Big in Japan #1: Shmups(Shoot-Em-Ups)

Part 1 of a series of Japanese and other foreign culture and media.

Why is it that in America, shmups are a seemingly dead genre, where as in Japan, they're still produced in abundance? Just for clarification, shoot em ups are not 1st/3rd person shooters like Half-Life or Gears of War, run-n-guns like Contra or Metal Slug, or shooting platformers like Metroid and Mega Man. Shoot em ups first appeared and became popular with titles such as Space Invaders, Galaxian, Galaga, Bosconian, Geometry Wars, and Radar Scope. Don't be fooled by these older games' simplicity, however, as Shmups have evolved into an infamously difficult genre of gaming. During the late 80s and early 90s, infamous titles such as Gradius, Darius, R-Type, Raiden, and 1943 were created. Tropes and cliche trappings of shmups were space based or in sci-fi versions of WW2. However, later shmups began to employ gimmicks to set themselves apart. Rail shooters, such as Rez, Sin and Punishment, and Panzer Dragoon, were shooters where the player's character followed a specified route, and the player would shoot in multiple directions. Twinbee was a more cutesy and child oriented shmup, starting the subgroup of "cute-em-ups." Parodius was similarly cute, as well as being infamously absurd. A parody of Gradius, Twinbee, and shmups in general, the main characters were Vic Viper from Gradius, Twinbee, and an original octopus character named Takosuke. Its humorous world was filled with giant Vegas dancers, ballet pandas, villainous penguins, Maori Easter Island heads, and pirate ships with cat heads on the front. Another quirky, albeit utterly creepy, game was Cho Aniki, which would use fighting game like command codes for its action. The game is most famous for its almost intentionally creepy amount of homo eroticism, starring a pair of musclebound men in thongs who have holes in their bald heads that shoot white energy called "Men's beams." The games imagery is filled with other scantily clad men and employing several offensive Japanese gay stereotypes. The most popular subgroup of shmups, however, is Danmaku, which means bullet curtain or bullet hell. These games are notably difficult, with enemies shooting large fields of projectiles that cover the screen. Companies such as Cave, 8ing/Raizing, and Toaplan are known for producing several of the best shmups in the history of the genre. They have also inspired several doujin games, or D.I.Y., fanmade, and indie games. The most notable of these is Touhou Project, a series created by the Zun, the sole member of Shanghai Alice. These games are known for their beautiful, almost distracting amount of bullets that fill the screen, as well the gothic lolita anime girls that make up its world. For a indie game, it has an extremely expansive lore and fanbase, with even the most minute character being well known amongst the fandom. Even though the genre is still niche in Japan, it is far more there than in Western countries. Many attribute this to Western gamers seeming obsession with 1st person shooters(which is still true), but it is mainly attributable to the fact that many of these games were first released in arcades, if they ever get ported at all. Arcades are still very popular in Asia, particularly in Japan, where as in America and other Western countries they are nearly dead, with the few that are still around paling in comparison to those of Japan or even the American arcades of yore. Shmups, however, have found a fandom with many Western gamers through the internet, mainly due to the popularity of Cave shooters and games in the Touhou Project.

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