I looked around, and couldn't see much love for the oft-neglected genre of SHMUPS/STGs/Shoot-'em-ups/Bullet-Hell/Shooty-shooty-big-explosions-games etc. I've got a huge soft-spot for them, and was hoping other GWJers would like to have a bit of a chat about the style.
Never played a SHMUP? Well let me start you down the rabbit-hole. I'll stick to titles available on Steam, just to keep things easy.
Likely the most accessible and "western" game on this list. Fantastic pixel-art graphics, and nice difficulty scaling. It's an interesting imitation of the classic style, and the perfect introduction to bullet-hell (it's not quite there, but it has similar stylings).
Take everything you know about good gamefeel, and crank it up to 11. This game is absurd. Far too many pickups and bullets for any reasonable game, but gosh, it works! You have an interesting mix of lock-on missiles and a hyper mode which will cancel enemy fire (you can even rake up double hypers and go for crazy high scores). This includes a novice and arcade mode, so it's a perfect entry-point. Though fair warning, even the novice mode will take you a lot of time to 1 credit clear (it took me 10 hours!). Regularly on sale for $2. If there's one game on this list you try, it should be Crimzon Clover.
Ikaruga! You haven't heard of Ikaruga? Only one of the most notable SHMUPS in the history of shooting bad guys? As much a puzzle game as it is a shooter, you switch between 'polarities' to absorb enemy fire. Careful positioning, tight timing, and quick thinking are required for this one. Absolutely beautiful game. It may not be beginner friendly, but you're not going to be disappointed if it is your first.
Steam's Holy Trinity. SHMUP darling, Cave are the go-to guys for quality. You know big names like Valve, 90's Rare, Blizzard etc? Well Cave hold the same level of prestige among fans of the genre. Notably, the Steam re-releases of these games include about 5 different modes each. Some are rarer cabinets not often seen in the wild. If I recall correctly, the Mega Black Label mode in Deathsmiles derives from a arcade cabinet only available at certain corporate events. Nifty!
A little different from the rest, you are the bug princess (literal translation). The theme alone makes this game an enticing premise; getting away from spaceships and whatnot, it's pure joy seeing the enemy and background design in this game. It's likely the most straight-forward Cave game, but each of them have in-depth scoring mechanisms. You just don't have to worry as much with this one.
Bonus video: Things get a bit crazy (I believe this is from the Futari release)
Back to spaceships (and giant mecha anime girls). My personal favourite, for the shooting mechanics, I swear. 3 different ships to choose from, each with their own unique playstyle. Again, we see a bullet-cancelling hyper akin to Crimzon Clover, but this time the game will start to punish you based on the amount of bullets consumed. Rack up an absurdly high multiplier and be prepared to fight for it. The risk/reward is incredibly enticing.
Halloween-themed horizontal shooter with branching paths between levels. You are able to shoot infront and behind, making for some very interesting enemy patterns. Unlike the other games I've listed where the bottom of the screen is typically safe, you're constantly on your toes here. Very cool.
A recent release, Blue Revolver condenses what a good SHMUP should be into a delightful little package. If I had to describe it in one word, I'd probably say it's "tight". Straight to the point, but it has a very elegant scoring mechanism. You build up a multiplier with regular fire, then "cash it in" using your alternate. It's very fast, very streamlined, and very, very good.
I hope that wasn't too wordy. But there you go! This is a passion of mine I'd love to share with you all. Do you play SHMUPS regularly? Did you used to down at the local arcade? Do you have any recommendations other than those I've listed? Chat away!