Best Shoot’em Ups on the SNES

Shooters, Shoot’em ups, or Shmups were a staple of the 80s and 90s. Many of the arcade games from this period were brought to the home console. Some made improvements to the arcade design, while most were straight ports of the arcade games.

The SNES isn’t the system I associate with the genre. Even in modern reassessments of the SNES library, the RPGs are often talked about more than other games. The Sega Genesis and the TurboGrafx 16 are more known for their shooters.

I have some fond memories of collecting SNES games and playing them with my friends. I wanted to take another look at the SNES shooters. Let’s take a look at the list that I came up with.

Selection criteria

Let’s talk about what qualifies for this list. I’m not just going to be putting any random game on this list. Here are the criteria I used to compile this list:

  • Released for the SNES or Super Famicom
  • The game has to be in my collection

Raiden Trad

Developer: Electro Brain

Genre: Vertical Scrolling Shooter

Review Score: 6.9/10 (MobyGames)

This is a port of the first Raiden arcade game. For some reason, traditional was shortened to Trad; I guess marketing thought it sounded cool. Either way, it is extremely fun.

Raiden Trad is a vertical-scrolling shooter similar to Capcom’s 1942. It incorporates power-ups similar to Gradius, and it also has the one-hit deaths that are typical of other arcade games.

Raiden is my second favorite series of shooters next to the Darius series. I found this to be one of the better games on this list. I like vertically-scrolling shooters more than the horizontal style, and I liked the game’s futuristic setting.

Super R-Type

Developer: Irem

Genre: Side Scrolling Shooter

Review Score: 61/100 (GameRanking)

R-Type is a classic arcade shooter franchise. It mixes body horror with science fiction to stand out from the crowded field of side-scrolling shooters that take place in space. These are also difficult games that rely on memorizing the levels. This is common in arcade games as they tried to get as many quarters from their players as possible.

Super R-Type is a partial port of the second game in the R-Type series. The game has seven stages, three original and four borrowed from R-Type II. The game has no checkpoints, making it much more challenging than other Shooters on the system.

Super R-Type is one of those frustrating games that makes you want to keep playing. For some reason, Super R-Type was one of the first games I picked up in the late 90s. I was buying anything I came across back then, and games like this were familiar as I played them quite a bit.


Developer: Nintendo

Genre: Rail Shooter

Review Score: 88/100 (GameRanking)

While the game doesn’t look great today, it was very impressive for a SNES game at the time. It is a fun game, but the third-person perspective isn’t my preferred way to play a shooter.

StarFox is a rail shooter. You’re traveling on a set path, and enemies appear in front of you. It uses a third-person perspective which helps to fake 3-D. The graphics are all polygons and help to make this look like a 3-D game. You can take multiple paths to get to the end, which gives this quite a bit of replayability.

I don’t remember much about the SNES version of StarFox. When I went back to play it, I thought it was a fun game. However, I’m not a fan of third-person shooters like this.

Earth Defense Force

Developer: Jaleco

Genre: Side Scrolling Shooter

Review Score: 6.3/10 (MobyGames)

This was a fun game to play. I bought it a while ago, tested it to see if it worked, and then set it on a shelf. When I revisited it for this list, I found a pretty good shooter that I felt should be included here.

While this is a standard shooter, Earth Defense Force (EDF) gives the player three hit points. You can also find upgrades to bring it to five hit points.

Gradius III

Developer: Konami

Genre: Side Scrolling Shooter

Review Score: 77/100 (GameRanking)

This is my favorite game in the Gradius series. I think it is the first game I played in the series, but my memory is a bit foggy. It is one of the games that I picked up in the late 90s.

Gradius III is a side-scrolling shooter set in space. Not just regular space, though; it is cool space where you transition from one tunnel to another. The transitions are rough but acceptable for the time the game was released.

Like many arcade ports, Gradius III has one-hit deaths and requires some level memorization to get through the game. However, the SNES port is relatively easy compared to the Gradius series’ NES ports. For a long time, this was my favorite shooter on the SNES.

Sunset Riders

Developer: Konami

Genre: Run-and-Gun

Review Score: 7.6/10 (MobyGames)

Konami made a lot of fun shooters in the 80s and 90s. Sunset Riders is one of the few that could’ve been considered a hidden gem as the internet brought more attention to some video games. That was how I learned about this game, and I think it is one of the better run-and-gun shooters out there.

