The 10 best Turbografx 16 Shmups Ranked - Great Shoot'em Ups

When most people think of the TurboGrafx-16 system—wait, let’s rephrase that. Pretty much no one thinks about the TurboGrafx-16 system, ever. After all, it’s just another console that lost the console wars because it wasn’t good enough, right?

Wrong! Sadly, this wonderful console had a lot to offer before it bit the dust. And much of this content was exclusive to the system.

Particularly, there are a lot of amazing TurboGrafx shmups that retro game enthusiasts are missing out on. Besides exclusive games, the system offers several arcade ports that are often better than the original. Read on to learn more about the best TurboGrafx shmups ever made.

1. R-Type

Best Turbografx 16 ShmupsR-Type is one of the most famous arcade shmups, and one of the earliest to be ported onto home game consoles. Notably, the NES port was an enormous success and is still popular among retro gamers today.

Technically speaking, though, the TurboGrafx version is a more faithful port and a better game overall. In fact, compared to the arcade game, this port has only a few barely noticeable graphical changes.

Gameplay

R-Type has a very high difficulty level, requiring players to dodge walls and objects as well as enemies and lasers. To fight back, you can shoot rapid-fire shots or take out multiple enemies at once with a charged shot.

Even better, R-Type features a versatile secondary weapon called a Force pod. There are 3 ways to use the Force pod.

It can attach to the front or back of your ship as a shield/weapon enhancer. Notably, attaching it to the back of your ship is the only way to shoot at the enemies behind you. You can also let the force pod float around on its own, shooting in many directions at once.

2. Gradius

Best Retro ShmupsLike R-Type, Gradius was also a huge arcade/NES hit before joining the TurboGrafx shmup lineup. And unlike most arcade ports before it, the TurboGrafx version actually improves upon the original with sound enhancements and exclusive content. As a result, many players consider this incarnation of Gradius to be the best version ever released.

For instance, this port features a higher-quality remix of the original soundtrack. It also has an additional level that wasn’t present in the arcade. Although, this bonus level resembles a level from the earlier MSX release of the game.

Gameplay

Gradius was always an exceptional shooter—way ahead of its time. Its most memorable feature is that it gives you multiple opportunities to customize your ship mid-level.

Specifically, there are 6 different aspects of your ship that you can upgrade. These categories are listed at the bottom of the screen as Speedup, Missile, Double, Laser, Option, and “?”.

When you collect a powerup orb, it highlights the first category (Speedup). Each additional orb moves the cursor one space to the right, eventually looping back to Speedup. At any time, the player can activate their upgrade of choice when the desired category is highlighted.

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3. Seirei Senshi Spriggan

Best 90s ShmupsSpeaking of ship customization, few shmups do it better than Seirei Senshi Spriggan. This is another top-notch shooter by Compile, the masters behind the popular Aleste shmups. Seirei Senshi Spriggan features a mix-and-match powerup system for upgrading/customizing your ship’s weapons.

Gameplay

Like many TurboGrafx shoot ‘em ups, the player collects color-coded orbs to upgrade their weapons of choice. The cool part is, Seirei Senshi Spriggan lets you combine up to 3 different types of weapons. Each unique color combination creates a different weapon or firing style.

Plus, when you want to try a new combination, you jettison one of your colored orbs at the enemy. The sacrificed orbs double as super-powerful bombs, adding even more strategy to the game.

It’s a lot of fun experimenting with the different combinations to find the one you like best. If you want a shmup with gameplay that’s deeper than just “POW, POW, POW,” you’ve gotta try Seirei Senshi Spriggan.

4. Soldier Blade

Best 90s ShmupsHudson Soft’s Soldier Blade may just be the perfect retro shmup for general gaming audiences. The difficulty level is balanced—not too difficult— and the gameplay is simple and intuitive.

As for appearance, the graphics are so crisp and detailed that they push the boundaries of what a 16-bit system can do. The soundtrack is also excellent. Even better, the game isn’t plagued by the familiar slowdown that often accompanies graphically superior shmups.

In short, playing it feels like a true retro arcade experience. But it’s not. Soldier Blade is exclusively available for the TurboGrafx 16.

 

Gameplay

Soldier Blade’s powerup system is similar to that of Seirei Senshi Spriggan. You can stack the colored powerups that you collect in order to upgrade your weapon.

Change your color combination to combine different weapons. Or, max out a specific weapon by stacking 3 powerups of one color. Stacked powerups can also be used as bombs.

Here is some Soldier Blade Game Play:

5. Blazing Lazers

Best Retro ShmupsYes, Blazing Lazers is based on the Japanese giant robo movie Gunhed. According to fans, the film is as visually impressive as it is crappy in all other respects. But it’s notably one of James Cameron’s “favorite B movies.”

Anyway, it appears that movie-based games in Japan are the exact opposite of what they are here in America. While we turn great movies into crappy games, they turn crappy movies into excellent games. Go figure.

Gameplay

Blazing Lazers is a great “general audience” shmup, challenging without being frustrating. It has excellent sound and graphics with no slowdown or other glitches.

