What is Shmup? [Gaming Definition, Meaning]

Shmup isn’t the new slang that people are currently using nowadays to greet their friends, although it does sound a little cool. What Shmup actually means is “shoot em’ up”, a term used to describe games where most of the action consists of bullets flying across the screen, and a lot of enemies you’ll need to take down. A lot of these games are what helped to define the entire gaming industry as a whole, and bred new types of genres that are still currently evolving. Shmups are fast paced and a total blast to play whether it be on your own or co op with one of your friends. With each level comes greater difficulty as enemies start to flood more of the screen, and now your every move is imperative to survival. Now that you’ve a better idea of what Shmup means, let’s hop into some more explanations while providing some wicked examples of quite possibly the best shmups in history.

Shooting Everything Quickly

Shmups require a lot of patience and spacial awareness because so much is happening on the screen all at once that, often times you’ll hit an unexpected enemy and die on the spot. Shooting everything quickly is the objective because as you progress further into the level, more and more enemies start to invade and come with more bullets for you to evade. Boss battles are another story because not only do you still sometimes have to deal with the smaller enemies, you’ve got this mammoth looking ship or creature just staring you down ready to destroy your entire existence. There’s only a few lives you have to spare and so using them wisely is a sure way to come out victorious. One of the all time favorite shmups out there is none other than the Gradius franchise, which made its debut back in 1985 and is still played heavily by passionate retro gamers. Let’s take a trip down memory lane with Gradius and see just why it’s such an addicting experience.

Gradius III

  • System/Platform: Arcade, Multi Platform
  • Publisher: Konami
  • Developer: Konami
  • Release Date: November 28, 1998

If we’re talking old school then Gradius is certainly part of the pack because this is one of the games that helped to define the gaming industry as a whole. Whether you were into games or not at the time of its debut (or even alive for that matter) Gradius was the title that people would always pay close attention to, and invest a lot of time into it. Every quarter placed into the machine was a chance to score it big but also a chance to die just as big too, which is what made it such a thrilling game. Fast forward to present day and you’ve so many titles that closely resemble Gradius, but nothing will ever come close to the awesomeness of the original. Gradius III came out in the arcades and blew not only everyone’s mind but their pockets too, because Gradius III to this day is arguably the most difficult out of the entire series.

Hours would go by and much of your spare change would be in the possession of the arcade machine, never to be refunded back to you. Gradius III was beyond frantic as ships and bullets would come at you at lightning speed, and so your reaction time had to most certainly be on point in order to rack up any high score. Konami, the team behind this classic, really made sure to up the ante so that more players would come out just to test their skills and see if they could conquer it. Of course many have come out with their heads held high and enough pocket change to reward themselves with a burger and fries, but those who succumb to the beat down left with their pockets dry and salt flowing through their veins. Either way playing Gradius whether you’re a veteran or not is still an incredible thrill, and if you haven’t had an opportunity to do so now’s the perfect time.

Gradius III Trailer

Addicting Gameplay!

Shmups just have this unique charm to them that no other game can come close to mimicking, and perhaps that’s where all the addiction comes from. Other popular genres at the peak of shmups’ popularity were the beat em’ ups like Streets of Rage, Double Dragon and River City Ransom to name a few, but somehow people were still drawn to the extreme challenge that shmups provided. It was unlike any other game out there and because of that, so many gamers would flock to the arcades just to step their game up and try to conquer these things. FPS games today are what shmups were back in the late 80’s to late 90’s in that, no matter how hard to tried to put the game down and take a breather your hands couldn’t seem to stop pressing every button. The surge in popularity was massive and nobody could ever truly ignore shmups because every arcade you’d enter, there would be a group of people watching. Fortunately with technology and the benefits of PS Plus or Xbox Live, you can purchase some of these classics and one of the best ones for sure is none other than Treasure’s Ikaruga.


