The 10 Best SNES Shmups

We recently wrote about the best beat ‘em ups for the SNES, but now it’s time to talk about another great genre for the retro console, shmups. 

There have been a number of great shoot ‘em ups for the SNES, and it’s hard to whittle them down to just a few, we’ve had a go though. Read on for the 10 best SNES shmups, and let us know if you agree in the comment section below. 


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10. Phalanx (1992)

Phalanx SNES gameplay
Phalanx SNES gameplay

Phalanx is a good way to kick off this list of best SNES shmups. Now, I should preface this entry by saying that I’m very aware that Phalanx may only be in this list due to my own nostalgic bias. 

The game is entirely unremarkable. It plays like any other shmup for the SNES and does not really offer anything unique to the genre. That being said, for me at least, the soundtrack is banging, the visuals are endearingly poor, and the gameplay is addictive. What more can you ask for in a shoot ‘em up?

9. BioMetal (1993)

BioMetal SNES gameplay
BioMetal SNES gameplay

BioMetal isn’t often talked about in the world of shmups, but it is a game worthy of note. Yes, it’s difficult and, yes, it’s visuals are dated, but the game is a solid shmup that has a good pace and gameplay dynamic. Don’t pay too much attention to the story and you’re in for a good time. 

The soundtrack for the EU and NA region was done completely by 2 Unlimited and, in my opinion, it gets old fast. But if you’re in the mood for a fast-paced, no-nonsense shmup, BioMetal might just be for you. 

8. Super R-Type (1991)

Super R-Type SNES gameplay
Super R-Type SNES gameplay

I know the R-Type series is a big hitter in the shmup genre, and a lot of people would rate this game higher in the list. Yet, as much as I loved the game, I was never completely enamored by it. 

In total, there are 7 levels and each environment looks unique. The music is strong and the visuals are impressive, if a little expected. The gameplay involves navigating a number of lasers and projectiles and a ship extension that attaches to both the front and back of your spaceship.

It is difficult, and unforgiving (no checkpoints), but the artstyle makes the game interesting and it is definitely one of the best shmups for the console.   

7. Aero Fighters (1993)

Aero Fighters SNES gameplay
Aero Fighters SNES gameplay

You may have heard about Aero Fighters from the incredible prices that it fetches on online auction sites, with some copies of the game selling for around $500. While it’s obviously not worth that price, the game is a great shmup and a good addition to the genre. 

It has a strong multiplayer mode, a good sound design, and crisp visuals. There are also a number of different characters you can play from, too, with each character offering a different path to victory. 

It’s not a long game, and you can probably complete the game in 30 mins if you’re on a good run. That being said, it’s one that is easy to pick up and play at any time for some fast paced shmup action. 

6. Firepower 2000 (1992)

Firepower 2000 SNES gameplay
Firepower 2000 SNES gameplay

Here’s a shmup that doesn’t revolve solely around the spaceships and aircraft that seem to be the norm for the genre. In Firepower 2000, you can choose between a helicopter or a jeep, with each choice offering a different experience. 

The helicopter is fast and has augmented maneuverability, but it can only shoot in one direction. The jeep, which is my preferred option, can shoot in all directions and is also capable of jumping over obstacles in the map. You also have the option of choosing between different weapons (you’ll probably end up choosing the flamethrower…).

For a truly chaotic experience, grab a friend and play both the jeep and the helicopter together in multiplayer mode.     

5. Darius Force (1993)

Darius Force SNES gameplay
Darius Force SNES gameplay

Darius Force, which is also known as Super Nova, is one of the more addictive shmups that challenges players while also being incredibly fun.

Developed by Taito, this fast paced horizontal side scroller rewards skillful players by providing power ups for destroying certain enemy ships or objects. This will lead to improved fire power or defence.

Aside from this, the game has a neat aesthetic and a simple but catchy soundtrack. Those who have played the game will certainly remember the weird scream that bosses let off after beating them!

4. Earth Defence Force (1992)

Earth Defence Force SNES gameplay
Earth Defence Force SNES gameplay

For many, this would top their list of the best SNES shmups, and it really is easy to see why. Of all the shoot ‘em ups for the SNES, Earth Force Defence possibly has some of the most impressive and crispest visuals of them all. 

Granted, it’s very difficult. But it’s also very possible to beat the game, making the challenge worth it. There are 8 different weapons to choose from, but you’re better off sticking to the more conventional ones in all honesty. The pace of the game is super fast, so you’ll have to be tuned in before you start the game, but it’s definitely worth it in my opinion. 

3. Axelay (1992)

Axelay SNES gameplay
Axelay SNES gameplay

Developed by Konami, Axelay is one of the more famous shmups for the SNES. It’s also one of the best. Axelay seems to have the perfect balance of pace, difficulty, and visuals. It also has an awesome soundtrack to top things off, too. 

The levels offer a variety of horizontal and vertical scrolling gameplay, and the background environments are among the best in the whole genre. Really, there’s not much I can say against Axelay, it’s simply a great game.  

2. Gradius III (1989)

Gradius III SNES gameplay
Gradius III SNES gameplay

As the oldest game on the list, I’m sure this game being this high on the list will ruffle a few feathers, but I stand by the decision and consider Gradius III to easily be one of the best SNES shmups. 

It’s true that the game probably has as many cons as it does pros, but as one of the first shoot ‘em ups I ever played, I have a soft spot for the game and will focus on the positives. First off, the game is probably the best looking shmup out there, it is beautiful at times and the colorful backgrounds and vibrant environments really add to the immersion. 

The soundtrack is catchy, without being remarkable, but the gameplay is super addictive. This is partially down to how challenging it is, but also because Gradius III has some great laser weapon effects that make melting enemies an absolute pleasure. 

1. Super Aleste (1992)

Super Aleste SNES gameplay
Super Aleste SNES gameplay

Super Aleste, also known as Space Megaforce, is the best SNES shmup in my book. It really is just a cut above the others in the genre for the time. 

There are 8 weapons to choose from in the game, and all of them are worth experimenting with. The soundtrack is awesome, and the gameplay has the perfect balance of difficulty and fairness. The best aspect of the game, though, is the graphics. The visuals are superb and incredibly diverse, one minute you’re in outer space, the next you’re firing lasers over the rainforest. 

The bosses are memorable and the enemies are satisfying to destroy. Despite the levels being very long, the game flows very well and I would highly recommend Super Aleste to any newcomer to the genre. 

Get in Touch

Do you agree with our order of the best SNES shmups? Obviously this list is completely subjective, and I’d be very surprised if your order was the same! That being said, I’d love to hear how you’d rank the best SNES shmups, please let us know in the comment section below!  

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For another take on the best SNES shmups, check out the great YouTube video below by Gameplay and Talk. 

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