The recent release of Capcom Arcade Stadium on Nintendo Switch has brought an impressive number of classic Capcom games back to home consoles for the first time in many years — or for the first time ever, in a few cases.
As with any collection like this, it can be tough to know exactly where to start exploring these games — particularly if you’re not super-familiar with them. So if you’ve been suffering from analysis paralysis, let us help with this quick tour of six must-play shoot ’em ups in Capcom Arcade Stadium!
Section Z (1985)
I must confess, I’d not come across this one prior to Capcom Arcade Stadium, but it has appeared on several previous Capcom compilations, including Capcom Classics Collection Vol. 1 for PlayStation 2 and Xbox, Capcom Classics Collection Remixed for PSP, and Capcom Arcade Cabinet for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
In Section Z, you take on the role of an astronaut who has been tasked with infiltrating and destroying an orbital space station that houses an alien invasion force. Supposedly said astronaut is actually Captain Commando from his self-titled 1991 brawler (also included in Capcom Arcade Stadium) — at least, that’s what the English instruction manual for the 1987 NES conversion would have you believe — but as with most ’80s shoot ’em ups, the plot doesn’t really matter all that much beyond providing some initial context.
Section Z is noteworthy in that it combines both horizontal and vertical scrolling sections, swapping between the two after a boss fight every five letter-named “sections”. It’s also a game where you can safely touch the scenery — relatively unusual for a shoot ’em up of the era — and in fact, Captain Commando even has a unique “walking” animation for when he’s standing on solid ground rather than flying through the air on his jetpack.
Section Z is a simple shoot ’em up, but the clear sense of progression as you work your way through the game gives you incentive to continue playing. This isn’t a game you’ll be able to credit-feed your way through easily, though; losing a life or using a continue resets you back to the start of a section, so you can’t just “boost” your way through tricky bits! You have been warned — though Capcom Arcade Stadium’s excellent save state, rewind and speed adjustment features will help somewhat.
Legendary Wings (1986)
Also known as Aresu no Tsubasa or The Wings of Ares, Legendary Wings is a shoot ’em up with a peculiar premise and an interesting twist. Cast in the role of one of two warriors given the Wings of Love and Courage by Ares, the God of War, you are tasked with destroying an alien supercomputer that has rebelled against mankind after many peaceful years of helping the world reach a state of enlightenment. It’s like a cautionary tale about what the Internet would become; if only we’d listened to Capcom back then.
In terms of gameplay, Legendary Wings initially seems to play similarly to Namco’s classic Xevious in that you fly up the screen and can shoot down aerial threats with your main attack, while ground-based targets can be defeated with a separate air-to-ground bomb attack. It’s not long before you’ll find yourself discovering the game’s most interesting aspect, though: the fact that it occasionally switches genre completely and turns into a side-scrolling platformer.
Yes, at various points in each stage you’ll find yourself going inside palaces and having to make your way to a boss fight on foot, defeating enemies along the way and jumping between platforms to reach your goal. There are also side-scrolling “Lucky” stages, in which you can collect treasure chests for points while listening to some adorable synthesised ’50s-style doowop music, and “trap” stages, which unfold similarly to the platforming palaces.
Legendary Wings is worth playing purely for how strange it is — fortunately, it backs up that intriguing bizarreness with some solid gameplay for one or two players simultaneously. Bring a friend along to your next Capcom Arcade Stadium session for maximum enjoyment.
Carrier Air Wing (1990)
Also known simply as U.S. Navy in Japan, Carrier Air Wing is the spiritual successor to 1989’s U.N. Squadron (aka Area 88). As with its precursor, Carrier Air Wing is a side-scrolling shoot ’em up that presents an exaggerated view of aerial warfare, with some spectacularly silly setpieces and lots of explosions. Think Namco’s Ace Combat series, but as a side-scrolling pixel-art shoot ’em up.
Carrier Air Wing incorporates a number of distinctive features from U.N. Squadron, including the ability to spend in-game currency to purchase new weapons between missions, as well as the use of a “fuel” bar rather than a more traditional lives system. There are three different aircraft to choose from, and a selection of weapon powerups available to collect throughout the game.
