being on a train, although there are some levels within some of those titles that have you shooting enemies off the train. A rail shooter is an action based game which the player uses a gun to shoot enemies in a virtual world, with limitations as to the direction in which players can shoot from. It is called rail because similar to a roller coaster, the player cannot control his or her path from the start until the end of the game. It is all constructed for you and pretty much all that’s required is that you blast enemies that pop up on screen, and follow along the path the game takes you. This can be seen as quite bland when you now look at games like Horizon Zero Dawn or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, both of which are very open world, but during the peak of the arcade buzz in North America, rail shooters were massively popular. In Japan, you still see plenty of them in the local arcades, but much like North America they seemed to have died down since more people now favor the home console experience. Be that as it may, rail shooters are still fun with a group of friends or even a fun date, so let us take a closer look at what it means and some of the more favorable titles in the rail shooter genre.

One Direction

No we’re not talking about the pop group, but rather the way in which rail shooters are developed. They aren’t made to take players on this fantastical open world journey, but rather to keep you restricted within a certain area and have you take out a horde of enemies with a time limit. This creates a very fast paced environment where reaction times must be high, and your hand eye coordination needs to be on point. Most times rail shooters have players standing in front of a big screen where lots of things are happening all at once, and you’ll have to decide how to take each enemy out without dying. You sometimes will need to tap your foot to reload, or pull your gun away from the screen in order to replenish your bullets. Other types of rail shooters have you seated and watch the scenes play out in front of you, while your finger is on the trigger waiting for the next enemy to jump out at you. Despite its limitations, rail shooters are incredibly fun and engaging and one that has always been number one in terms of thrill is none other than Sega’s House of the Dead.

House of the Dead 4

  • System/Platform: Arcade, PlayStation 3
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Wow Entertainment
  • Release Date: December 30, 2005

One of the games that really sparked a lot of attention but also helped to revolutionize the rail shooter genre was none other than House of the Dead. The game’s formula of course has been seen before, preferably in Capcom’s Resident Evil where hordes of flesh eating zombies torment the down and you need to take them out before the city turns to ruin. That very same formula now allows you to take control of that gun and do things the way you like, whether you want to look fancy shooting a gun or go straight out Al Capone style. This was the shining point of House of the Dead because it took what we already knew and established in our minds and brought it to life by allowing us to feel more in control. Of course the game was on scripted path and so you couldn’t really explore any hidden territory, but you could still do everything else such as pick up different types of guns and raise hell like never before. Taking your foot off the pedal would allow you to come out from behind the wall and shoot down anything that moves, then quickly stop your foot back down to take cover and prevent further damage.

Within 5-10 seconds you’ll be quickly reloading your gun and going right back at it, and this constant adrenaline rush is what makes playing House of the Dead satisfying. You’re so afraid dying but you also want to rack up a ton of points to place onto the leaderboards, so it’s this back of forth of wanting to show off how good you are but not look like a total buffoon trying to do so. Each stage gradually became more challenging with an eventual boss battle that would take place, and this time very little mistakes can be made. Projectiles are flying at you from every direction on screen, while the boss is racing towards you in order to claw you across the face to kill you. So not only do you need to be constantly aware of your surroundings, your eyes must always be locked on the bigger enemy hunting you down.

House of the Dead 4 Announcement Trailer

Nowhere to Run

Since there’s very little room for you to move in a rail shooter, there’s nowhere to run since everything rushes right at you without warning. This can of course be a good thing and a bad thing depending on how you look at it, but generally rail shooters have typically garnered a lot of positive reception from those who’ve dabbled with it. It’s by no means your quintessential FPS home console experience, but it certainly requires you to get used to the environment very quickly since you only have so much time to play. Most rail shooter games are quite pricey ranging around the 200 to sometimes 300 yen just for maybe one or two plays, but for the fun that you get out of it all it’s often worth the change. One game in particular is just so jam packed full of action that money will be drained out of your pockets, and that’s Time Crisis.

Time Crisis 5: True Mastermind

  • System/Platform: Arcade
  • Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
  • Developer: Bandai Namco Games
  • Release Date: August 20, 2015

Time Crisis has been around for just as long as House of the Dead, but both differ in terms of their overall style of play. One focuses more on blowing the heads off of brain dead zombies, while the other has you teaming up with a squad and shooting down criminals with whatever weapon you have at your disposal. Oftentimes you’ll come across a wicked rocket launcher that’ll pop up on screen, and so to equip it you’ll need to shoot at the icon. While that may sound simple, try doing that when enemies have launchers of their own, and you’ve got 7 to 8 missiles headed straight for you. If one hits you that takes off a massive chunk of health, and if 2 hits you then it’s time to throw in another 200 yen. By the time you’re finished all of your transport and gyoza money is out the window, all because Time Crisis consumed your life. It’s just that addicting to play this game because every scenario is different, despite having such a linear approach to design. Bullets are flying left and right while you’re desperately trying to shoot at any new weapon you can find to make your experience easier, but the game just doesn’t allow you.

