Table of Contents:
Best Shooter

Life Force

A pseudo-sequel to the venerable shooter Gradius, Life Force succeeded largely because of its amazing graphics, unique theme, and stellar two-player simultaneous gameplay. You pilot Vic Viper through a variety of side and top scrolling levels, blasting fools and collecting power-up chips to cash in for new weapons. Many remember the grotesque somatically themed first level, a grisly affair that finds you jetting through your adversary's fleshy body. Each level climaxes with an intense boss encounter. 

As was the case with most shooters of the time, Life Force is absurdly hard. Only the hardest of the hardcore were able to finish the game without resorting to the life-giving "Konami Code" (Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start). The hellish Prominence Stage was often the end of the line for noble non-cheaters, and only one of our intrepid editors has finished the game without the code. Strangely, the Japanese game Gradius II is basically a pseudo-sequel to Life Force. Every level scrolls horizontally and nearly all of the Life Force bosses return. Sadly, the title never made it to the US. 

Runners up:

The Guardian Legend

Debate raged about whether or not Compile's The Guardian Legend truly belonged in this genre. It does have intense vertically scrolling space shooter levels, but the majority of the game is a Zelda-esque sci-fi action/RPG. Well, its many supporters placed it here because you can play exclusively the shooting levels via a password. Regardless of how you classify it, the game is an underrated gem worthy of a second look. Incredibly long and difficult, this game has more plot and atmosphere than many true RPGs of the period, and gave birth to the strangest genre ever, the shooter/RPG. 


In 1988, FCI released this forgotten Compile classic, a bewildering top-down shooter with relentless waves of metallic enemies. The plot is a generic throwaway, but the game itself is masterfully tailored to adapt to your playing style. Difficulty is magically adjusted to match your skill level, so anyone can have a fun time playing the game. Compile also created the other runner-up, The Guardian Legend, and then went on to create the hardcore classic M.U.S.H.A. for the Sega Genesis. Tragically, as shooters began to slip into obscurity, the team resorted to merely making puzzle games.

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Did You Know?
Approximately 65,000 Donkey Kong machines were sold to arcades in the US. DK's two sequels brought the number up to around 100,000. For comparison's sake, all the assorted Street Fighter II arcade variations combined sold about 50,000 units during the peak of its popularity.

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