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The Best PC Shmups for 2021



Shoot ’em ups, a video game genre that’s unfortunately also known by the linguistically repugnant term “shmups,” is a category that’s graced the industry for decades. Like beat ’em ups, shoot ’em ups were arcade staples that have found new life on home video game consoles when cabinets began vanishing from laundromats, pizza joints, and bodegas. Thankfully, you no longer need to own a console to experience hot shooter action; the PC has become a red-hot platform for wrecking enemies with massive firepower.

What Is a Shmup?

For those not in the know, a shoot ’em up is a game that sees you take control of a craft—sometimes a character—and wage war against enemy forces, typically in horizontally or vertically scrolling aerial combat. They can be simple affairs that see you dodge, fire, return fire, and drop the occasional bomb; they can also be highly complex affairs involving counters, deflections, and combo systems. Think Gradius, Super Star Soldier, or Thunderforce.

The biggest difference between one shooter and another is its type. At the moment, the most popular shooter sub-genre is bullet hell, a style that absolutely destroys novice pilots. Enemies fill the screen with destructive colored firepower that makes pinpoint movement and spatial awareness a must and relaxing your sphincter impossible. Still, if you’re up for a challenge, bullet hell shooters are addicting adrenaline rushes. There are also fixed, rail, tube, and many other shoot ’em up types that you can learn about at RacketboyRacketboy‘s Shmups 101 page.

Fortunately, there’s a wide variety of shoot ’em ups available to PC gamers, ranging from bullet hell to traditional. If you’re looking to explore what the genre offers, consider this guide a launchpad.

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