In Sunset Riders, you play as a cowboy. The game is like a slow version of Contra but set in the wild west. In some ways, it reminds me of Contra Hardcore with a collection of playable characters. Having four characters to choose from was a nice touch.

It is always fun to find a game like Sunset Riders. It also reminds me of how Konami used to make games that people wanted to play. Coming back to it after a few years was fun.


Developer: Zoom Inc.

Genre: Side Scrolling Shooter

Review Score: 56/100 (GameRanking)

This game is best known for its odd North American box art, which prominently displays an old man in a rocking chair and his dog. If you look closely, you can see a spaceship, but nothing here indicates what type of game it is. If you were collecting loose cartridges in the late 90s, you probably saw this game and were confused. I know I was! I’m assuming it is his dog.

Assuming you ignored the cover art, you would find a solid side-scrolling shooter. You can change your speed on the fly, and the game gives you a few hit points, which is unusual for a shooter from this time. You can also replenish your life with certain power-ups. Your ship also carries up to three weapons at a time.

Phalanx has several features that help it stand out. It is a fun shooter saddled with bad box art in North America. I remember seeing a bunch of copies of it in the used game stores back in the 90s.


Developer: Athena

Genre: Side Scrolling Shooter

Review Score: 22/40 (Famitsu)

This beautiful game doesn’t get the respect I think it deserves. It is a hard game with great graphics and a unique shield mechanic. It is also a fast passed game that leans into the tropes of arcade shooters a bit too much.

In Biometal, you have a shield that can be activated at any time. However, it has a timer that must be recharged once it is expended. I like this idea a lot as it adds some strategy to the game. Aside from the shield, you’re doing the same things you would expect from a side-scrolling shooter. The game can be a little challenging at points, but it is one of the better shooters on the SNES.

This is another game I came across while collecting video games in the late 90s. I was really into it back then, especially after a friend told me it wasn’t anything special. He usually did this when trying to hype up a game he liked and expected me to like.   

Darius Twin

Developer: Taito

Genre: Side Scrolling Shooter

Review Score: 59/100 (GameRanking)

It has robotic fish enemies! This is my favorite game in the Darius series, which is my favorite series of shooters. I’ve talked about this game quite often, so I’ll keep this short.

Darius Twin is similar to other arcade shooters. You pilot a ship, collect power-ups, and blast through an endless wave of enemies until you face a giant boss. In the case of Darius, that boss is a huge robotic fish.

I was drawn to the Darius series because it differed from what my friends liked. Specifically, my friend Drew liked the Gradius series, and I wanted to be different. After playing Darius Twin, I started collecting the other Darius games. However, I still return to this one; it is my favorite game in the series and my favorite shooter on the SNES.

U.N. Squadron

Developer: Capcom

Genre: Side Scrolling Shooter

Review Score: 87/100 (GameRanking)

I played Area 88, which is the Super Famicom version of the game. This quickly became my favorite shooter on the SNES—the game’s story and the media it was based on got me hooked.

Area 88/U.N. Squadron is a side-scrolling shooter with a handful of features that separate it from other games on this list. You have a life bar, shop, and you can buy different ships and weapons. There are three characters to choose from. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses.

This is a great game! I also got into the 1985 anime as well. Area 88 looks great and has terrific gameplay. It quickly became my favorite shooter on the SNES, and I wish I had played it for my Best SNES games list.

Best of the Rest

Unfortunately, I couldn’t include every game on this list. I haven’t played many of the shooters that were on the Super Famicom. Here are some of the other games are good but were left off for various reasons:

  • Contra: Alien Wars
  • Axelay
  • Space Mega Force
  • Aero Fighters
  • R-Type III
  • BlaZeon
  • Imperium
  • Thunder Spirits
  • Cotton 100%
  • Macross: Scrambled Valkyrie
  • Wolfenstein 3D
  • Doom


This was fun to put together. There are a handful of games on this list that I either hadn’t played before or in a while. I also had to decide on games I enjoy but probably don’t belong on this list because of the version on the SNES.

There are plenty of great shooters that I’ve yet to play. It is a fun genre to explore on the console, even if they play better on an arcade cabinet. It is fun to see how the genre changed over the years and how ports were altered to fit the consoles.

I’m looking forward to trying out the shooters on my other consoles. Whenever I make a list like this, I tend to discover something I’ve never played before. It’s like discovering something unique and getting to experience a game for the first time.

Published by Paul Werkema

Hi! I'm here to share my hobbies with all of you. I love video games and books, so I write about the books that cover video games or are novels about video games.

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