Beginner's Guide to Shooting Games
Original text by BlackBird.
This guide will give you a thorough overview of the genre and get you started right away.
To get started, you need a:
Picking a Platform
The platform you pick will determine the shmups you can play and how expensive the hobby will be. Choose a console that fits your budget and the shmups you want to play most. Use whatever console you have available. From least to most expensive are:
- PC/Windows – There's a lot of good PC shmups, some of which are even free. You can also emulate to test many arcade shmups that were never ported to home consoles and are no longer widely available. The inexpensive nature of this platform makes it an excellent place to start with, because you can get a feel for the shmups you may like most without spending much.
- iOS – There are several competent mobile ports of the most popular bullet hell games on here. They tend to be cheap, but you need to select your games carefully or you might end up with shovelware or content locked behind a “freemium” paywall. These games are usually easier than their console equivalents because touch controls make movement very swift. It is not the same as a more purist arcade experience, but some players will enjoy the lenient difficulty and the convenience of being able to play anywhere.
- Sega Saturn – It has a superb roster of 32-bit arcade shmups. The console itself is not too expensive to purchase online, but the games themselves can be. Some of the most coveted shmups on this console are expensive collector’s items, but there are a handful of inexpensive gems.
- XBox 360 – Many popular bullet hell games have great ports on this console. If CAVE games are your jam, then you’ll want to start here. If you want to get really hardcore, import a Japanese XBox 360 to ensure maximum compatibility with all the available shmups on the platform, as a few of them are region-locked. There are exceptional shmups at all price points.
- Arcade PCBs – For many games (especially older ones before ports reached arcade parity), the definitive version is undeniably the original arcade version. This will give you the most authentic experience with retro shooters. However, it is also the most expensive way to collect shmups, making it suitable only for dedicated hobbyists. You can also collect by budget.
Choosing a Controller
Use a controller that you're comfortable with and doesn't distract you from focusing on the game. Player skill is more important than input method. However, there is no harm in learning how to use a new controller if you want to. Just be prepared for the extra layer of challenge from familiarizing yourself with said controller on top of learning the game itself.
Each game you play has a different flavour of the genre, and many players are picky about the features they enjoy. Some like dense bullet hell patterns and others like dynamic rank and deep scoring systems. You should explore for a bit to find “your shmup”, a game that strongly appeals to you and will motivate you to develop your skills with.
When you see a crazy pattern, don't freak out. Instead, calmly analyse it and look for ways to simplify the problem.
Recognising and dodging patterns
There are three types of bullets:
- Aimed - These bullets move towards your hitbox, which means you can manipulate their path. Tapping left or right (or up and down if the game scrolls horizontally) is usually enough to dodge, but for broader waves, you can position yourself near the sides of the screen and bait or 'herd' the bullets off-screen quickly so that they don’t get in your way later.
- Static - These bullets will always move the same, regardless of RNG or your position. The best way to dodge these is to memorize the pattern and position yourself ahead of time – look at the empty space in the pattern and see which areas of the screen are the most open and safest to move around in. Static patterns are typically combined with aimed volleys. In this case, you'll need to find a gap in the static pattern large enough to manoeuvre around the aimed bullets at the same time.
- Random - These bullets are unpredictable. It's best to avoid them entirely. If this is impossible, then you'll need to pay careful attention to your surroundings.
Learning how to quickly recognise and avoid each pattern will improve your play. Most are made up of one or two types of bullets.
Where to look on-screen
A common mistake first-time players make is always looking at their hitbox. This can be useful for dense patterns coming at you from all sides, but most of the time, this is a bad idea, because it doesn't let you see oncoming attacks in time to avoid them. Instead, look at the upper area of the screen whenever possible – specifically at any enemies that are appearing, to quickly determine what they're shooting at you. When moving, look ahead of your path to avoid collision with bullets as you move. Try to get an intuitive feel for where your hitbox is, and resist the urge to look directly at yourself unless you absolutely have to. Use your peripheral vision to track your position. As your performance improves, you'll look further away from your hitbox, until eventually you'll completely stop looking at it.
New players also usually hoard their resources. Many shmups give you bombs to escape dangerous situations but you also lose them when you die, if you had any. Bombs aren't any good if you don’t use them in time and die. Bomb preemptively if you can’t read a pattern, are feeling overwhelmed, or you're going to be walled in. As you get better, you'll only have to bomb the most troublesome spots, until finally you won’t need any bombs unless it’s an emergency.
Other common mistakes
Many beginners see a gap in a static pattern or fan of bullets and try to thread through it, or "micrododge". However, this is risky if the gap is too small to fit through. Whenever possible, you should just move around the bullets or "macrododge" instead of through them. Good players will only dodge a couple bullets and avoid the rest by just positioning themselves out of line of fire.
Beginners also usually hug the bottom edge or move into corners, which makes it easy for enemies to wall them in with aimed bullets. Instead, start offset from the center and move in a U-shape pattern to sweep from one half of the screen to the other. Remain calm and dodge patterns with tight, controlled movements. Wildly sweeping around without a plan is the quickest way to collide with incoming bullets.
You should practice only your favourite shmup. By playing the same game over and over, you'll learn it very quickly. Use practice mode or save states to learn one stage at a time. Identify problematic patterns or areas and practice them until you can beat them consistently. Consider beating the same stage twice in a row. Once you've mastered one game, it'll be easier to master others.
Routing is putting together the sections of a shmup that you've mastered into a continuous strategy, like an outline or plan for how to solve each area. Ideally, you'll have a route for the entire game and will only deviate from said route and improvise if something unexpected happens. This way, you'll be composed while playing and have a plan for whatever the game throws at you, to the point where you can do things subconsciously. Developing a route is the product of practice, but you can shortcut this by taking examples from other players. Look up survival clears of your favourite game and learn from someone who knows how to beat it.