6 minutes reading time (1102 words)

The Best Nintendo NES Shmups/Shooters of All Time List


Kids dream about all kinds of things, but one of the dreams I’m pretty sure you and I shared as children was about being a badass fighter pilot. How cool would it be if we could explore the final frontier in a cool ship with lots of blasters and turrets and liberate planets by shooting bad guys in the face? 

Well, the NES gave voice to an entire generation of gamers by creating some fantastic games in the shooter/shmup genre and today we are going to look at some of our favorites.  The list is mainly space ship shooters,  so a game like gun.smoke isn't on the list but is a great shooter.  If playing retro shmups are your thing, then our favorite shmup consoles is the turbografx hands down.  It has a full libarary of all sorts of differents kinds of shooters.

Without further ado, let’s lock in and talk about some shooting.

Gun Nac

Gun Nac NES ShmupGun Nac is one of the most over-the-top and wacky shooters you will ever lay your hands on. For starters, you aren’t fighting a cadre of intergalactic mercenaries. No sir.

Your enemies in this game are, to name a few – killer rabbits, trees, sentient briefcases and even the odd deadly umbrella. If that doesn’t pique your curiosity, Gun Nac throws some truly outrageous boss battles at you such as a kitten who is trying to hit you with loose change.

And to top it all off, Gun Nac balances the insanity unfolding on your screen with a tight control scheme and enough level variety to keep you interested through the scores of times you will die hilariously in this game. Here is our review of gun nac.

 1943: The Battle of Midway

1943 NES Shmup1943 isn’t the most realistic war game. But it’s much better off because of it.

This game puts you into the role of a solo fighter pilot going up against the Japanese airborne forces. All you’ll have for company and support are a few support planes that occasionally provide some cover fire and thin the enemy herd a little.

Otherwise, you’ll have to master your flying to get through 24 stages of challenging combat with several stages where your screen will be filled with all manner of planes and opponents firing things at you. Duck, dive, dodge and send your enemies to the afterlife.


Gyruss NES Shmupstood apart from its side-scrolling Galaga clone contemporaries in one very distinct way – it isn’t a front view shooter like Space Invaders.

Here, the gameplay is more like a tunnel structure where you can move in a semi-circular fashion and enemies will appear in front of you and then head out into the distance where they are harder to kill. You’ll need to keep thinning the hordes by using powerups that allow you to shoot multiple bullets.

You’ll also have multi-stage boss battles against gigantic enemies that require careful planning and reflexes.

 The Guardian Legend

Guardian Legend NES ShmupThe Guardian Legend is like a fun mix of all the best shooting elements of Gradius and the exploration sections of the Zelda games.

The shooter sections are sufficiently challenging, and you’ll get a lot of cool powerups in the adventure sections that you can bring to your combat. There’s a real sense of kinetic energy and velocity in the combat and you’ll definitely die a lot as you’re getting the hang of the controls.

There’s also some cool minibosses you will come up against. The music is a real highlight of this game with some fantastic tracks and punchy sound effects.

Overall, this is a highly recommended shooter experience that stands apart from others of its ilk because of how exploration ties into the overall game.

Star Soldier

Star Solider NES ShmupStar Soldier was a massive hit in Japan when it released on the NES back in 1986. While Hudson’s shooter wasn’t quite able to make the same kind of impact on western shores, it is still one of the most important early entries in the shmup genre.

The most noticeably unique part of Star Soldier is that it allows you to use certain parts of the level as cover, allowing you to dodge projectiles. However, you can’t fire back while you are in a cover position.

There’s plenty to like here even though by now you have probably played a dozen games like Star Soldier – good controls, lots of fun powerups and multiple weapon types.

Twin Cobra

Twin Cobra NES ShmupTwin Cobra is a solid overhead shooter. While it doesn’t innovate a lot, there’s still plenty to enjoy as your helicopter journeys through stages destroying things on the ground and in the air.

You have two buttons – one for firing your primary guns and one for your special weapon. You also have a huge bomb you can drop to destroy everything in sight. While it is less graphically advanced than say Gradius or Life Force, it offers enough of a challenge to play through on a lazy afternoon.

Alpha Mission

Alpha Mission NES ShmupAlpha Mission has a few interesting mechanics. You must collect energy bars that you can exchange for selecting from a varied arsenal of weapons. In a possibly cruel twist, you can also collect negative powerups that, well, are really bad for you.

You could collect a ‘C’ powerup for example which totally drains your energy, your power gauge and every other meter you have been building up. Or you could get lucky and find a powerup which warps you ahead half a stage.


1942 NES Shmup1942 may be difficult to articulate just how much of an arcade phenomenon 1942 was on the arcade circuit. When it was ported to the NES, it retained all of the great graphics and music that was a signature of the arcade version.

The task is simple – you are a fighter pilot who has to mow down wave after wave of baddies and then face a boss at the end of each stage. All you have for defending yourself is a basic machine gun.

While the setup is simplistic, what makes 1942 fun to play is how tight the controls are, and the decent challenge offered by screens full of bullets and bombers.  This is a classic and still holds up well for a quick pick up and play session.  

That concludes our selection of some of our favorite NES shooters. Which games in this genre do you like? Let us know in the comments if we’ve missed out on a really good shmup. Honorable mentions: Gradius, Life Fore, Zanac, Legendary Wings and SCAT to name a few other solid titles.

Until next time, happy gaming!

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Comments 3

Guest - Chris on Tuesday, 16 February 2021 13:38

Wow, you left off the entire Gradius series and I don't know why 1942 (which is abysmal) is on here when 1943 is better.

Wow, you left off the entire Gradius series and I don't know why 1942 (which is abysmal) is on here when 1943 is better.
Guest - Jacob Wizenhart on Monday, 16 August 2021 03:07

I see gradius is an honorable mention, 1943 is fine, but the cream of the crop has to be Gun Nac. It's such a fast pace shooter, that reminds me a lot of a turbografx 16 shump.

I see gradius is an honorable mention, 1943 is fine, but the cream of the crop has to be Gun Nac. It's such a fast pace shooter, that reminds me a lot of a turbografx 16 shump.
Guest - Ishmokin on Friday, 17 September 2021 16:48

Most important shmup umentioned here is Recca.

Most important shmup umentioned here is Recca.
Monday, 27 September 2021
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