Day 1 - What the Hell is a SHMUP?
16.2.03 by The Angry Drunk
"Americans love to fight. All real Americans love the sting of battle."
-General George S. Patton
Action. Firepower. Pure, unfiltered, madness...
Wave upon wave of enemy hordes descending upon you without end...
Massive bosses lying in wait with every intention to grind you into a powder...
This is the essence of the SHUMP.
SHMUP is video game parlay for "shoot-em-up". In a nutshell, they're the purest form of action that can be found in a video game. You're a character and you shoot at enemies - usually in massive waves. It's most common to be a space ship of some type, but a humanoid-type individual has also been the protagonist of SHMUPS, many dating back to the very beginnings of the genre. To combat the colossal amount of enemy forces arrayed against you, power-ups can be acquired that can progressively upgrade your firepower - often with stunning results.
They're simple games. Rarely has any kind of plot been the driving force behind a player's motivation to play. Graphics (dependant on the era, of course), variety in gameplay, the all-consuming pursuit of points, and your initials immortalized in the annals of the game's high score list are a few of the reasons why the SHUMP has been an arcade favorite.
"...but what about Doom, Quake, or other first-person shooters (FPS)?", I hear you cry. I guess you COULD define them as a type of SHMUP, but let's look at the bulk of the genre:
The history of the SHMUP coincides with the rise of video gaming itself. Space Invaders is widely credited for being the first SHMUP to really capture the attentions of the gamer. It was a SHMUP in the classic sense: spaceship versus aliens in a desperate battle for points and longevity. After it would come the likes of other "top-down" twitchers like Gorf, Galaga, Satan's Hollow, and the 1940's series of WWII themed shooters. These would soon be followed by side-scrollers such as Gradius (and its HUGE array of sequels and side-stories), R-Type, and even the lesser-knowns like Earth Defense Force or cult classics like U.N. Squadron.
The other arm of the SHMUP beast would begin to grow alongside its high-flying companions in the form of Berzerk and Robotron 2084. These early games further expanded the 80's arcade experience by grounding the SHUMP experience for the first time. Soon after, Commando, Ikari Warriors, and Time Soldiers would expand the idea of a SHUMPing on the ground. The action would become frenetic and the firepower mammoth with later titles like Heavy Barrel and Out Zone.
The era in which most of these games hit the arcades - the late 80's and early 90's - would be the "golden age" of the SHMUP. Variety abounded in the arcades of yesteryear when the shooters took either of those two paths. It was the height of the style, and the widely adopted definition of video action.
At its heart, it was all about "twitch-n-shoot". Losing lives by the bushel and simply plunking another quarter into the slot and loading up another three was the name of the game. Grabbing a power-up or two and FILLING the screen with insane amounts firepower was one of gaming's greatest rewards at the time. No FPS can match the manic action that a high-powered SHUMP could throw at you. To survive, you needed quick reflexes, darting eyes, and dumb luck.
So, is Wolfenstein 3D (or any of it's FPS successors like Quake or Unreal) a SHMUP? By the classic thought - no. Is the relatively recent (by Shump standards, at least) Einhander a SHMUP? Yes. What about the pseudo-platformer/shooter Contra? Ummm...we'll, discuss that.
Over the course of the week, we'll examine this genre's genesis and it's future. We'll also hear from Throw Down readers and staff about their thoughts. Hopefully, this first Throw Down special report will open the floodgate of memories for many and maybe pique the interest of those wanting to get acquainted with the greatest kind of action ever to ask for your quarters.