You have 4 main weapons to choose from and 4 secondary weapons to pair with them. The main weapons affect how the secondary weapons behave. So try different combinations until you find one that matches your play style.

Blazing Lazers also gives you the ability to control your ship’s speed, a truly rare feature among shmups. In short, Compile created yet another hit with this TurboGrafx 16 launch title.

6. Gate of Thunder

Best Turbografx 16 ShmupsGate of Thunder was also a launch title, this time for the TurboGrafx-CD add-on. The game tries to be cinematic with the intro. Unfortunately, all it gives us is a wordless introduction to generic-looking characters.

But while the graphics aren’t too impressive, the soundtrack is killer. It’s a homogenous blending of nostalgic 16-bit chiptunes and genuine heavy metal guitar jams.

The real draw, though, is the innovative gameplay. It requires a carefully planned and executed strategy after much trial and error.

Gameplay

Much like other shooters, you need to collect weapon upgrades to get through tight spots. But unlike most shooters, the most effective weapon depends on the situation.

Fortunately, you can switch between the 3 weapon types you’ve collected whenever you want. You can also adjust your ship’s speed, like in Blazing Lazers.

Additionally, collecting weapon powerups adds indestructible turret pods that float next to your ship, firing at enemies. You can even use them to shoot behind you. In short, Gate of Thunder combines the best features of Blazing Lazers, Thunder Spirits, and many other shmups.

7. Lords of Thunder

Best Turbografx 16 ShmupsWhile not technically connected to its predecessor, Lords of Thunder is sort of a spiritual successor to Gate of Thunder. This time around, you pilot a samurai-style mech a la Gundam rather than a spaceship. Everything in the game appears to have a medieval demon-slaying theme.

The intro scene showcases some ridiculously impressive 16-bit animation that almost looks like a (choppy yet crisp) FMV. Even better, the gameplay animations are every bit as impressive as the intro. This game also features a perfectly-suited heavy metal soundtrack.

Gameplay

Interestingly, your weapons are neither chosen nor upgraded during battle. You must choose them before each level; they cannot be changed once the level starts.

Within the level, you collect jewels instead of powerups. You use these jewels to purchase weapons/upgrades after you complete the level.

Lords of Thunder has great replay value, if only for hardcore shmup enthusiasts. That is, you can complete this very difficult game several times trying different weapon styles each time.

8. Air Zonk

Best Turbografx 16 Shoot Em UpsBefore TurboGrafx crashed and burned in the console wars, its creators attempted to secure large-headed caveman, Bonk, as their mascot. They released the Bonk’s Adventure platforming games in the hope that Bonk would be to them as Super Mario is to Nintendo. Unfortunately, no one cared.

The point is, Air Zonk was another attempt to force Bonk-mania upon us whether we wanted it or not. For no reason at all, and beyond all expectations, the game is awesome!

Gameplay

Players control Zonk, a distant, future descendant of Bonk who is also a spaceship, apparently. Once that’s established, the game only gets wackier from there.

Your enemies look like rejects from the 80s Mega Man cartoon. And your “friends” include a monkey, a mummy, and—is that an 8-legged robot cow? These friends work like the floating mini-ship turrets that are a common shmup staple.

The cartoony art style is a refreshing change from the super-serious space shmups we’re all used to. All the level backgrounds include multiple scrolling layers for an awesome 3-D effect. And the animation is impressively smooth and detailed.

Air Zonk is full of humor, fun, and enough challenge to keep any gamer interested. In other words, you won’t get bored.

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9. Forgotten Worlds

Best Turbografx 16 ShmupsCapcom’s Forgotten Worlds is a beautiful horizontal shooter featuring a guy in a jetpack. It’s most remarkable for its unique, omnidirectional shooting controls.

Gameplay

While most shmups allow fire in one direction (3 if you’re lucky), this game lets you rotate your character to shoot in any direction. Unfortunately, rotating your character with the TurboGrafx controller is a step down from the dial-based controls of the arcade game. But it still works okay.

You can choose one of two characters with different abilities and buy upgrades from the shop between levels. The two-player co-op mode is missing but none of the levels were cut from the arcade classic.

10. Magical Chase

Best Turbografx 16 Shoot Em UpsIn Magical Chase, players control a young witch girl on a broom through a cartoony adventure. It’s full of whimsical characters, sparkly magic, and other fantasy elements. In fact, the whole thing looks like a spin-off Wizard of Oz adventure.

Gameplay

The character you control (Ripple the witch) has two stars that act as the same floating mini-ships you’d have in any other shooter. They whip around you in response to your movements, which also changes their direction of fire.

You can lock these stars in place, too. This is very helpful whenever you want to shoot behind you.

As in Forgotten Worlds, you can buy upgrades from a shop at the end of each level. This is a good game for beginners as it’s not too difficult.

You should know, however, that the American version is rare and therefore extremely expensive. If you’re able to play the Japanese version, it’s much cheaper and has only minor graphical differences.

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Friday, 27 January 2023