S.H.M.U.P., by independent game designer Charcoal Styles, does exactly what it says on the tin and then some. For newcomers to the genre, and possibly the youngsters among us, SHMUP is shorthand for “Shoot ‘em up”, a genre of shooter games which are normally viewed from a top down or side perspective. The player usually controls a vehicle which is being constantly attacked, and his goal is to shoot as accurately and quickly as possible at the oncoming barrage of enemies. SHMUPs often require the player to learn and memorise enemy patterns in order to succeed, as well as relying on quick reflexes.
In the case of S.H.M.U.P., a photographic memory and military style reflexes aren’t required in order to make progress because of the nifty persistent levelling system. There are 8 different perks which can be upgraded, across 3 different paths; Ship Upgrades, Bullet Upgrades and Other Upgrades. I thought this was a great element of the game as it enables players like me, who even after hours of playing probably won’t ever be able to call themselves a master, to still be able to make progress through the levels. Without this I probably would have quit after a few plays, but the ability to keep making progress kept my interest – definitely a smart touch. Gamers these days are generally used to the “grind” mentality, unlike SHMUPs of old where reflexes and memory ruled the day, so this system is definitely a modern twist on the old genre and more likely to appeal to modern gamers. You can also up the difficulty level once you have a few upgrades under your belt, which keeps the early levels interesting even after a few playthroughs.
S.H.M.U.P’s ships can be moved around using the mouse, and they bounce around in a nice fluid manner which feels comfortable from the outset. Having multiple ships is a cool addition to the usual SHMUP concept, and you can increase the number further by buying additional ships with your upgrade points. Each level has a series of enemies, some of whom will fire back at you, so your little ships need to duck and dive to avoid them and their missiles. At the same time, you need to prevent the enemies from reaching your wall – if enough of them make it they’ll cause a breach and you’ll lose the game. This is simple enough at the beginning of the game, but as you progress through the levels, of course the enemies will create more and more difficult formations, sometimes shielding a more powerful enemy which can fire missiles at you, from behind its barricade. And of course no level would be complete without a boss! Bosses are well protected by the enemy blocks from the level, but they do have a weak spot which can be killed relatively quickly, if you can penetrate the blocky shield. Or you may prefer to score extra points for upgrades by destroying all the protective blocks first.
There is also an achievements system in S.H.M.U.P – 23 in total – for those who like ticking off the virtual checklist! A notification system tells you when you’re a certain percentage towards hitting the next achievement which is always a nice little ego boost when it flashes up in the corner. Many of them will be acquired simply by playing for long enough – such as firing 1000 missiles or earning 10 million points – but others are a little out of the ordinary and harder to achieve, such as the Vigilant Defender achievement, awarded when you don’t let a single enemy hit the wall.
With 15 levels, plus an additional 4 ridiculously difficult challenges for hardcore shmuppers, S.H.M.U.P. should keep you busy for a while. The chiptunes music, composed by Bart Klepka and Multifaros, gives a great ambiance and fits in with the gamestyle really well. The graphics are nothing fancy but are nice and colourful without being distracting, and do the job. S.H.M.U.P. is available at YAWMA on a pay what you want basis. If you’re after something nice and casual to keep you busy for a while, we’d recommend you give it a try!