  • System/Platform: Arcade, Dreamcast, Gamecube, Xbox 360, Windows
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Treasure
  • Release Date: December 20, 2001

You simply can’t discuss shmups without mentioning Ikaruga, widely considered to be one of the greatest shmups of all time and is still played even today on modern consoles. Classics like Gradius are still very much alive and well, but no other game has truly stayed in the spotlight as long as Ikaruga. Maybe it’s the glorious design aesthetics that make it stand out, or the wild and crazy music that keeps you hooked. Whatever the case may be, Ikaruga is an unforgettable title with plenty of perks to keep you coming back for more. After you’re done playing and you hop into bed, your fingers are still tapping away in dreamland as you come up with strategies to build up a high score. Perhaps the main takeaway from Ikaruga though is in its gameplay in that, there’s this constant shift between light and dark so players would have to adjust to the constantly changing patterns on screen in order to take out the correct enemies. Light can absorb other light bullets but only do half damage while dark follows the same premise, so you’re constantly going back and forth between colors fighting this game of risk vs reward every time.

Everything sounds easy on paper but the minute you hop into the game, everything is fast and furious with no slowing down for anybody. The game doesn’t care if you’re a seasoned veteran or a day one rookie, it will test you beyond your limits and take you on a wild ride. Some players have showcased their talents on Youtube that show them beating the entire game in one sitting, or playing the entire game in 2 player controlling both controllers with each hand. Of course this is beyond mind blowing, but this just goes to show you the amount of skill, practice and patience you need to achieve mastery at this game. It also demonstrates how godlike of a game it is that people would go to great lengths just to prove their prowess.

Ikaruga Trailer

Non Stop Fun

So you all know by now that shmups are a defining genre in the game industry and that they’re addicting, so it should come as no surprise that they’re packed full of fun and it’s non-stop every time. What makes shmups so fun is that there’s always this new element of challenge that’s introduced to you every time you play, and so you often find yourself trying to come up with new solutions in order to overcome obstacles in the way. We also mentioned that playing alongside a friend or even a complete stranger is another aspect that truly makes playing shmups even more satisfying, because now teamwork is encouraged and now two heads must work in unison to ensure victory at all costs. Let us take a look at our final example and this one also goes quite a ways back, it’s none other than Radiant Silvergun.

Radiant Silvergun

  • System/Platform: Sega Saturn, Arcade, Xbox 360
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Treasure
  • Release Date: May 23, 1998

Radiant Silvergun is an instant classic that released on the Sega Saturn and arcade back during the period when Saturn was at the apex of its popularity. Much like the other shmups out at the time, Radiant Silvergun was fast paced, colorful and a totally enthralling experience for anyone that decided to jump in. This game was made by Treasure, the same team behind Ikaruga and is actually the predecessor to that title so you can clearly see where the inspiration came from now. While the premise still remains simple in that, all you need to do is shoot down enemy ships and not die, all of that is easier said than done when you’re constantly being overwhelmed every second.

This beloved shmup just has all of the right perks that make it such a genuine title, and we wish that Treasure would do a shmup bundle re-release of some kind to commemorate their amazing games and their legacy. One of the selling points in Radiant Silvergun when compared to other games of the genre is the diversity in weapons, which you can combine together to create very distinct and powerful upgrades. Unlike the conventional shmup where you need to collect power ups on the fly to stay alive, Radiant Silvergun provides you with three main guns from the get go which can be fused together to create a total of six weapons. Furthermore, you’re also equipped with this godlike energy sword which you can use to tear down the enemy at close range, while also absorbing any incoming attacks to use as a massive counter to clear the entire screen of enemies. With an addicting soundtrack along with very serious attention to detail pertaining to level design, Radiant Silvergun is one game that’s non stop fun every time.

Radiant Silvergun - Xbox Live Arcade Trailer

Final Thoughts

Shmups nowadays don’t have that same luster as previous titles have, and to say that is quite dejecting. So many developers now are opting for the more graphic overhauls and open world thrills, which isn’t bad by any means, but it would be nice to pay some respects to one of the genres that made it all happen in the first place. Hopefully more indie companies will come out of the woodwork and bring back some retro titles for us, but until then we’ll leave you with some honorable mentions to check out in your free time. Galaga, Strikers 1945, Super Aleste and R-Type just to name a few. Let us know what other shmups you played and what your experience was like in the comments below. Be sure to also spread the love and share your favorite Honey’s Anime articles on social media to keep the community growing!

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

Gradius-III-game-Wallpaper-500x500 What is Shmup? [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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