While that does sound infuriating it’s in fact the whole selling point of the game, it’s that you’re meant to die fast so that of course Namco can laugh to the bank, but moreso to keep you coming back for more. Had things just been a walk in the park then perhaps you’d be yelling at how expensive the game is and not provide any merit in return. In Time Crisis 5: True Mastermind, everything that you loved from the arcade versions along with the console versions are all in this nicely designed package, and takes the hype to a whole new level. Map layouts and design are far more superior than its predecessors, with framerate performance staying at a nice consistent 60FPS which means wicked speed, and lightning reflexes for anyone who tries to master it. Sadly, the game is only in Japan at the moment, so if you want to pick up the light gun and shoot away then be sure to drop by any major arcade in Tokyo to take part in the action!

Time Crisis 5: True Mastermind Trailer

A Thrill Ride

We’re not talking about roller coasters, although they too provide a thrill of their own. Rail shooters provide this extra added appeal that just make playing them such a thrill, and it’s because everything is being thrown at you with such speed that you’ll always need to keep up. One minor slow down in your actions could result in a bomb hitting you or taking too many bullets to the face, and so being on your best behavior is paramount when it comes to playing rail shooters at a high level. Sega has mastered the art of rail shooters and you can clearly see that in their titles such as House of the Dead, but if there’s truly one game that shows off a lot of polish it most certainly is Virtua Cop 3. Making its debut back in 2003, Virtua Cop 3 came out at a time when the console wars were erupting and many arcades at that time were starting to fade away, especially in North America. If there was one shining light that brought attention back to the arcades it was definitely Virtua Cop 3, so let’s take a closer look at it.

Virtua Cop 3

  • System/Platform: Arcade
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sega AM2
  • Release Date: March 2003

Sega has a plethora of titles in their historically long catalog, and while many may have forgotten a lot of them along the way we find it hard to forget Virtua Cop 3. Sega’s popular Virtua style series came in a variety of ways, from sports with its Virtua Tennis franchise, to fighting with its Virtua Fighter. Virtua Cop 3 was the title that focused on rail shooting and made a lot of sense because, you play as a team of skilled cops who must shoot their way through a gang of criminals in order to take down the new crime syndicate known as ECM. The gameplay made some really great changes to make it all stand out, one of which was implementing a slow motion bullet time feature referred to as ES Mode in game.

As you’d expect, you’ll be able to slow down time and take out as many enemies as you can and the more you take out you can replenish your ES meter.Virtua Cop 3 also allowed you to swap between various weapons by simply pressing a button on the light gun, which compared to before you’d only be limited to just using one weapon at a time. The great thing about Virtua Cop 3 is that you could choose between three missions all of which come with their own difficulty, along with a unique story to go along with it. You can choose from simple chapter, normal chapter and hard chapter, but depending on how you perform you can also unlock the ultimate chapter. This game is incredibly fun and is indicative of just how innovative of a company Sega has been since the early 90’s up until now. Not only did Virtua Cop 3 open new doors of opportunity for other companies to take advantage of, but it leaves behind an amazing legacy as one of the best rail shooters out there.

Final Thoughts

We’d like to shout out some other very notable rail shooter titles and some of them may bring back feelings of nostalgia. Area 51 was one of the earlier rail shooters out there, releasing back in the mid 1990’s. Then you have the classic Crisis Zone, the spin off of the popular Time Crisis series, Jurassic Park, the sniper’s favorite Silent Scope and many others. Which rail shooter do you remember playing growing up? Do you still find them to be entertaining now that you’ve grown up? Or has it now become too expensive for your pockets to accept? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and be sure to spread the love on social media by sharing our articles with the world!

As always for all things sweet, be sure to keep it locked here on Honey’s Anime.

House-of-the-Dead-4-Wallpaper-500x500 What is Rail Shooter? [Gaming Definition, Meaning]


Author: Rob "NualphaJPN" B.

A passionate fan of gaming, writing, journalism, anime, and philosophy. I've lived in Japan for many years and consider this place to be my permanent home. I love to travel around Japan and learn about the history and culture! Leave a comment if you enjoy my articles and watch me play on twitch.tv/honeysgaming ! Take care!

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