Interestingly, Carrier Air Wing is one of a few Capcom titles that doesn’t appear to have ever seen a home release before. That alone makes it worth checking out as part of Capcom Arcade Stadium — but it’s also a top-notch horizontal scroller in its own right, too.
Giga Wing (1999)
One of the main reasons people were excited for Capcom Arcade Stadium when it was originally announced, Giga Wing is a fantastic game from Capcom’s back catalogue, and the fact that it’s now easily accessible on Switch means you no longer need to stroke your chin thoughtfully at the prospect of paying through the nose for the Dreamcast version.
Giga Wing was noteworthy on its original release for being a vertically scrolling shoot ’em up that made use of a horizontally oriented monitor. Most vertical scrollers throughout history have used the “Tate” orientation with the monitor 90 degrees from its “normal” way around, simply because this allows the player to see a little further ahead; not Giga Wing, though.
Giga Wing is a fun, over-the-top manic shooter that features a really fun “bullet deflection” mechanic. By holding down the fire button, you can summon a shield around yourself and deflect enemy bullets back at them. Successfully taking enemies out in this way rewards you with a shower of sparkly shiny things — and we all love sparkly shiny things.
While Giga Wing’s way of doing things might take a bit of getting used to, it’s definitely a real highlight of Capcom Arcade Stadium, and any self-respecting shoot ’em up fan should definitely spend some quality time with it!
1944: The Loop Master (2000)
Capcom’s 194X series dates back to the earliest days of arcade gaming, and provides a surprisingly varied array of different experiences across its many incarnations — all of which can be enjoyed as part of Capcom Arcade Stadium. 1944: The Loop Master, developed by Raizing, is a particularly solid entry in the series, offering some satisfying blast ’em up action across a hefty 15 stages.
In 1944: The Loop Master, you can power up your aircraft in traditional shoot ’em up manner by collecting power-ups, but there’s a strong emphasis on recruiting “wingmen” to supplement your firepower. This is achieved by collecting gold score items to summon a golden plane icon; destroying this allows you to collect two wingmen who fly on either side of your ship, firing as you do. Wingmen also block bullets for you but can be destroyed; thankfully, you can “stockpile” wingmen by collecting more when you already have two supporting you.
1944: The Loop Master features a charge shot system that makes you temporarily invincible while you unleash an impressive amount of death from above, plus a more conventional “bomb” system for use when things really get hairy. Mechanically speaking, it’s not a super complicated shoot ’em up, but it’s the quality of the gameplay — and the completely anachronistic but nonetheless rockin’ ’70s rhythm and blues soundtrack — that really shines here. This one will doubtless be part of any shmup fan’s Capcom Arcade Stadium regular rotation.
Progear is another game that was just published by Capcom; this time around, it was developed by bullet hell maestros Cave as their first ever horizontally scrolling shoot ’em up — and indeed their only one until the 2007 release of Deathsmiles and 2010’s Akai Katana.
In Progear, you take on the role of a band of plucky kids in an anime-style steampunk future as they attempt to take down a new world order of immortal elders and prevent them from destroying the world with their ambitions. Before you start, you’ll pick one of two pilots for the newly invented Progear-powered biplane, which determines your basic shot pattern, and a gunner, who determines how you fire if you hold down the fire button instead of tapping it.
Those familiar with Cave’s output will doubtless be expecting some sort of esoteric gameplay mechanics on top of the basic shooting action, and Progear most certainly does not disappoint on that front, featuring not only an initially baffling “rings and gems” system for score items but also a full-on relationship mechanic between your selected pilot and gunner, which ultimately determines which one of several endings you get should you clear the game.
Progear is another game that hasn’t really come home prior to its Capcom Arcade Stadium release — unless you count ports for Japanese mobile platforms such as EZweb, i-mode and Yahoo Mobile. Nonetheless, it is an influential game, cited by the creators of both Sine Mora and Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony as a key inspiration for those excellent shmups.
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