Everything I know I learned from shmups

You know what a shmup is — a shoot ’em up like Space Invaders or Galaga or R-Type. I like those kinds of games, especially the modern versions like Raiden or Ikaruga or Einhander. One tiny little ship versus hordes of enemies, armed only with a pea shooter. I like those odds.

One reason I like shmups is because they teach you valuable lessons. Here’s some of the things I learned from shmups.

Don’t panic

The Hitchhiker’s Guide was right. There’s plenty enough to worry about on the screen; the last thing you need to do is freak out. Almost everything you see is harmful, so don’t worry about it. Spend your time obsessing about more constructive things instead.

On dying

You will die, so just accept it. Try to learn from your mistake though. If it was a huge attack from a boss that got you, remember what led up to that attack so you can plan for it next time. Dying sucks, but that’s why there’s change machines — to give you more quarters so you can continue again…

Always watch your ship

Staying alive is your top priority, and the most common way of dying is running your ship into a bullet. Note I didn’t say that the bullet ran into you. You have a chance to avoid every bullet coming at you, but not if you’re looking at the enemies flying in from the top of the screen. Always watch your ship and the surrounding area. It’s the bullet you didn’t see that will kill you.

Plan your moves

Beginning pool players shoot for their current shot. Pro pool players make their current shot and set up their next shot. Likewise, beginner shmup players dodge bullets. Pro shmup players move to where the bullets aren’t going. A spot that’s clear right now may be filled with bullets by the time you get there. Pay attention to the action around your ship, and move to spots that will be unoccupied once you get there.

Do not go straight for the powerups

Beginners often make the mistake of grabbing a powerup right when it appears. Always plan your move to get the powerups. They often hover around the screen, so first wait to see if it comes closer to you on its own. Otherwise, slowly work your way over to it. There’s no worse feeling than dying when trying to grab an item.

Know your weapons

The second worse feeling, besides dying, is having a super powered up ship and then grabbing a crappy powerup that nerfs your weapon. Familiarize yourself with your weapons, and learn the one that suits your playing style best. If you know the boss is coming up, you might change your weapon to pick one better suited for that boss.

Bomb = extra life

Three lives per quarter is hard enough, but some games are kind enough to give you extra lives from the start. A screen-clearing bomb is just as good as an extra life. Don’t be shy about using them. Your instinct that you can dodge every bullet is dead wrong; drop a bomb and elate in the feeling that you just saved yourself a quarter.

Ok ok, for the learning impaired, here are the real takeaways:

  • Don’t panic. Use your energy on useful things instead
  • Bad things are ok. Learn your lesson and move on
  • You are your top priority. Don’t let the noise distract you
  • Plan ahead. What you didn’t expect will get you in the end
  • Be wary of quick wins. They may bite you in the ass
  • Know your strengths. Adapt when it’s not to your detriment
  • Use your bombs. Don’t let the machine steal your quarters

Got it? Now go give it a try for real — arrow keys move, Z shoots, X is bomb, delete takes you to the menu.

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