Bullet Hell

A ‘shoot ’em up’ is a subgenre of video games in which the player controls a lone character, often in a spacecraft or aircraft, facing large numbers of enemies while dodging their attacks. A variation arose in the early 1990s called ‘maniac shooters’ and ‘bullet hell,’ which required the player to dodge overwhelming numbers of enemy projectiles and called for still faster reactions. Bullet hell games arose from the need for 2D shoot ’em up developers to compete with the emerging popularity of 3D games: huge numbers of missiles on screen were intended to impress players. Toaplan’s ‘Batsugun’ (1993) provided the prototypical template for this new breed, with ‘Cave’ (formed by former employees of Toaplan, including ‘Batsugun’ creator Tsuneki Ikeda, after the latter company collapsed) inventing the type proper with 1995’s ‘DonPachi.’

Manic shooter games marked another point where the shoot ’em up genre began to cater to more dedicated players. Games such as ‘Gradius’ had been more difficult than ‘Space Invaders’ or ‘Xevious,’ but bullet hell games were yet more inward-looking and aimed at fans of the genre looking for greater challenges. Treasure’s shoot ’em up, ‘Radiant Silvergun’ (1998), introduced an element of narrative to the genre. It was lavished with critical acclaim for its refined design, though it was never released outside of Japan and remains a much sought after collectors’ item. Its successor ‘Ikaruga’ (2001) featured improved graphics and was again acclaimed as one of the best games in the genre. The genre has undergone something of a resurgence with the release of the Xbox 360 and Wii online services, and games like ‘Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved,’ while in Japan arcade shoot ’em ups retain a deep-rooted niche popularity.


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